Staying Alert

April 2, 2018

About the author: Bill Swichtenberg is Editorial Director. He can be reached at [email protected]

The news that the FBI has received a threat against the Orlando-area water supply has brought security issues back in focus for water and wastewater facilities.

While law enforcement officials in Orange County (Fla.) have said the water remains safe, they wanted to alert the public as a precaution. However, like most of the threats, it was described as vague and unsubstantiated.

At the recent 2002 Washington Forum sponsored by the Water & Wastewater Equipment Manufacturers Association (WWEMA), a panel of federal and industry officials shed some light on security precautions and practices that have been taking place.

Curt Baranowski from the EPA Water Protection Task Force said that his agency is working under the guidelines of “the most systems-safest-soonest.” The task force is assigned with providing support to utilities to assess, minimize and respond to terrorist threats to drinking water and wastewater treatment facilities. After 9-11, there had been eight security notices from the agency to utilities.

A total of $83 million was appropriated from the EPA for security in the past year. Of this amount, $50 million was earmarked to big utilities for assessment purposes. Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico is developing the vulnerability assessment for water utilities. It should be complete in June. The Association of Metropolitan Sewerage Agencies has developed an electronic assessment for wastewater facilities.

C. David Binning, P.E., director of planning and engineering for the Fairfax (Va.) County Water Authority, said that the problem with security at water/wastewater facilities is that each is so “site specific.” Since 9-11, his authority has gone through an assessment. As a result, gate guards and cameras have been installed, the use of chlorine has been changed to sodium hypochlorite, the utility’s computers have been tested for cyber security and law enforcement officials have been alerted to locations and procedures of facilities.

“It's funny because we have gone out of our way to beautify and make our pump stations and other facilities blend in with the surroundings. Now we have had to go back and point out these places to law enforcement for protection,” Binning said. These locations are now on a GIS system.

Michael Marcotte, chief engineer of the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority (WASA), also has gone through a vulnerability assessment. “According to our assessment, even if terrorists blew up Blue Plains (the world’s largest advanced wastewater plant), customers should see no disruption in service.”

Because of their close proximity to the Capitol, WASA also has changed from chlorine to hypochlorite for disinfection. Marcotte has $1.6 million budgeted for security over the next 10 years.

According to Binning, Fairfax has spent money on reliability and redundancy for their systems. “We are still in the water business. You have to work with law enforcement and other agencies for security.”

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About the Author

Bill Swichtenberg

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