Water Security

Water Security Test Bed: Real-World Testing of Real-World Systems Issues

By Christina Burchette

In high school, I was cast as a jitterbug dancer in our school’s production of The Wizard of Oz. Before the show, the cast and I practiced choreography in our school’s small dance studio. It took me a while to get the steps (hand-eye coordination was never one of my strong suits), but eventually I felt pretty confident in my abilities. That changed when we performed the dance for the first time on the auditorium stage—in front of the entire student body. The stage was three times as large as the dance studio. As the music started, the small and subtle steps we had practiced in the studio quickly turned into leaps and bounds across the stage. For that first performance we couldn’t keep time with the music, but we all stayed in unison! Clearly, dancing on the stage was much different than in the studio.

Pipes and equipment at the Water Security Test Bed in Idaho

Pipes and equipment at the Water Security Test Bed in Idaho

That’s why your practice environment should be as close as possible to the one in which you perform—that way, you’re better prepared for the real thing. This concept is also important for research, which is why EPA built the Water Security Test Bed (WSTB)—a full-sized replica of a drinking water distribution system at the Department of Energy’s Idaho National Laboratory.  The WSTB enables EPA to conduct real-world experiments regarding water security in the face of emergency situations (e.g., intentional or accidental contamination incidents) and aging infrastructure. The above-ground, 445 feet long pipe structure uses 30 year-old, eight-inch pipes and hydrants that were pulled from real municipal water systems to ensure that researchers are working with true-to-life conditions.

Researchers have performed water security tests before, but never on a model with true-to-life equipment and dimensions. Using this replica, researchers will use materials that mimic toxic materials in the water system and determine what kinds of effects they have on the water and infrastructure and how to most effectively and rapidly remove them. They will also perform tests that address potential cybersecurity threats and the effects of contamination on infrastructure and household appliances. This research will provide information to water utilities on how to prevent such events or, if they do happen, how to treat the problem in the fastest and most effective way possible.

It’s important for researchers to perform tests in conditions as close to real life as possible to account for actual conditions that may not be achievable in lab set ups—and they have already discovered that the tests they perform at the WSTB yield different results than pilot scale experiments. These results prove that a full-sized system will provide more accurate information on how to handle water utility emergencies, ensuring that those responding to the situation have better tools to work with.

Over the next few years, EPA and it collaborators plan to run various experiments to ensure that if disaster strikes our water infrastructure systems, we have the data and tools to protect our infrastructure and public health. EPA invites water sector researchers and other federal agencies to collaborate in ongoing research or initiate new areas of investigation at the WSTB.

Watch the video below to learn more about the Water Security Test Bed:

 

About the Author: Christina Burchette is an Oak Ridge Associated Universities contractor and writer for the science communication team in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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This Week in EPA Science

By Kacey Fitzpatrick

Research Recap logo with a holiday wreath in the center‘Twas the day before Christmas, and all through the Agency,
Our researchers were working, so much discovery!
Is there one place, where all this can be found?
One science review, no looking around?
Here’s my present to you, no need to unwrap.
Right here on this blog, your Research Recap!

 

Swimming with the Sharks
Shark swimming toward lens
Through Small Business Innovation Research contracts, EPA helps many great, environmentally-minded business ventures with potential, get the funding they need to get started. Read about some of our success stories—one of which was recently on the show Shark Tank—in the blog Swimming with the Sharks.

 

EPA Researchers Share Chemical Knowledge after Contamination Scare
RAFstamp2
In September, people living and working near an Australian air force base were warned that elevated levels of the chemicals Perfluorooctane Sulfonate and Perfluorooctanoic Acid had been detected in the surrounding area. EPA researchers Chris Lau and John Rogers were recently interviewed by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation about their expertise in these chemicals.

Read about their insights in the article US scientists reveal further detail about chemicals at heart of Williamtown RAAF contamination.

Water Security
Tap-Water
EPA is responsible for working with water utilities to protect water systems from contamination and to clean up systems that become contaminated. These systems can be contaminated by, for example, natural disasters such as Superstorm Sandy or by individuals hoping to cause harm. To help address these science gaps, EPA researchers have developed the first-of-its-scale Water Security Test Bed.

Watch the video EPA and Idaho National Laboratory create first-of-its-scale Water Security Test Bed and learn more about our Homeland Security Research.

 

If you have any comments or questions about what I share or about the week’s events, please submit them below in the comments section!

About the Author: Kacey Fitzpatrick is a student contractor and writer working with the science communication team in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Community Resiliency Supports Community Sustainability

By Gregory Sayles, Ph.D.

The three pillars of sustainability

Figure 1. The three pillars of sustainability

Whether it’s the residents of lower Manhattan recovering from flooding and power outages in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, entire municipalities evacuated from areas surrounding the Fukushima Daiichi power plant, or California’s farming communities adapting to long-term drought conditions, everyone’s talking about “resiliency”—what it takes to bounce back once a community has been impacted by a natural or human-made disaster.

Reducing environmental risks and restoring environmental services are essential components of resilience.

Last week, nearly five dozen scientists, program managers and community liaisons from across EPA gathered for a two-day workshop to parse through scientific and policy definitions of “resiliency” and examine the critical factors that support community resiliency. The group then brainstormed ways to create indicators and an index that communities might use to evaluate their vulnerabilities to disaster, their capacity to bounce back, and the resources they need to prepare for future disasters.

Our discussions taught us that resilience is built on many community functions and qualities, most of them interdependent.  Brian Pickard, of EPA’s Water Security Division highlighted how community drinking water systems are inter-connected to energy supplies and health delivery systems.  If a tornado, flood or hurricane knocks out electricity, drinking water pumping stations crash and critical care facilities such as hospitals need back-up supplies to continue operating.  Hospitals and emergency rooms must have access to emergency water supplies to manage the casualties and injuries that often result following a disaster.

Strengthening community resiliency means becoming better prepared for the next disaster.

How are resilience and sustainability inextricably related?  Sustainability strives to balance three pillars—economic, social, and environmental—in equilibrium (see figure 1).  Disaster disrupts that equilibrium, and with it the path toward sustainability. Resiliency is building in the capability to restore this balance following a disaster.

According to EPA sustainability researchers Alan Hecht and Joseph Fiksel, “sustainability is the capacity for: human health and well-being, economic vitality and prosperity, and environmental resource abundance” while, “resilience is the capacity to: overcome unexpected problems, adapt to change, and prepare for and survive catastrophes.”

Workshop participants agreed to continue developing a discrete set of indicators that can be used to measure community environmental resiliency and present them at a follow-up workshop in July. Our long-term goal is to deliver a Community Environmental Resilience Index to communities, EPA, and other federal partners. The index will help local and national stakeholders assess and improve resiliency and guide planning for disasters.

EPA’s homeland security research program is excited to be working with partners from across the Agency to help communities understand and shape their own resilience.

About the Author: Gregory Sayles, Ph.D. is the Acting Director of EPA’s Homeland Security research program.

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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A Day Without Water

By Laura Flynn

In June, a storm knocked out our power for several days and made me wonder what we’d do if we had lost water.
To help start my path to preparedness, I decide to walk through my typical day…but imagine it without water.
“No water?! I can’t brush my teeth or make coffee!”

As kids awaken, they shout, “I NEED a shower before school!”
I pass out gum, claim messy hair is in, and promise a drive-thru breakfast. Crisis averted, or not…
Drive-thru is closed, no water.
Well, the kids can just grab breakfast at school, or not.
There’s a steady stream of cars heading out of the parking lot – school’s closed.
“YES!!! School will be closed for days!”
“No” I reply “water will be back soon. It always is.”
Driving home, we pass empty malls and see parents putting kids back into cars. Workers are walking home from bus stops.

We try to buy bottled water, but stores are closed.
We then hear the county is distributing bottled water.
Lines are long and I wonder if they’ll have enough.
I panic, but just a little. The water will be back soon. It always is.
I turn on the news at home and hear we could be without water for a week.
Panic is setting in and I realize it’s not even noon in my imaginary day without water.
How can I avoid this nightmare? I need to do something to fix this imaginary day gone bad.

I check FEMA’s Ready.gov website, and decide to stockpile water. I need one gallon, per person, per day for three days, or 18 gallons…plus extra for coffee!
I think broader.

Do community businesses have back-up water supplies, such as storage tanks or bulk water delivery? No? I can direct them to EPA’s Community-Based Water Resiliency page.

I can also urge my water utilities to enter into mutual aid agreements so they can restore services in hours instead of days. I can point them to EPA’s WARN page, urge them to install a contaminant warning system, plan a table-top exercise, or explore other resources found on EPA’s Water Security homepage.

Imaging a day without water can be pretty scary, but it doesn’t have to be…not if I act now and prepare!

About the author: Laura Flynn is a Team Leader in the Water Security Division. After hours she shuffles four teenagers to soccer, basketball, and track. She can be reached at: Flynn.Laura@epa.gov

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Maintaining Healthy Waters in Emergencies

Is your water supply secure in case of an emergency or natural disaster?

By Christina Catanese

The CDC’s recent blog about emergency preparedness for the zombie apocalypse got us thinking about Healthy Waters in emergency situations, undead or otherwise.  How can the safety of water and the health of people be maintained during an emergency, and what preparations can be taken in advance to be ready for any issues you may face before, during and after an event?  Whether you are a citizen trying to protect your own health or a facility operator responsible for protecting the health of many others in your community, the best time to plan to protect your source of water is before an emergency.  And whether the emergency involves zombies, a hurricane, or floods, preparedness for water emergencies is key.

Everyone depends on a safe supply of water to operate their business, a hospital or school.  Water is needed to fight fires and it restores hope in communities hit hard by natural disasters.  But natural disasters or other emergencies can disrupt drinking water supplies and wastewater disposal systems.  Conservation or emergency disinfection orders can be issued to affected water system consumers in the aftermath of an event, if the safety of water supplies cannot be immediately ensured.

The tornado outbreak at the end of April 2011 hit states in the southeast the hardest, but in Region 3, storms in Virginia resulted in damage to a number of water systems in the southwestern part of the state, mainly because of power being knocked out by high winds. In some areas, boil water advisories were issued because the water was not safe to drink.  Water systems and water treatment plants need power to treat and distribute water, so it’s important to restore power as soon as possible, either through emergency generators or priority restoration of service.  This protects health of people (by ensuring that affected populations have access to safe drinking water), pets and water bodies (by making sure that waste gets treated before it is discharged to rivers).

Have your own septic system?  Be aware of actions you need to take to protect you and your family if your system becomes flooded.  Have a private well for your drinking water?  Check out our blog “Is your well well?” for information about how to maintain the quality of your private well or disinfect it if necessary.

There are both planning and recovery efforts in any emergency event.  That’s why EPA has provided resources on suggested pre- and post- disaster event activities to water facilities, like tabletop exercises, staff training, and facility evaluation.  EPA has also provided grants to purchase emergency generators so they have a backup source of power in case of an outage.  To learn more about emergency generators see our regional factsheet.

There’s also the Water/Wastewater Agencies Response Network, a network that lets water utilities in an emergency situation request the help of other utilities, which can provide emergency assistance, from people to equipment.  It can also be used for smaller, non-disaster emergencies, as it was recently during a water main break in Harrisburg, when nearby water companies responded to the PaWARN activation to assist with the repairs. If your utility is not a member, contact your WARN Chair.

Have more questions about water security in the Mid Atlantic RegionFind out who to ask at EPA.

Have you assembled an emergency kit in your house, or taken any other preparatory measures for an emergency?  Do you know of any preparations being done in your community?  Get involved with community based resiliency!

About the Author: Christina Catanese has worked at EPA since 2010, and her work focuses on data analysis and management, GIS mapping and tools, communications, and other tasks that support the work of Regional water programs. Originally from Pittsburgh, Christina has lived in Philadelphia since attending the University of Pennsylvania, where she earned a B.A. in Environmental Studies and Political Science and an M.S. in Applied Geosciences with a Hydrogeology concentration. Trained in dance (ballet, modern, and other styles) from a young age, Christina continues to perform, choreograph and teach in the Philadelphia area.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.