Protecting New York's water supply

April 25, 2008
City gets federal funds for drinking water alert system water in case of terror attack, contamination

As part of a federal push to safeguard the nation's water supply after the Sept. 11 attacks, New York City will develop and install a warning system designed to detect contamination of city drinking water.

The $12-million water security plan will focus on chemical, radiological and biological threats. It was announced yesterday at a news conference with Mayor Michael Bloomberg and officials from the federal Environmental Protection Agency, which is paying for the project.

"Our drinking water really is the lifeblood of this city, and that, unfortunately, might make it a target for sabotage," Bloomberg said. "We need to be vigilant in protecting our water systems."

The three-year program will bolster existing surveillance of the sprawling system of reservoirs, aqueducts and underground pipes that supply 1.1 billion gallons of water to the city each day.

Officials said there was no specific threat to New York's water supply, and acknowledged that the volume of water flowing through the system each day would make it difficult for saboteurs to effect any large-scale contamination.

Still, EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson said that the government regards drinking water infrastructure as "a potential area of vulnerability."

New York is the second city to participate in the EPA pilot program, which began in 2006 in Cincinnati and will eventually include three more sites. Elements include online water monitoring and reviews of public health data and water quality complaints, as well as increased water sampling and additional surveillance of vulnerable infrastructure.

The goal is to step up scrutiny and also to connect various monitoring systems for faster detection of any threats to the water supply. "The real difficulty with any of this stuff is recognizing when it happens," said Bloomberg.

Results from the pilot programs will be used to help the EPA develop water security guidelines.

A 2002 presidential homeland security directive required the agency to develop "robust, comprehensive, and fully coordinated surveillance and monitoring systems" for "early detection and awareness of disease, pest, or poisonous agents."

Daniel Rosen contributed to this story.