October 14, 2001
Water supply is seen as safe from attack
by Nancy Gaarder, Omaha World-Herald
Public health officials worry about bioterrorism on many fronts, but one area they generally believe safe is the water supply.
"The threat of public harm from terrorists to the water supply is small," said Jack L. Daniel, administrator of Nebraska's Environmental Health Services.
That's true across the nation, but there is a specific reason why it may hold true in Nebraska. Most communities in the state get their water from underground sources. That minimizes the chances for tampering, Daniel said.
While the water supply generally is considered safe from contamination, that doesn't mean the plants aren't susceptible to other types of sabotage. Daniel's office last week issued an alert to all public water supply systems, asking them to take extra steps to guard against efforts to destroy portions of their physical plants and cyber-attacks on their computer systems.
Daniel said water utilities should:
Daniel's advice to water operators could be applied to anyone: "Every Nebraska water system has to be more vigilant. If you see people wandering around, instead of ignoring it, inquire about it. If something is out of the ordinary, check it out."
Some major cities draw water from above-ground sources. Omaha, for example, draws some of its water from the Missouri River.
But even contamination of Omaha's water supply is unlikely, Daniel said.
"(Omaha) has a sophisticated treatment system," Daniel said. "and they have the great advantage of dilution."
The Metropolitan Utilities District has the capacity to pump 234 million gallons a day.
Water utilities such as Omaha filter their water and add chlorine. Both steps purify water and rid it of a variety of organisms.
Another reason for M.U.D. customers to draw comfort is that the utility gets its water from more than one source and has more than one plant.
M.U.D. boosted its security the morning of September 11.
Jerry Radek, general manager, said he couldn't discuss those steps.
He did say that the company is in constant contact with local, state and federal officials and is "doing the appropriate monitoring."
"Our water is safe to drink," said M.U.D. spokeswoman Mari Matulka. "If it ever is not safe to drink, we will notify the public."
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