Launch Slideshow

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Locked Out

Locked Out

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    Photo: Sandia National Laboratory

    Bill Hart leads a team of federal and academic researchers that's developing a system for monitoring contaminants in real time. The “Canary” data analysis software for detecting contamination, as well as a Sensor Placement Optimization Toolkit (TEVA-SPOT) for pinpointing key sensor locations, is being tested by Tucson Water in Arizona.

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    Photo: Wirewall by Riverdale

    Fencing is the first line of security for water treatment plants like this one in Houston. Note that the grid pattern is too small to allow a toehold for climbing.

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    Sources: American Society of Civil Engineers, American Water Works Association, and Water Environment Federation

    The cost of risk reductionA cost-risk reduction curve can be a useful tool in determining which security measures to use—and at which point implementing additional security measures would lead to marginal risk reduction. The below graph is an example of a typical cost-to-risk curve.

Ten years ago, security at most mid-sized water treatment plants was little more than a locked door. Today, water and wastewater utilities are doing their best to protect the vulnerabilities of systems that spread out over literally millions of miles.

Utility managers have had to learn in a hurry how best to accomplish this.

“A ‘water security expert' is someone who's been involved on a part-time basis for the last three or four years,” says Dan Lynch, water and wastewater utility director for the city of Janesville, Wis. “By that definition I'm an expert, even though it's not what I spend most of my time doing.”

The 2009 federal budget proposal would cut grants to state and local governments for homeland security by $1.9 billion, or 47%. If enacted, it's doubtful the reduction would negatively impact the security of the nation's drinking water and wastewater treatment systems. Most have already done the job on their own.

“Right after 9/11 some of the larger systems did get some federal money, but there were never any direct grants or loans to smaller systems,” says Lynch. “There are ways to access homeland security money because water systems are considered first responders, but that also means we compete with police and fire departments.

“Before 9/11, security in this town meant trying to remember to lock the doors. But today there's only one city facility that is more secure than the water facility, and that's the police station. Because they have guns.”

Since Sept. 11, 2001, federal security programs have grown into a maze so labyrinth that even a dedicated bureaucrat could get lost.

Water and wastewater systems are a “critical infrastructure and key resource” (CI/KR) under the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) National Infrastructure Protection Plan (NIPP). The lead agency for security enhancements to water and wastewater systems is the EPA, under the Sector-Specific Plan portion of NIPP.

To respond to its charge, the EPA established the Water Security Working Group under the National Drinking Water Advisory Council. With representation from water utilities across the nation, the group issued a report in 2005 that was adopted as a formal proposal to the EPA. The report concludes with recommendations for the 14 essential features of an “active and effective security program.”

The latest and greatest security plan came out last May as a joint DHS/EPA document titled Water: The Critical Infrastructure and Key Resources Sector-Specific Plan (SSP) as input to the National Infrastructure Protection Plan. The purpose of this massive document is “to provide information on the activities and initiatives [the water sector] is undertaking to identify, prioritize, and coordinate protection of critical sector infrastructure.”

These federal resources are good places to begin when trying to understand water and wastewater security issues in the United States. But most federal funding was allocated not as direct grants for key card systems and video cameras, but rather as support to develop guidance documents, communication methods, and training programs. Most of this has happened through associations such as the American Water Works Association (AWWA), the Water Environment Federation (WEF), the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies (AMWA), and the Association of Metropolitan Sewerage Agencies (AMSA).

“Most of the federal funding that finds its way to our city is for personnel training,” says Grahame Watts, emergency and special projects manager for Thousand Oaks, Calif. “The challenge is that if funding comes from the federal government it goes first to the state, then to the region, then to the county, and the city gets whatever's left.”