The Cost Of Water-Tight Security
Last year, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (DWP) announced a five-year, $132-million security plan designed to protect the region's water supply. Designed to counter immediate threats, the plan calls for additional security forces and helicopter air patrols, new fencing, locks, access controls at gates, and CCTV. An amount yet to be determined will also be spent to address long-term vulnerabilities such as open, easily accessible reservoirs. "We plan to cover the reservoirs or replace them with new, more secure facilities," says James McDaniel, deputy assistant general manager for water services with the department.

As the largest municipally owned utility in the U.S., the department will likely spend more on water security in the coming years than the nation's other 54,065 public and private water systems. Long-term overall costs will rise into the billions.

According to the 2002 Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act (referred to as the Bioterrorism Act), systems supplying water to more than 3,300 people must begin the work of enhancing security by the end of 2004. Approximately 8,000 systems, which serve more than 240 million people or 90 percent of the U.S. population, meet that criterion.

The Bioterrorism Act requires each of these water systems to conduct a vulnerability assessment, prepare or revise emergency response plans, and certify these actions with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Deadlines for the vulnerability assessments depend upon size. Water systems serving more than 100,000 people were required to submit their assessments by March 31 of this year. According to the EPA, virtually all 460 of these systems met the deadline. The 500 to 1,000 systems serving 50,000 to 100,000 people have until the end of this year to assess vulnerabilities. The remaining 6,500 to 7,000 smaller systems serving between 3,300 and 50,000 people must complete their assessments by June 30 of next year. Emergency response plans must be developed or updated within six months of the completion of vulnerability assessments.

Lack of redundant systems and open facility designs are two of the chief vulnerabilities that water system experts who have conducted assessments are willing to discuss.

The concerns about redundancy relate to systems that treat and distribute water. "If I have only one main pump serving a distribution system and that pump becomes inoperable, then I have no way of getting water out of the system," explains David Dobbins, a project manager with Black and Veatch Security, Consulting, and Design Services, Overland Park, Kan., which has conducted more than 50 vulnerability assessments for large and small water utilities across the country.

Open water facility designs trouble industry experts as well. Designed before Sept. 11, the nation's water facilities have always been visible, easy to understand, and open to the public. Entrances often featured signs with maps and diagrams describing the processes carried out by the facility. "Utilities wanted to show people what they were getting for their money," Dobbins says. "Obviously, that is counter to a security mindset."

Vulnerability assessments include analyses of potential threats, specifically terrorist threats. Dobbins lists contamination, interruption of service, economic loss and injury to water facility personnel as potential terrorist goals. "It would be valid to address any of these threats with countermeasures such as fences, locks, CCTV and increased security patrols," he says. "All have their place at different facilities. But specific security measures depend on the site."

Security measures can provide some level of immediate protection. In the long term, however, facilities must address larger vulnerabilities, as L.A. is doing with its long-term plan to cover open reservoirs.

The American Water Works Association (AWWA), Washington, D.C., estimates vulnerability assessments will cost individual facilities from $100,000 to several million dollars, depending on the complexity and size of the system. Emergency response plans will add to those costs. Overall, the steps required by the Bioterrorism Act will cost the nation's water utilities approximately $500 million.

The AWWA has also estimated that the near-term costs of countermeasures security technology and guards will exceed $1.6 billion. A single large utility serving 1.2 million people, for example, estimates the cost of near-term security at $90 million.

But the large costs will come later, in the form of long-term capital improvements that address major vulnerabilities. These improvements will include reconfiguring facilities to reduce or eliminate openness, adding redundancy and increasing storage capabilities. While no one has made a formal estimate of these costs, Dobbins says they will range into the billions of dollars.

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