Coping with the Threat of Terrorism
Americans living in the West awoke to a strange sight as they switched on their television sets the morning of Tuesday, September 11, 2001. Poised to hear the latest news or traffic reports, viewers were instead presented with the surreal image of New York’s World Trade Center towers engulfed in thick black smoke. Many immediately thought the buildings had been involved in some kind of horrific accident with an aircraft that had gone astray. But when the cameras suddenly switched to the blazing wreckage at the Pentagon, and later, in western Pennsylvania, the grim reality of the morning became frightfully clear: the United States was under attack.
“I was in a state of shock,” said Sonny Fong, security chief for the California Department of Water Resources (DWR). “The response part of me said, ‘What can I do?’”
As the day wore on, viewers continued to gaze in disbelief at the footage being televised from New York and Washington. Commentators drew comparisons to Pearl Harbor as images of the incomprehensible devastation appeared but the projected death toll in New York alone left no doubt that what occurred was no less than the worst ever attack on American soil.
Federal and state officials quickly responded to the attacks by securing strategic targets throughout the nation, including key water storage and conveyance facilities in the West. U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (Bureau) sites were immediately closed and public access restricted. National Guard troops were deployed to Hoover Dam, while Highway 93, which links Phoenix to Las Vegas, and traverses Hoover Dam, was closed to all vehicles except passenger cars and small pickup trucks. Vehicle checkpoints were established at dam access points in Arizona and Nevada.
In the aftermath of the attack, public tours of Hoover Dam were immediately canceled. Some three months later, on Dec. 12, Interior Secretary Gale Norton announced that public tours would resume, but only with limited access to the power plant and dam.
In California, the destination of the four hijacked aircraft, the Office of Emergency Services implemented the State Terrorism Plan, which outlines a coordinated response among all levels of government. Security was tightened at dams, aqueducts, reservoirs, pumping stations and water treatment plants. Highway Patrol officers provided air surveillance of possible targets, including the 444-mile California Aqueduct and 242-mile Colorado River Aqueduct, while water treatment plants conducted additional tests of supplies to detect any poisoning attempts. The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD), the primary supplier of imported water to homes and businesses in southern California, doubled the number of water quality tests normally performed and remained on full-scale alert for days following the attacks.
Other water districts in the state also took quick action to “batten down the hatches” against the threat of terrorism. One Ventura County district did exactly that as crews welded shut hatches and installed new vent systems on water tanks to guard against contamination. Local providers deployed workers and armed security guards to patrol reservoirs, dams, pump stations and treatment plants.
State and local agencies pledged to re-evaluate their existing disaster and emergency preparedness plans following the attacks. “Terrorism was considered to a limited degree [but] it wasn’t something in the forefront,” Fong said. “When September 11 came along, it really opened our eyes.” Pledging that the safety of Californians ‘is job number one,’ Gov. Gray Davis appointed a special advisor on state security on Nov. 1 to advise the governor on anti-terrorism efforts and to facilitate coordination among federal, state and local agencies.
DWR regulates more than 1,200 dams and operates the State Water Project (SWP), which delivers about 500 billion gallons of water a year. It is that immense size that ultimately makes the SWP an unlikely target, given the truckloads of contaminants needed to poison it. Fong said the old adage, “the solution to pollution is dilution,” holds true even in a terrorist attack.
The state Department of Health Services (DHS) Division of Drinking Water and Environmental Management, which regulates public water systems, met with key water agencies in northern and southern California to discuss heightened security. Joseph Tait, MWD’s chief operating officer, said the district’s constant preparation for seismic activity, as well as past events such as the new millennium (“Y2K”), left it in a good position to respond to the threat of terrorism. Beyond beefed up protective measures and increased water quality sampling, MWD leaders have sought to instill a permanent state of vigilance among the 1,800 employees.
“The main point we’re trying to make is . . . to eliminate the complacency,” he said. “What we’ve tried to do is say all of you are the best defense.”
Congress wasted little time in offering legislative and spending proposals in response to the terrorist threat. Dozens of bills in the House and Senate address a multitude of water-related topics, from bioterrorism to prospective grants to assist local drinking and wastewater facilities in meeting immediate security needs. The Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies (AMWA) recommended that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) budget for security planning be increased from $2.5 million in 2001 to $155 million in 2002. AMWA also is seeking an additional $5 billion to upgrade water and wastewater treatment facilities, some of which would be used to improve EPA’s notification system and some for bioterrorism response plans and identification of security weaknesses.
On Oct. 5, EPA Administrator Christie Whitman announced the formation of a water protection task force charged with ensuring the safety of the nation’s water supply. “While EPA already has a strong coordinated partnership program for protecting our drinking water, this task force will have specific duties to expand EPA’s service to the community water systems,” Whitman said in a press release. She emphasized that the threat of public harm from a terrorist attack on the nation’s water supply is small and that the agency’s goal is for all drinking water providers to have access to scientific and technical information, as well as be informed about what immediate steps to take and whom to turn to for help.
This issue of Western Water examines the issue of water security and the preparedness of federal, state and local agencies to the threat of terrorism. In addition to physical security and bioterrorism, it focuses on the type of long-term security measures being implemented to ensure a safe water supply. While certainly not the last word on the issue, this article will provide a glimpse into a world that was transformed forever September 11.
NOTE: A complete copy of this 16-page magazine is available from the Foundation for $3. Visit our on-line store and add the January/February 2002 issue of Western Water to your shopping cart. Or, contact us by phone at 916-444-6240.
The year 2001 is a year I’m sure we will all remember. The events of September 11 certainly brought a new reality to the water world. Since California was the destination of the four hijacked planes, security was immediately tightened at dams, aqueducts and water treatment plants. Beyond the immediate concerns, we began to wonder about the long-term impacts of this increased security. I have certainly enjoyed the dam tours many of you have been on with us – tours that take us down to see the inner workings of these major water structures. Seeing, for example, the major scale of these facilities at Hoover Dam and noting the small points like the floor inlayed artwork copied from American Indian designs always has been a high point of our annual three-state Colorado River tour. After the tragedy, public tours were immediately stopped. Now comes word that limited public tours will begin again, of course, under increased security. This is a small step probably not noticed outside the water world but one that is being taken by the Department of the Interior to give this opportunity back to the American people.
It’s in that vein that Writer Gary Pitzer undertook a long-term look at water security in the west. His research gives me a good understanding of what we have – and don’t have – to fear in protecting our water supply.
As we look forward to a new and better year, I note that a lot of anniversaries will be marked in 2002. One milestone is the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Bureau of Reclamation with its charge by new President Teddy Roosevelt to bring water to small farmers in the arid West. It’s interesting to note that Roosevelt became president in September 1901 after an anarchist assassinated President McKinley. Now we call anarchists by a new name – terrorists. Roosevelt was the father of the conservation movement and dealt with these thorny issues just as we today wrestle with what we term “environmental” issues.
Also in 2002, the Central Valley Project Improvement Act will mark 10 years of existence. As you can see from “In the News,” debate continues on the meaning of certain provisions. We’ll continue to follow that debate closely.
A happy anniversary will be celebrated on May 30 in Sacramento. A reception and dinner will mark the 25th anniversary of the Water Education Foundation. At that dinner we intend to honor many of the people who helped us build this successful nonpartisan foundation. One of the most outstanding of these people is Dr. Robert Hagan, retired professor from the University of California, Davis. Bob was a founding member of the Foundation. Through the years, he selflessly worked to advance the Foundation’s goals of public education on water issues in the West. He was well known at the University for his work in Cooperative Extension – a University outreach of experts in California communities. We were delighted to join other long time affiliations of Bob’s, the Association of California Water Agencies and the Yolo County Flood Control and Water Conservation District, in honoring Bob’s volunteer service to all three organizations at a recent reception. We’re glad that Bob will continue serve as President Emeritus of the Foundation and we wish him well as he starts a second retirement.
In the News
Legal Ruling Addresses Some CVPIA Issues
Legal issues surrounding a lawsuit involving Central Valley Project (CVP) water contractors, environmentalists and the Department of the Interior (Interior) over the amount of water dedicated to the environment are slowly becoming unwound, following a federal judge’s ruling in October. CVP contractors hope the ruling will set the stage for a more thorough accounting of CVP water, while environmentalists are eager to receive a definitive decision on the accounting issue.
Officials say the most significant aspects of the ruling in the case, San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority (Authority) v. United States, involve the proper baseline for lower American River flow criteria and the removal of a cap on water used to meet obligations under the Endangered Species and Clean Water acts. “The ruling is relatively significant in terms of the conclusion that all water used to meet endangered species and Delta water quality control plan obligations must be counted to Interior’s . . . obligation,” said Tom Birmingham, general manager of Westlands Water District.
Environmentalists are not happy with Judge Wanger’s decision to lift the cap on water for endangered species and Delta preservation, because it means “little or no additional water for the environment in some years,” said David Lewis, executive director of Save The Bay.
As this Western Water went to press, an evidentiary hearing was scheduled Jan. 8 in Fresno to address a key issue remaining to be determined – Interior’s methodology for accounting for this water.
The origins of the dispute can be traced back a decade to the signing of the CVP Improvement Act. Section 3406(b)(2) requires that Interior “dedicate and manage annually 800,000 acre-feet of CVP yield” (600,000 acre-feet in dry years) for environmental protection. Yield is defined as “the delivery capability of the CVP during the 1928-1934 drought period after fishery, water quality and other flow requirements” have been met. An administrative proposal released by Interior in 1997 did not include a strict interpretation of yield nor a method to account for water used. Instead, the focus was on specific fish actions such as increase in stream flows and decreased pumping at key times of the year. CVP users claimed the proposal would require more than 800,000 acre-feet of yield in some years.
After the proposal’s release, the Authority filed suit, arguing that Interior had failed to adequately account for the b2 water. The plaintiffs also alleged that Interior did not include diversions for the Bay-Delta Accord, Endangered Species Act and the Delta water quality control in the calculation for b2 use. Environmentalists also sued, claiming Interior did not properly distinguish between dedicated yield and changes that don’t affect water deliveries.
Wanger’s memorandum decision and order, issued in October, offered promising tidbits for various interests. Acknowledging the Authority’s assertion, he ruled that Interior does not have the discretion whether to annually provide more or less than 800,000 acre-feet of CVP yield for b2 purposes, unless certain findings are made. But contrary to what the Authority wanted, he decided that Interior is not required to use a comparative 1928-1934 period analysis to measure the impact of each b2 action in quantifying annual CVP yield used for b2 purposes. Wanger ruled that the proper baseline for lower American River flow criteria for calculation of CVP yield is Water Rights Decision 893, not the modified flow criteria used in Interior’s final decision, an argument consistent with Authority’s point of view.
Still unresolved is Interior’s methodology for accounting the b2 water – a complicated and contentious process.