Buffalo, New York has to be ready in the event of a water emergency caused by a terrorist act. That was Senator Michael Balboni's message as he proposed new legislation to keep drinking water safe. Balboni, chairman of the Committee on Water Resources, joined local legislators at the Colonel Ward Pumping Station, a municipal water filtration and distribution facility in Buffalo.
"Recent news reports suggest that Al Qaeda terrorists have information on our nation's water supply systems and that they have identified those systems for terrorist attacks," Balboni said. "The events of September 11th have forced us to think about scenarios that were once unimaginable. We have to be prepared for a water emergency."
Senator Michael Balboni announces water security legislation at the Colonel Ward Pumping Station in Buffalo.
According to Balboni, there are more than 11,000 public water systems in New York State, which serve nearly 90 percent of the state's population. The 20 largest systems provide water for 12 million New Yorkers.
New York's water infrastructure includes water reservoirs, water treatment facilities, distribution channels and hydroelectric plants, which provide much of the energy to upstate counties.
Prior to September 11th, the worst threats to the state's water infrastructure were severe weather, floods, drought and pollution. Now, New York faces possible terrorist threats in the form of sabotage, contamination, physical destruction and computer disruption of water systems (cyber terrorism).
Currently, water suppliers in New York State must provide a water supply emergency plan every five years to the New York State Department of Health. These plans include specific actions that must be followed in the event of a water supply emergency:
-Prioritization of water users
-Water use reduction strategies
-Public notification programs
Under a separate law sponsored by Balboni and recently signed by Governor Pataki, all water suppliers in the state will be required to provide an analysis of vulnerability to terrorist attacks as part of their overall water emergency plan. The legislation builds upon that earlier law.
In order to keep New York's water supply as safe as possible Balboni's proposed legislation would:
-Establish a task force on infrastructure assessment, with the goal of identifying vulnerabilities in the infrastructure of water resources throughout the state, whether in the physical plant or computer control networks, and to make recommendations on their improvement;
-Create a scholarship program to provide financial support to students who study computer science in their post-secondary or graduate studies who also agree to specialize in computer infrastructure protection as it relates to the improvement of computer control systems for water infrastructure;
-Create new crimes of water supplier computer tampering in the second and first degrees. A person would be guilty of this crime if he or she uses a computer to alter or destroy computer systems of a water supplier with the intent to injure; and
-Create the crime of unlawful defilement of a water supply. A person would be guilty of this new crime if he intentionally introduces, places or causes to be introduced or placed, a defiling agent into a water supply.
"Next to the air we breathe, our water is critical for our survival. We are obligated to do everything we can do to protect it," Balboni said.