Water Suppliers Assess Plant Security

Security at drinking water treatment plants has become more complex – and expensive – since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, according to the nation's largest water suppliers, as reported by Associated Press writer Joe Mandak.

These treatment plants must file vulnerability assessments with the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by March 31. The assessments require water suppliers to study and identify possible terrorist or other threats to their systems.

The annual security budget at the Metropolitan Utilities District in Omaha, Neb., tripled to $750,000 last year and will top $1 million this year, according to chief executive Tom Wurtz. The agency supplies about 176,000 water customers in and around Omaha.

"Most utilities had security in place prior to 9-11, but now most utilities have guards monitoring sophisticated kinds of cameras, instead of maybe just one guard sitting down at one end of the property in a guard shack," Wurtz told Mandak.

"Now, everybody's done a vulnerability assessment and that's a lot different than trying to keep people off (the property) and catch vandals."

Water suppliers with at least 100,000 customers have to file the EPA assessments by March 31. Those with 50,000 to 99,999 customers must file by Dec. 31, and those with 3,301 to 49,999 have to file by Dec. 31, 2004. Those with 3,300 or fewer customers don't have to file the reports.

After filing the assessments, water companies have six months to update their emergency plans to deal with the potential threats they uncover.

To ensure security, EPA will file the assessments at its Washington, D.C., office, instead of at its 10 regional offices, said Roy Seneca, of EPA's Philadelphia office. The records will be in a secure location and accessible only to workers with special security clearances.


Generally, water suppliers will say they're improving or starting to use cyber security, installing devices to more closely monitor the people and chemical shipments entering their facilities, and adding more guards, officials said.

The Southern Nevada Water Authority board recently approved spending $153,000 for private security to patrol Lake Mead, which is formed by the Hoover Dam on the Colorado River. The reservoir is the primary drinking water source for 1.5 million residents of southern Nevada.

The Nevada authority had been spending twice as much to pay Las Vegas police officers overtime for those patrols, said spokesman Vince Alberta, who wouldn't get more specific about security improvements there.

"We're looking at everything: from source to treatment to delivery. Our analysis was thorough – from lake to tap," Alberta explained.

Gregory Tutsock, executive director of the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority, which has 247,000 customers, kept that agency's security changes close to the vest. But Tutsock said his agency is developing a third stage of its security planning process that's not required by the government: a business recovery plan.

"It will deal with the fiscal realities, the infrastructure, strategies to restore public confidence" if service were interrupted by a terrorist attack or other emergency, Tutsock said. "We think it's critical to have a document that guides us through what we'll have to do to recover."

The Associated Press

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