Feb 10, 2004

Many NY Water Systems Still Not Terror-proof

More than half of New York's residents are drinking water from systems whose anti-terrorism defense plans have not received final approval by the state, according to a state Assembly report released Monday.

The terror vulnerability evaluations required under a 2002 law created to address concerns raised by the attacks of Sept. 11 were due to have been submitted to the state Health Department by Jan. 1, 2003. But Assembly Democrats said 54 percent of the state's water suppliers still did not have final approval for their assessments by Jan. 1, 2004 – a whole year past the deadline.

"I think a year is much too long to wait," Assemblyman Jeff Klein, a Bronx Democrat, told The Associated Press.

The state Health Department insists that Klein's information was outdated. While Klein said only two of the state's largest six cities – Yonkers and Syracuse – had received final approval for their assessments, the state said Albany and Rochester also received approval, and New York City and Buffalo are conditionally approved.

"Conditionally approved" means the state has accepted the bulk of the evaluation and had a few questions, usually not terrorism-related, that it wants answered. The Assembly report considers the 141 water systems with conditional approval as having no assessments in place.

The Pataki administration stated that 85 percent of the 356 water systems serving 3,300 people or more had assessments with final or conditional approval.

The report on the terrorism evaluations was done by Klein's Committee on Oversight, Analysis and Investigation; the Health Committee; and the Environmental Conservation Committee.

The New York City Department of Environmental Protection said the city has spent $100 million on improving security around its network of upstate reservoirs.

Under a 1987 law, water companies with annual revenues of $125,000 or more are considered public suppliers and are required to submit emergency plans for the state review and approval. The terrorism vulnerability assessments were added after Sept. 11, and state officials focused on the safety of water systems and other possible terrorist targets.

The information in the evaluations is highly sensitive because it could highlight security weaknesses. The assessments are not subject to release under the state's Freedom of Information Law.