Friday, May 14, 2010

Water System Security Issues

There is an interesting story on that, while it doesn’t deal with water treatment chemicals, does shed some light on how little attention is paid to water supply security issues by the Environmental Protection Administration. According to this local news story the police are investigating the release of 40 million gallons of water from a reservoir. Someone had cut locks on chains securing some large water valve handles which allowed the water to discharge into a creek. Interestingly no one knows when the valves were opened, but it was discovered by a water system employee making a ‘routine check’ of the reservoir. Any security professional knows that locks do not provide any kind of security unless they are watched; bolt cutters are available at any hardware store. Since this reservoir is a secondary water source for the water system, it probably doesn’t make any sense to have anyone on-site watching the locks. There are, however, a number of devices that could do that watching; video cameras, flow meters on the discharge lines, valve position sensors, etc. Any of these would have allowed for a response that would have prevented 40 million gallons of water being discharged. The local police chief told the reporter for this story that, because “it involves a water supply and water safety, it is something we take very seriously”. Unfortunately, current federal regulations do not take water system security seriously. The only requirement is for facilities to certify that they have completed water system security vulnerability assessments. There are no security standards, not even risk-based performance standards. There are no requirements for outside inspectors to check or verify that security measures are actually in place and functional. The EPA has the technical knowledge necessary to assure water quality issues, but does not have the necessary security background to assure that water quality is defended against potential attack or even vandalism. Congress needs to realize that security issues at such a vulnerable yet crucial public resource needs to be overseen by security professionals. Either EPA needs to be given that capability/responsibility by Congress or it should be given to DHS.

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