NCSL Collaborates with Network to Develop Resource on State Laws Related to Disclosure of Public Water Supplies

To protect public safety, states have established prohibited disclosure laws for public water supplies. Specific statutes in these laws address the types of information exempt from disclosure, penalties for violation, and other important requirements. Protecting this information may prevent directed attacks on our drinking water supply.

The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) partnered with the Network for Public Health Law ― Eastern Region at the University of Maryland Carey School of Law to produce the online resource Statutes and Penalties for Disclosure of Public Water Supply,which tracks every state statute that exempts security information related to drinking water systems from public disclosure requirements under a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.

Although the wording of each state statute varies greatly, the relevant statute usually provides that vulnerability assessments for public water supplies are not considered a public record that is required to be disclosed under the state's FOIA law. Additionally, sanitary surveys of public water systems required by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that include items of concern found in a vulnerability assessment could be exempt.

To exempt a sanitary survey from public disclosure, the statute must either:

  • Afford protection to the entire sanitary survey; or
  • Afford protection only to security-related information that can be severed from the survey report in order to maintain public access to essential water quality information found in the rest of the report.

Although it is likely that information under a federal law exemption is safe from having to be disclosed under a state open records law, a specific exemption for water system security information provides another layer of protection.

Statutes and Penalties for Disclosure of Public Water Supply will assist state legislators and policymakers in identifying the various state public water disclosure statutes and language used in legislation.

This collaborative effort began as a request from state legislators interested in amending their public water disclosure laws. NCSL enlisted the Network’s Eastern Region to identify current state statutes and assist with this request. Students from the University of Maryland Public Health Law Clinic assisted with the research.

NCSL is the national organization of the nation’s 50 state legislatures. Each year it receives between 20,000 to 30,000 requests from state legislatures on policy topics, including water safety and environmental health. The Network for Public Health Law provides technical legal assistance to federal, state and local public health officials, policymakers, attorneys, and organizations on wide-ranging issues of public health. NCSL and the Network intend to further collaborate to assist with requests from legislators and policy makers and identify state environmental statutes.

For more information, contact:

Doug Farquhar, NCSL

Kathleen Hoke, Network, Eastern Region at Maryland Carey School of Law