Massachussetts: Vigilance over water supply : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Headline: Vigilance grows over water: Sept. 11 attacks prompt tighter security at state's reservoirs

Source: Boston Globe, 26 September 2001


CLINTON - Here at Wachusett Reservoir, where thick forests surround billions of gallons of water bound for Boston, officials are preparing for a horror that is no longer unimaginable.

Yesterday, State Police troopers turned people away from their daily nature walks along the Wachusett and manned stations at 11 other vulnerable parts of the system's water supply, fearful someone might try to poison the drinking water of much of Eastern Massachusetts.

While this reservoir holds so much water that it would be extraordinarily difficult to poison, it is not impossible: Several truckloads of the right toxin could conceivably kill thousands.

And it's not only reservoirs that officials must worry about. The Massachusetts Water Resources Authority's system is enormously complex, with potentially vulnerable dams and vast webs of smaller pipes and pumping stations to bring water to consumers - none of which were built with terrorist threats in mind.

''It's the stuff of urban legends and folklore that two drops [of some poison] are going to wreak havoc,'' said Fred Laskey, head of the MWRA. ''To contaminate a water supply is so difficult it would border on the impractical. But we can't ignore it. And we have two threats: the contamination and the physical threat'' to dams and pipes.

In response, Massachusetts officials have closed off vehicle access to large dams enclosing the Quabbin and Wachusett reservoirs, by far the largest water sources for the metropolitan area. Security officials fear a truck loaded with explosives could damage or even destroy them, causing devastating flooding and draining Boston's water supply.

In addition, police have increased patrols along the 17 miles where Greater Boston's water flows in a single aqueduct. The Metropolitan District Commission's 160 water protection employees are more heavily patrolling all the MWRA's water supplies - many of which already are underground, locked, and alarmed.

Finally, water officials have set alarms to go off at a mere hint of potential contamination in the water. Last Saturday, officials stopped drawing water from the massive Quabbin Reservoir altogether when two low-flying planes were spotted overhead. The Quabbin is not expected to come back online for several days. The Wachusett Reservoir has plenty of water without the Quabbin - enough for several months.

All the preparations are at least partly a reaction to public fears. Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, water officials have received dozens of phone calls, some frantic, worrying that a crop duster or determined hiker with the right chemical could turn faucets into poison dispensers. ''We know people are worried, and we are doing everything we can,'' said Laskey, acknowledging water's unique importance. ''Everyone drinks the water; it comes into your house and you use it. It's got a psychology.''

But the MWRA provides only a portion of Massachusetts water, and smaller above-ground reservoirs and even wells are more vulnerable to attacks. Yesterday, some local water superintendents said they were protecting their supplies with the help of police.

As water districts scramble to improve security, analysts say that, while some supplies are well protected, too many are wide open to terrorism, creating an uneven patchwork. ''It wouldn't make sense to build Fort Knox with one wall 3 feet thick and another wall out of aluminum siding,'' said Jeffrey Danneels, an engineer at Sandia National Laboratory, who is helping municipalities tighten security of water supplies. ''But unfortunately that is how a lot of security systems are built.''

Danneels, who has been visiting localities to assess their systems, urged officials to focus on developing technology, still a few years away, to test water from rainfall to faucet for a broad range of biological and chemical weapons in real time. He also wants to see improved security at treatment plants.

Yesterday, MWRA officials watched the state's water supply from a high-tech command center in the Cosgrove Disinfection facility at the Wachusett Reservoir. Security cameras scanned the grounds while a worker stared at a computer screen, watching the path of the water as it made its way to Boston.

The water normally travels from the Quabbin to the Wachusett, where it is treated with chlorine, then moves to Marlborough, where it is injected with fluoride. The final stop is at the Norumbega Reservoir in Weston, where another disinfectant is added before the millions of gallons go into pipes and travel on to nearly 2 million homes.

It is virtually impossible to check for every chemical that could possibly be dumped into the water, MWRA officials concede. So officials are more carefully watching for changes in the water's cloudiness and acidity that could signal a problem.

Still, while the public's focus has been on exotic poisons, common bacteria remain the biggest threat. The most infamous case of US water contamination - in Milwaukee in 1993 -- came from a microbe called cryptosporidium, which is found in the feces of humans and animals. Cryptosporidium in runoff from a cattle lot sickened 400,000 people and killed more than 100 in Milwaukee.

In one key way, the MWRA is better prepared than many other water districts. Over the last three years, the agency has built three gigantic underwater storage tanks that are difficult for workers, let alone terrorists, to access. Two more are being built, including a 115 million gallon container that will be the world's largest. Once these facilities are completed, virtually all of the MWRA's water will remain under lock and key once it has been treated.

''We're doing everything we possibly can,'' said Laskey.

-- Andre Weltman (, September 28, 2001


Headline: Utilities take steps to protect

Source: Boston Globe, 22 September 2001

URL: otect+.shtml

The enormous rainbow-colored liquefied natural gas tank overlooking the Southeast Expressway in Dorchester is already protected by barbed wire and security cameras.

But that wasn't enough yesterday, not after warnings issued by Attorney General John D. Ashcroft Thursday that terrorists might be planning a strike in Boston. So the tank's owner, KeySpan Corp., set up police barricades to block anyone without proper identification from passing.

''A lot of people are on edge,'' said an officer manning the barricades who wouldn't provide his name. ''I've never seen this kind of security all across the board.''

As part of a nationwide effort to shore up security since the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, gas, electric, and water utilities throughout the area have been reviewing backup plans and taking a variety of measures they hope will either thwart or mitigate any potential terrorist strike.

The ominous warnings about an imminent attack in Boston pushed the utilities in the area to take even more drastic security steps yesterday. To protect the more than 450 billion gallons of water at the Quabbin and Wachusett reservoirs, the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority has increased patrols around some 60 miles of the reservoirs' perimeter, limited fishing, locked gates around all access roads, and made recent tests of the water supply.

''We have taken extraordinary security measures,'' said David Gilmartin, a spokesman for the water authority, which already treats the water with chlorine to kill any foreign bacteria. ''I would want to reassure everyone about our water supply. It is safe.''

Like every other major utility in the area, utility officials at NStar said they, too, had heightened security. Officials there would not say what new measures they have taken. Over the past week, officials at ISO New England Inc., which operates the electricity grid that provides power throughout the region, said they have activated all their backup electricity systems and held several conference calls with FBI agents and regional emergency officials.

''If there was any terrorist activity that affected any part of our system, we would be in a position to isolate and rework the system so that the impact would be minimized,'' said ISO spokesman Craig Kazin, adding that police are guarding its facilities and employees must wear identification.

A spokeswoman for Massachusetts Electric, which serves 1.2 million people in 168 communities around the state, said her company has added extra security patrols at all its substations. She would not add more details.

''We're taking all appropriate precautions,'' said Deborah Drew of Massachusetts Electric. ''Let's just leave it at that.''

-- Andre Weltman (, September 28, 2001.

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