Protecting Our Water

"When you drink the water, remember the spring." - Chinese proverb I grew up in the shadow of a water tower. On hot summer nights I would climb to the top, sit with my back against the tank and wait for the cooling breeze that would arrive just...


"When you drink the water, remember the spring." - Chinese proverb I grew up in the shadow of a water tower. On hot summer nights I would climb to the top, sit with my back against the tank and wait for the cooling breeze that would arrive just after midnight. Then someone discovered aerosol spray paint. A creative lover painted a giant heart emblazoned with his and his sweetheart's initials on my water tower. As a result, the waterworks installed a barbed-wire climbing barrier around the base, blocking access to the ladder and ending my nightly ascent.

Those were the simpler days after the Great War, which, we were told, had brought peace to the world. On the other side of the earth, seeds of another war were sprouting in the sands of the Middle East. We saw the bitter harvest a half century later on the morning of September 11, 2001.

New Threat, New Legislation
As America recovered from the shock of the attacks, Congress enacted a flurry of acts with the intent of protecting our infrastructure from terrorists. Legislation affects nearly every infrastructure of our daily lives: transportation, food, energy and water. Among the reams of legislative paper is Public Law 107-188, the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002. This act provides guidelines and grants to protect America's food, drug and water supply.

The President's National Strategy for Homeland Security delegated the protection of the nation's water supply to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Because the EPA already manages programs to ensure water quality, adding responsibility for security management was a natural fit. Among the EPA's goals is "...assessing and reducing vulnerabilities and strengthening detection and response capabilities for critical infrastructures."

The EPA maintains a Water Security Web site (www.epa.gov/safewater/security) with links to volumes of information, including the Water and Wastewater Security Product Guide. The guide organizes products by three concepts: detect, delay and respond. Product descriptions are generic, though some vendors' products are listed as examples.

Planning Resources
Large cities have long considered security a requirement for their water treatment and distribution facilities. Their security plans were designed to combat equipment theft and vandalism rather than to deter bioterrorism. Metropolitan water plants use fence protection extensively, and some have advanced intrusion detection devices such as CCTV, fence sensors and buried cable sensors. However, the majority rely on physical security products such as locks, barbed wire and ladder access controls to deter intruders. The Homeland Security Act authorized grants to cities to purchase additional security systems for water utilities.

The EPA's Drinking Water Academy, in collaboration with the Association of Drinking Water Administrators (ASDWA) and the National Rural Water Association (NRWA), developed the Security Vulnerability Self-Assessment Guide for small drinking-water systems serving populations between 3,300 and 10,000. The assessment is comprehensive and could serve as a guide to other utilities and processing plants as well. In addition to asking administrators to list the facility's physical plant, this assessment questions critical security-related assets such as fences, lighting, locking hardware, access control and intrusion detection and response.

Budgetary Complaints
A frequent complaint from state and city officials is that the Department of Homeland Security issues initiatives and mandates, but the funds provided to meet its goals are inadequate. At first glance, it would appear that the DHS 2004 counterterrorism grants would more than cover the cost of increased security expenses. However, of the $2.2 billion in grants, only one fourth ($497 million) is earmarked for prevention and deterrence.

This content continues onto the next page...