Kiplinger Business Forecasts
(c) 2001 The Kiplinger Washington Editors Inc. All rights reserved.
Wednesday, October 17, 2001
Volume 2001; Number Week Ending 1019
Agencies Move To Keep Water Systems Safe
FEAR OF TERRORIST ATTACKS HAS PUT THE SPOTLIGHT BACK ON THE
VULNERABILITY OF THE NATION'S AGING WATER INFRASTRUCTURE.
Prodded by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will work with state and local
governments to overhaul water infrastructure security and launch an
Internet clearinghouse for threat notices and incident reports by '03.
As part of the effort, the EPA will polish up its
Infrastructure Assurance: Water Supply Sector," a comprehensive
blueprint for protecting the nation's drinking water first drafted in
'98. At its core, the plan calls for the development of a "tool kit" to
help local water utilities determine where their vulnerabilities to
attack lie and to help them take steps to plug those weak spots. A
special task force will help identify gaps and suggest solutions.
The EPA will begin training water utility professionals in the use
of this tool kit next month. The kit was developed in cooperation with
the American Water Works Association Research Foundation and Sandia
National Laboratories. Operators of the nation's 300 largest water
utilities will be trained first, then smaller system operators.
The EPA will also speed up its work with the Association of
Metropolitan Water Agencies on building an Information Sharing and
Analysis Center (ISAC) for the nation's water supplies. Under
Presidential Decision Directive 63, former President Clinton named the
EPA as the lead agency to work with the water supply sector in
developing a Web-based clearinghouse for threat notices and incident
reporting. The water ISAC will link the EPA and the FBI with local
utilities, state drinking water agencies and state and local emergency
response agencies. The FBI will ensure the security of information
passing through the network.
The most plausible danger to water supplies comes from physical
destruction. The sabotage of vital facilities, such as pumping stations,
by explosives or other means would cut the flow and pressure of water to
firefighters, hindering their ability to respond to attacks elsewhere.
Utilities have a range of options for foiling such attacks, ranging from
installing sophisticated video and alarm systems to trimming back trees
that would-be saboteurs could use to climb up and over a utility's
Cyber intrusions, by which an attacker can cut water service without
setting foot in a plant, will be a major target for the water ISAC when
it comes into play. The FBI will also provide similar threat warnings on
hack attacks through InfraGard, a public-private partnership that links
the bureau and local law enforcement officials with private industry,
academic institutions and utilities to protect critical information
systems. Currently, only 31 of InfraGard's 2000 partners are associated
with the nation's water infrastructure, but that number is likely to
The most frightening prospect"biological or chemical contamination
of a region's water supply"is actually the least likely. Reservoirs and
other water supplies typically contain hundreds of millions, if not
billions, of gallons of water.
"It really is very hard, even with the most toxic of agents, to
poison a large reservoir," says John Porco, a senior emergency
management consultant with Michael Baker Jr., Inc. "You'd need
truckloads of material." Pat McManus, mayor of Lynn, Mass., and chairman
of the U.S. Council of Mayors' Urban Water Council, agrees, noting that
standard chlorination is generally sufficient to handle whatever
contamination reaches the water treatment plant.
Contamination through a water distribution system is another matter.
Aging and cracking pipes are dangerous enough as avenues for accidental
contamination, let alone deliberate attack. Then there is the problem of
backflow. Any opening used to distribute water, from a kitchen or
bathtub faucet in the home to a fire hydrant on the street, can be used
to introduce contamination, provided the would-be attacker has a pump
that can exert higher water pressure than that used by the system. Short
of installing anti-backflow mechanisms in the plumbing of every
individual house, an expensive proposition, there is little that can be
done to guard against such an eventuality.
The Water Infrastructure Network (WIN)"a broad coalition of water
utilities, local governments, industries and labor unions"is pressing
Congress to add $5 billion to the emergency stimulus package under
consideration for the purpose of repairing the nation's decaying water
infrastructure. WIN asserts that each billion dollars in spending would
create more than 40,000 new jobs. Eleven members of the Senate
Environment and Public Works Committee"six Republicans, four Democrats
and committee Chairman Jim Jeffords (I-VT)"are pressing the case for
water infrastructure investment to the Senate leadership.
But the chances of such funding are slim. Sen. Majority Leader Tom
Daschle (D-SD) wants to restrict the stimulus package to investments
that would provide the economy with a rapid shot in the arm. That would
hardly apply to water infrastructure projects, which are notoriously
slow to start. White House opposition will quash GOP support for the
measure outside the Environment and Public Works Committee.
Researcher-Reporter: Matthew J. Turosz