Our Water Security System Is Leaky

Reflecting on the WV chemical spill, covered by the Dish here and here, James Salzman warns that “water systems present an impossibly big target to protect from intentional acts or accidents”:

The good news is that poisoning a water system is hard to do. Putting a few drops of cyanide in someone’s glass will lead to a gruesome death. Putting a few drops, or even a few barrels, in a reservoir is pointless. Reservoirs generally hold anywhere from 3 million to 30 million gallons of water. Even assuming one could back several trucks up to the reservoir and dump their loads without being detected, one would still need to get huge quantities of the poison in the first place. The Department of Homeland Security keeps track of biological and chemical agents that might be used by terrorists, and these substances are not easy to come by in large quantities.

But, in his estimation, accidents “give special cause for concern” and argues “it would be foolhardy to ignore [West Virginia] as a one-off event”:

First, we need to pay closer attention to the structural integrity of chemical storage near water bodies. At a time of reduced agency budgets and pressure for deregulation, we need to acknowledge that officials ensuring compliance with health and safety regulations, such as tank safety requirements, keep us safe. Second, water authorities need the resources to ensure effective detection and rapid communication. These are critical in minimizing harm when threats do arise.