DES MOINES, Iowa (WHO) — A U.S. lawmaker is proposing a plan to increase federal funding for cybersecurity protections for rural Iowa water systems. Meanwhile, Iowa Attorney General Brenna Bird is suing the Biden administration to end increased security requirements. In March, the United States Environmental Protection Agency took action to require public water systems in states to improve cybersecurity technology.
Now some in Iowa are calling the program an overreach by the federal government – not because it is unnecessary, but because of the lack of funding.
U.S. Representative Zach Nunn, (R), IA-03, introduced a bipartisan bill, Cybersecurity for Rural Water Systems Act of 2023, to “help rural communities fortify against cyber attacks that could shut off the water supply.”
“So we’re just trying to be prepared,” said Randal Pleima, the General Manager of Mahaska Rural Water System. “The idea of a circuit rider is, EPA, is really starting to come down on our systems to see what we’re doing. And instead of helping us they want to use enforcement more than help.”
The bill would expand the USDA’s Circuit Rider Program. The Circuit Rider Program is eligible to rural water systems that have a population of 10,000 or less. It provides technical assistance to these local entities to assist the beefing up of cybersecurity systems. But local officials explained that this program helps but it does not provide the financial support that these smaller public water entities need.
“In Iowa, there are only four (circuit riders). What this means and on top of these programs that provide vital assistance to our small water organizations, they are not well equipped to provide cybersecurity-specific types of defense. Rural water organizations are therefore often having to pay the bill themselves to adhere to a federal requirement,” said U.S. Congressman Zach Nunn, (R), IA-03.
Representative Nunn introduced a bipartisan bill Monday morning at Gray’s Lake Park that he says will require more than just technical support from the federal government.
The bill calls for an increase of funding in the Circuit Rider Program by $7.5 million to “implement cybersecurity plans, procedures, and technologies to protect against cyber threats.” If passed, the program would have $32.5 million for fiscal years 2024 through 2028, a bump from $25 million.
“This bill will provide essential assistance for small and rural communities to increase their (rural public water entities) preparedness and resiliency against cyber criminals,” said Scott Shover, the Executive Director of the Iowa Rural Water Association.
“In Iowa, two of the rural water systems had some minor thing. mainly they just kind of looked into one. Nothing was every done. One was trying to get a ransomware but it was put out. So no not really,” said Pleima.
Back in April, Iowa Attorney General Brenna Bird sued the Biden Administration over these program requirements, joining in with Missouri and Arkansas in the lawsuit. The lawsuit argues that small communities should not be required to pay for protections they may not want, despite the well-publicized risks to the community.
The bill is co-sponsored by U.S. Representative Don Davis, (D) from North Carolina’s First Congressional District.