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Rebecca Head chats with Dan Stefanski, Monroe County drain/water commissioner in front of a backup generator at a local reservoir and pump station. Photo: Ed Cousino

The security of the country's water system is a growing concern. And keeping it safe will take more than strong walls and high fences.

Recognizing this threat, National Drinking Water Advisory Council (NDWAC) member Rebecca Head, director of the Monroe County Public Health Department, Monroe, Mich., volunteered to serve on the council's Water Security Working Group (WSWG); her peers in the group—an assembly of water industry experts—named her co-chair. She drew upon her decades of experience in the field of public health to contribute to the group's effort to examine water security and craft effective, prudent recommendations—a daunting task.

“Formulating a useful and complete emergency preparedness planning framework for facilities was our major challenge,” said Head. “We had reams of materials from which to glean the critical points. We also had good examples of what to employ from specific facility situations but could not include or release those, as then those facilities would be made vulnerable. So we worked to provide a plan that was general enough for all types of water utilities—small and large, urban and rural. This plan also needed specificity so that it would be effective and instructive to all who employed it.”

The group released Water Security Practices, Incentives, and Measures in July. The 110-page document contains a wealth of information, guidelines, and recommendations that water facility managers can apply to their operations, regardless of size. While the WSWG's work has ended, Head remains a member of the council, and she will continue her work to promote partnerships between local public health officials and water facilities.

“We are natural coworkers, and we are on the ground, responding in everyday and emergency situations,” said Head. “My work as a health officer and health department director remains challenging due to constricting budgets, but that also offers opportunities as all of us are forced to find new ways to work together—to pool our resources to get our work done well. Of course, the ‘more with less' slogan can be problematic if it leads to thinking that we can do ‘everything with nothing.' Participation in national activities will continue as those experiences allow opportunities to bring extra resources, though grants or examples of best practices, to the department.”