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EPA and the Water Industry Brief Mayors on Water System Security Efforts

By Cynthia Zhao
May 10, 2004

Sugar Land (TX) Mayor David Wallace led a panel at the Urban Water Council's Summit in Washington (DC) on April 27-28. Representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Veolia Water and the Chlorine Chemistry Council briefed Mayors and UWC members on recent developments in securing the nation's water resources and infrastructure.

Citing an increased sense of vulnerability since September 11, 2001, Janet Pawlukiewicz, Director of Water Protection Task Force of the EPA, presented an overview of the federal government's efforts related to securing both drinking water and wastewater utilities. A top priority for the Department of Homeland Security and EPA's Water Security Division is reducing the threat of terrorism, she said. Since gauging outside threats to water infrastructure is a relatively new idea, not much had historically been done to address the danger of terrorism before 9/11. Consequently, the Water System Security Vulnerability Assessments and Emergency Response Plans of the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness Act of 2002 (the Bioterrorism Act) requires community water systems serving over 3,300 people to assess the vulnerability of their water systems to a terrorist attack. The EPA has conducted training, and provided grants to large water systems serving 50,00-100,000 people, while also providing financial and technical assistance to small & medium water systems serving 3,300 — 50,000 people. The Vulnerability Assessment and Emergency Response Plans are to be submitted to the EPA by June 2004. So far, the response rates are phenomenal, according to Pawlukiewicz, with 100 percent of large systems responding and 90 percent for medium and small systems.

New Tools Mentioned

The EPA has developed a variety of vulnerability assessment and emergency response guidance tools to assist large and small drinking water and wastewater utilities. Pawlukiewicz mentioned that EPA recently awarded a new grant to the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies to establish the Water Information Sharing and Analysis Center (ISAC) to provide a secure source for intelligence, analysis and research on water system security.

Kip Howlett, Executive Director of the Chlorine Chemistry Council (CCC), briefed Mayors on the important role that CCC and the American Chemistry Council (ACC) have played in the community security area. Chlorine is a critical security asset as a vital part of many water treatment processes as a disinfectant. It can also be a very dangerous chemical if misused. By acknowledging the interdependence among communities, water treatment infrastructure and chlorine products, Howlett noted, "Securing facilities and utilities could improve overall community security."

New Challenges

The 9/11 Terrorist Attacks posed new security challenges to the nation's chlorine and chemical industries. In 2002, the ACC added a significant security code to its Responsible Care program, which already included environmental and public health and safety performance provisions. The ACC requires its members to adopt and implement the Responsible Care program. The chlorine industry also has worked extensively with law enforcement and security agencies and organizations to develop detailed security plans to assess the industry's vulnerabilities and emerging concerns. The plans cover not only the points of production and use, but also transportation such as rail, truck and barge. Howlett concluded by restating that community involvement and the coordination and communication among other security parties (police, fire, emergency response) are key to implementing these security plans and to protecting the nation's chlorine from terrorist attacks.

Overview of Terrorist Attacks

Peter Beering, National Director of Security Initiatives of Veolia Water North America and a leading expert in water system security, provided the Urban Water Council with an overview of terrorist attacks in contemporary American history. In looking back on these events and assessing the strategies, weapons and people behind the terrorist attacks, Beering explained that, "The world we are living in is a changing place, and we are dealing with unforeseen attacks and unknown attackers everyday." Furthermore, Beering stated that it is critically important for people to take a thorough and careful view on security issues and be fully aware of the existence and urgency of these threats in our daily life to be well prepared and respond to future threats.

Beering pointed out that the current security plan, which focused only on drinking water systems, is not enough. He pointed out that wastewater systems are vulnerable too, and should be protected. The big challenge in addressing and coping with these problems, Beering concluded, is that funding opportunities are scarce. The challenge is for utilities and cities to get extra money to complete this expensive task.