According to the EPA and the FBI, the risk of water supply contamination via the introduction of chemical or biological agents is real. If this happens, thousands of people could end up dead from water poisoning, so not only is the risk real, its potential severity is high as well. Public water infrastructure delivers drinking water to 90% of U.S. residents.
Why the U.S. is Vulnerable to Water Supply Contamination
One of the defining characteristics of the U.S. water system is that it is extremely fragmented, consisting of over 150k water systems, and millions of pipes spanning thousands of miles. This makes it difficult to adequately monitor the entire system against an attack.
Another vulnerability is the lack of cybersecurity protocols in place at many municipal water utilities, as well as the increased usage of remote SCADA systems. This obviously makes these systems prone to system hacking and malicious contamination.
The long and short of it is that water industry needs to step up its game when it comes to protecting the U.S. water supply. We have seen multiple forms of terrorism in the U.S. over the past few decades, and although water supply contamination has not yet occurred, it seems inevitable. In fact, attempts have already been carried out overseas – for example, in 2015, 5 ISIS members were arrested in Kosovo for planning to poison a reservoir.
Electric utilities are strong when it comes to emergency preparedness. Gas utilities and water utilities, however, generally lag behind. I hope for all of our sakes, this changes sooner rather than later.