Water Agencies want billions to protect drinking water

greenspun.com : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Thursday, October 11, 2001

Water Agencies want billions to protect drinking water

By JOHN HEILPRIN Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Worried about terrorism, the nation's water system operators want $5 billion from Congress to protect drinking water and wastewater plants.

They also want $155 million -- a 62-fold increase -- from the Environmental Protection Agency for security planning.

The Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies, which serves 160 million people, is asking the government to boost security for water supplies. The request was being made Wednesday to a House subcommittee.

''The unprecedented events of September 11 obviously brought a sense of urgency, as the term 'worst case scenario' took on new meaning for the water industry,'' John P. Sullivan Jr., the group's president and chief engineer for the Boston Water and Sewer Commission, said in prepared testimony.

A bipartisan group of 11 senators on the Environment and Public Works Committee sent Senate leaders a letter Tuesday also proposing the $5 billion among other billions of dollars in spending to boost U.S. security and to help revive the ailing economy further weakened by the four hijackings in September.

Wednesday's hearing was called to explore the vulnerability of water supplies at dams and reservoirs, wastewater treatment plants, hazardous chemical operations and federally owned power plants.

Some major fears extending far beyond New York and Washington are that an explosion at a sewage plant along a river could contaminate the drinking water of millions downstream or that the catastrophic loss of major dams could wreak havoc on cities in the flow's path.

''The safety and security of the water infrastructure has not been a high priority in the past,'' Rep. John Duncan, R-Tenn., the subcommittee's chairman, said in an interview. ''We hope to get some of the cities and water agencies to look more seriously at this.''

However, he added, ''Even if we spent the entire federal budget on security, we still couldn't make the country 100 percent safe from every danger or every nut that's out there. We want to do what we should be doing, but we don't want to do things that are totally unnecessary.''

In a 1998 presidential directive by then-President Clinton, the EPA gained responsibility for protecting the nation's water supply from terrorist attack, including biological contamination.

The agency received $2.5 million to combat bioterrorism this year.

Before that it received as little as $10,000 to protect water supply infrastructure in 1998, no funding for that purpose in 1999 and $100,000 in 2000 -- money that mostly went toward assessing vulnerability and conducting a water protection workshop, according to EPA figures.

Sullivan's group says the EPA could use $100 million more to assess the vulnerability of the nation's largest water supply systems and $55 million more to improve an emergency response plan, developed mainly to handle natural disasters like floods and earthquakes and accidents such as hazardous waste spills.

Patrick T. Karney, a spokesman for the Association of Metropolitan Sewerage Agencies, said in prepared testimony that the terror attacks ''revealed how little our industry knows about the unique risks posed by terrorist threats.''

Among the critical links identified by the subcommittee were dams overseen by the Army Corps of Engineers and nuclear, coal-fired and hydroelectric power plants operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority, the nation's largest producer of public power.

On Sept. 11, TVA's emergency procedures -- most of which remain in effect today -- included dispatching 24-hour guards, helicopters fueled and put on standby, police boats next to cooling-water pumping stations and troops posted at the Army's Fort Campbell power substation, TVA Chairman Glenn L. McCullough Jr. said in prepared testimony.


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), October 10, 2001

Moderation questions? read the FAQ