Senate Committee Examines Y2K Impact On U.S. Water/Wastewater Industry

Minerva said EPA has distributed Y2K information to utilities, established a web page with links to related sites, and is planning additional stakeholder meetings.

Minerva said EPA has distributed Y2K information to utilities, established a web page with links to related sites, and is planning additional stakeholder meetings.

3-5 days if it is full at the start of that period. It could last even longer if our customers are willing to help with some emergency conservation measures. "Our present plan is to completely fill the system during the day and evening of Dec. 31, 1999. Of course, this is not a long-term solution, but given our present capacity and normal consumption during that time of year, we feel it will give us sufficient time to correct any last minute problems that might occur in the supply of electric power.

"Assuming that we have power but experience massive computer failure, our ultimate backup plan is to operate the system manually. It would require most of the districts operations and maintenance staff, but it can be done. We plan to have sufficient staff either on duty or on call during those critical hours."

Sewerage systems

Patrick Miles, director of information technology for the Orange County Sanitation District, Fountain Valley, Calif., testified for the Association of Metropolitan Sewerage Agencies.

Sewerage systems

He said computers, microchips, electronic data logging/analysis, and remote monitoring/control systems are widely used and are critical components in the nations public wastewater treatment agencies.

Sewerage systems

He said an AMSA survey has indicated an average level of automation of 54 percent among its 206 member agencies.

Sewerage systems

Miles said 88 percent of the agencies use supervisory control and data acquisition (Scada) systems, but that only means computers are used to monitor the process and not necessarily that the entire treatment process is automated. He said 90 percent of AMSA members have a plan to assess and address their Y2K problem, and 26 percent have completed or nearly completed their repairs.

Sewerage systems

Of the respondents, 45 percent said they expected their Y2K costs would be less than $100,000, 40 percent between $100,000 and $1 million, and 15 percent above $1 million. Two members expected costs of $15 million.

Sewerage systems

Miles said all of the agencies with automated process controls have the ability to switch to manual operations, although 15 percent of them expected problems if they did so.

Sewerage systems

He said in the event of a regional, long-term electrical power failure, 37 percent of the responding agencies indicated that all their plants could operate indefinitely with alternative power generators. Another 28 percent said they could operate at partial capacity.

Sewerage systems

"We are encouraging drinking water and wastewater utilities to meet with external service and chemical suppliers and pretreatment providers to ensure that their contingency plans address the potential inability of these entities to deliver needed materials and services."

Sewerage systems

Minerva said the agency also is encouraging treatment plants to test their Y2K repairs beforehand.

Sewerage systems

The water and wastewater industry expects to weather the Year 2000 computer problem with few difficulties, according to testimony before the U.S. Senates Special Committee on the Year 2000 technology problem.

Sewerage systems

However, said Sen. Robert Bennett (R-Utah), committee chairman, warned that utilities must take the problem seriously.

Sewerage systems

"Large numbers of citizens might be facing interruptions of water or wastewater utility service on Jan. 1, 2000 if the Y2K problem is not adequately addressed," Bennett said during a recent hearing in Anaheim, Calif., that focused on water and wastewater utilities.

Sewerage systems

Power outages and a general breakdown in services could cause problems for both drinking water and wastewater systems, he said.

Sewerage systems

"The water and wastewater industry is vulnerable to supply interruptions. Water treatment plants, in particular, rely on a regular supply of chlorine and other chemicals that are required in the water treatment process. Long-term interruptions of the means of production or delivery of these items due to other Y2K problems would directly impact the utilities ability to deliver their services."

Sewerage systems

Bennett said there have also been many examples of computer related or induced failures in the water and wastewater industry over the past several years, which "illustrate the sensitive and important role that computers play." "It does not require a very large leap in logic to believe that many water or wastewater companies could be confronted by similar computer-related failures on Jan. 1, 2000, if proper steps are not taken now to address the YK issue," He said.

Sewerage systems

Bennett said the committee staff surveyed 20 water companies and 20 wastewater companies last July about their Y2K preparedness. About a fourth of the 11 companies that responded said it was unlikely they would be Y2K compliant by Jan. 1, 2000.

Sewerage systems

He said more than 50 percent had not yet assessed their vulnerability and that 36 percent lacked contingency plans. Of the 64 percent that had contingency plans, they consisted of either switching to manual operations or using parent company operations.

Sewerage systems

"Larger surveys have been conducted by some of the leading trade associations in the water and wastewater industry over the past 6 months and they also reveal a somewhat erratic Y2K preparedness curve."

EPA efforts

Dana Minerva, the Environmental Protection Agencys deputy assistant administrator for water, said most of the nations population is served by a relatively small number of large drinking water and municipal wastewater treatment systems.

EPA efforts

He said EPA has held many meetings with utilities and "We believe that most of the large drinking water and wastewater plants are actively taking steps toward making necessary corrections.

EPA efforts

"We have less information, however, about the readiness and the level of awareness of the small and medium plants. Although they are generally less automated than the larger plants ... it is hard to predict whether these plants are prepared."

EPA efforts

"EPA has issued an enforcement policy that waives some enforcement action if Y2K-caused violations occur during Y2K testing, provided that specific conditions are met.

EPA efforts

"Also, such testing will be taken into consideration if enforcement violations result from Y2K causes on Jan. 1, 2000, or on other problem dates."

EPA efforts

James Bell, vice president of technical services for Smith & Loveless Inc., said the key problem for water and wastewater treatment systems is determining which have embedded computer chips which use a "real time" clock. He said, "Fortunately, computerization is not widespread across Americas utilities. Only in the last 10 years has advanced computerization - systems with the unpredictable embedded chips - been more mainstream in supplied equipment."

Water systems

James Brainerd, chief information officer for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, said water utilities are in good shape. He said a September 1998 survey for the water industry found that systems serving 1 million or more persons can be expected to have little or minimal internal problems from Y2K.

Water systems

"Additionally, statistics from this survey seem to indicate that the overwhelming majority of the American people will not have their drinking water supply disrupted or made unsafe by internal Y2K computer problems." He said thats because with adequate electric power and labor, most of the nations water delivery systems can be operated manually upon loss of computerized controls.

Water systems

James Ellisor, director of information systems for the Las Vegas Valley Water District, noted some water systems depend on gravity alone, and each is different in respect to the electric power needed to pump the water. For instance, he said his Las Vegas, Nev., utility uses electrical power to pump water uphill, but uses gravity to deliver it to consumers.

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