Born in Time

Remember the buzz surrounding water security a few years ago? Of course you do, you were required by the U.S. EPA to complete your vulnerability assessment and emergency response plan. But besides complying with the vulnerability assessment and emergency response plan requirements while implementing the appropriate strategies, what other measures have you incorporated in your plant to ensure security?

Hopefully, you have done enough to stay a step ahead of potential threats. If you haven’t…well…let’s just hope that isn’t the case.

Recently, the EPA began to usher in its next phase of water security measures by announcing its WaterSentinel pilot project, which is slated to launch in the summer of 2007 at the Greater Cincinnati Water Works.

According to the EPA, the WaterSentinel initiative will “design and demonstrate an effective system for timely detection and appropriate response to drinking water contamination threats and incidents.”

Research efforts, which included the framework for a system architecture, online monitoring, event-detection system and consequence management, for the WaterSentinel program began in late 2005, but only after $8 million was earmarked for the program by Congress.

In turn, the Greater Cincinnati Water Works agreed to partner with the EPA earlier this summer, wherein the WaterSentinel program follows a presidential homeland security directive to “develop a robust, comprehensive and fully coordinated surveillance and monitoring system for water quality.”

Additionally, the main objective of the WaterSentinel pilot program, according to the EPA, is to characterize and minimize false alarm rates, assess the performance and limitations of event-detection systems and identify techniques to develop more realistic simulations of performance and methods to streamline the process of confirming the credibility of a contamination event.

As I mentioned previously, this program is the next logical step for the EPA to incorporate following the completion of the vulnerability assessments and the emergency response plans. However, the timeliness of the WaterSentinel program proves to be a serious issue.

By the time this pilot program is in place, it will have been nearly six years since the terrorist attacks of September 2001. While I understand that a program such as the WaterSentinel initiative takes time and, more importantly, money to launch, six years is much too long considering the multiple risks that U.S. water plants still face.

Additionally, the Greater Cincinnati Water Works/WaterSentinel pilot program will not be evaluated until 2009 when a final utility guidance will be released, which leads to the question: How long will it be until the WaterSentinel initiative is implemented at all water facilities across the U.S.—if this program is indeed a success?

It’s hard to even guess how long a program such as this may take to be implemented nationwide, let alone the cost that will be incurred.

My only hope is that there is no credible threat of contamination to U.S. water systems within the next decade before this program can be fully integrated.

But, better late than never, right?

Tim Gregorski, editorial director
tgregorski@sgcmail.com

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