Water Security Measures Open to Public Review

January 17, 2007

Steps necessary to improve security at tens of thousands of US drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater facilities have become a little more definitive with the release Dec. 14, 2006, of a draft set of voluntary guidelines (Water Infrastructure Security Enhancement (WISE), bottom of page, Phase III). Is your local utility as secure as it can be?

The guidelines were prepared under the auspices of three professional groups (American Society of Civil Engineers, American Water Works Association, Water Environment Federation), and are being used to develop a final voluntary compliance process through the American National Standards Institute. ANSI is a non-government organization that has no regulatory authority, but which has overseen thousands of other voluntary standards currently in use in the US.

Utilities across the country can review and test the guidelines, and comment on them, along with the public, until June 30, 2007. So far, only a few utilities have acquired a copy of the guidelines, says ASCE's Joan Buhrman, 703-295-6406.

Journalists will find the documents useful because they spell out scores of tangible steps that utilities can take to protect their facilities, making it easy to ask whether your local utilities are using, or plan to use, similar steps. However, the guidelines allow considerable subjective judgment in how or whether to implement them, making it a challenge to determine how much safety and security is needed or appropriate.

Security concerns may spur utilities to be vague or unresponsive to your questions, but as the guidelines note, these recommended safety practices are designed to protect against a wide range of problems, only one of which is a terrorist attack. Other potential sources of harm include accidents, vandals, criminals, dangerous microbes, chemical contamination, earthquakes, floods, tornadoes, and other disasters. Addressing these is obviously in the public interest.

Issues that are specifically addressed in the draft guidelines, for both existing and new facilities, include physical protection, as well as management, operations, and security practices. One of the options offered is the use of inherently lower-risk designs, such as adopting a system that reduces or eliminates the use of chlorine for water treatment.

Utilities and the public can submit their comments to any of the three professional organizations involved, although the lead contact is ASCE'sMuhammad Amer. After June 30, 2007, these groups will determine whether, and how much, the guidelines need to be modified. If significant changes are needed, there may be another utility and public review process. When the guidelines are finalized, they'll be forwarded to ANSI, which will go through its own approval process. That can be either quick or drawn out.

An overview of the ANSI standards process is here; Stacy Leistner, 212-642-4931. The ANSI notice for the guidelines was published in its Dec. 22, 2006, Standards Action, page 6.

Additional perspective on the guidelines may be available through the engineering firm that helped draft them, CH2M Hill.

Preparation of the guidelines was funded by the US EPA, as part of its Water Infrastructure Security Enhancement (WISE) project. The agency has devoted some resources to water security, and is encouraging voluntary approaches, but has no regulatory authority. EPA: Dale Kemery,202-564-7839.

The Dept. of Homeland Security, which has authority for water facilities, also is using a voluntary, non-regulatory approach ("National Infrastructure Protection Plan" and related release of June 30, 2006; 202-282-8010).

For many other resources and related developments, see TipSheets of Oct. 25, 2006; Sept. 27, 2006; Jan. 21, 2004; and May 1, 2002.