Welcome to the February issue of WaterWorld magazine. As we put this issue together, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and partners announced a plan to help protect water systems from cyberattacks, the Industrial Control Systems Cybersecurity Initiative – Water and Wastewater Sector Action Plan. The Action Plan focuses on high-impact activities to safeguard water resources by improving cybersecurity across the water sector.
With the vulnerability of our nation’s water systems in the spotlight, this plan could not have come at a more perfect time — although it probably should have come sooner. In 2021, several high-profile attacks on our drinking water systems, including one where a remote actor was able to tap into an Oldsmar, Fla., treatment plant and adjust the chemical dosing levels to what could have had catastrophic results if not for an eagle-eyed employee who was able to shut down remote access.
Today, cyber attacks represent an increasing threat to water systems and other critical sectors, and attackers are becoming more brazen each time.
“As cyber threats become more sophisticated, we need a more coordinated and modernized approach to protecting the water systems that support access to clean and safe water in America,” EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan said in a statement.
To help the water industry detect, respond to, and recover from these incidents, the plan expands the White House Industrial Control Systems (ICS) Cybersecurity Initiative to the water sector, and through a Water Sector Action plan, the EPA and Cybersecurity Information and Security Agency (CISA) will work with water utilities to provide ICS monitoring and information sharing. While the plan will initially focus on utilities that serve the largest populations and have the highest consequence systems; following the initial 100-day timeline, the program is expected to roll out to water systems of all sizes.
It’s not just bad actors that can affect our water supply, however. Extreme weather poses a dangerous risk to distribution systems, and if not kept up to date, these systems could fail — leaving residents without running water or forcing boil water orders for hundreds of citizens while repairs are made. That exact scenario occurred last year when a deep freeze hit the state of Texas in the wake of winter storm Uri. Power blackouts spanned most of the state and approximately 12 million Texans — almost half of the state’s population — experienced a disruption in water service at the height of the storm.
Three cities were able to weather the storm thanks to smart water networks. Networks equipped with remotely managed meters allowed for a proactive, secure transmission of customer water usage data in Arlington, Coppell, and Jacksonville.
On page 8, read all about how these smart water systems helped utility managers find and repair leaks, and manage remote operations while many of their city’s residents were stuck at home during the storm. For each of these municipalities, preparedness made the difference between a major crisis and timely response that resulted in quick relief.
Whether its bolstering systems to decrease the affects of cyber attacks or adding smart meters to a water system, preparation is the key to success. We can’t always predict what will happen, but if we are prepared, the effects will be far less than they would have been otherwise.
I hope that you enjoy this month’s issue, and thanks for reading! WW
Published in WaterWorld magazine, February 2022.