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Engineering News-Record
Copyright 2001 McGraw-Hill, Inc.

Monday, October 22, 2001

Vol. 247, No. 17


By Debra K. Rubin and Mary B. Powers in Atlanta with Tom Ichniowski

AS SUSPECTED CASES OF ANTHRAX CONtamination multiplied around the U.S., there was high anxiety among water and wastewater system managers, regulators and consultants meeting in Atlanta over how to protect infrastructure from biological terrorism and other risks. The issue of security dominated the 74th annual Water Environment Federation convention as participants discussed new risks since the Sept. 11 attacks and the potential of federal funding to assess and counter them.

Last month's terror incidents failed to keep attendees away from WEF's
annual event. The nearly 15,000 attendees is about the usual total for the
group, while the number of exhibitors rose to a record 800. But new concerns
drew standing room only crowds to two hastily added panels on system security.

Rob Renner, deputy executive director of the American Water Works
Association, urged caution on overreaction to the current anthrax scare,
noting that the contaminant is not waterborne. "Ozone and ultraviolet
disinfection can take care of it," he said. "It's no different from other

The Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies, which represents public
water systems, has requested $150 million from Congress to immediately cover
risk studies and emergency response plans. The association, along with EPA,
was appointed in 1997 by President Clinton to implement water infrastructure
protection, said Executive Director Diane Van De Hei. AMWA was awarded a
$600,000 federal grant last month to develop an "information sharing" system
for U.S. water and wastewater systems. EPA also awarded a contract to Michael
Baker Corp., Pittsburgh, to develop a template for utilities to assess
emergency response models.

John P. Sullivan, chief engineer of the Boston Water and Sewer Commission,
told the House water resources and infrastructure subcommittee Oct. 10 that
"drinking water utilities have been on a heightened state of alert to protect
against the potential disruption of water service and biological and chemical
contamination of drinking water supplies." Sullivan, testifying for AMWA,
asked Congress for a big infusion of funds--$5 billion for infrastructure work
and $100 million for vulnerability assessments.

"We've never had so much attention on the Hill when asking for money,"
says Van De Hei.

Utility directors discussed their own security precautions. Patrick Karney,
director of Cincinnati's Metropolitan Sanitation Districts, said his utility
has already held several "weapons of mass destruction" training sessions
involving staff and outside emergency personnel. He added that MSD has
eliminated some chemicals from daily use, hardened perimeter security and
developed GIS tools that superimpose city structure on top of its sewer
system. Security specialists from CH2M Hill and Black & Veatch were especially
popular as they urged utilities to develop security master plans and consider
new high-tech tools.

Some participants are hopeful that lower-tech protections such as covering
reservoirs might be eligible for funding as part of the administration's
anticipated economic stimulus package, which could earmark up to $5 billion
for the water-wastewater sector. Michael Cook, director of EPA's Office of
Wastewater, told attendees that while the stimulus package's outcome is "hard
to predict now," funding could possibly be moved more rapidly through EPA's
state revolving loan fund. "It's faster than setting up a new grant
program," said Cook.

WEF also hopes that it can still keep a distracted Congress interested in
its five-year, $57-billion Water Infrastructure Network funding plan.
Association officials had hoped for a Senate bill by year's end. Incoming WEF
President James H. Clark, a Black & Veatch vice president, vows to keep the
project high profile. He says his other priorities for WEF this year include
offering new services to wastewater utilities directly and recruiting new
members to the "graying organization."

WEF also is debating its growing role as a lobbying group. The naming of
William Bertera as its executive director will further push it down that road. Bertera, a former executive of the American Public Works Association, helped launch the Rebuild America campaign. "WEF must remain a player," says Bertera. "There is no more horrendous tag in Washington than being a non-player."



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