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WaterISAC Shares Water Supply Plot Information

Earlier this week, our colleagues at the WaterISAC shared the following article in the July edition of their publication, Inside Water Security

Alleged Islamic State Plot to Poison Water Supply in Kosovo Serves as Opportunity to Reflect on Contamination Threats

In mid-July, authorities in the European nation of Kosovo stated they had arrested five people in connection with a suspected plot to poison a large reservoir that serves as a water supply for the capital, Pristina.  Three of the suspects were arrested while acting suspiciously in the vicinity of the reservoir.  Weapons, ammunition, and Islamic State propaganda were allegedly found in the suspects’ vehicles. Officials suspended water service to tens of thousands of residents until tests showed the water was not contaminated.  The uncovering of the suspected plot followed exhortations on recent videos released by the Islamic State to poison the country’s food and water supplies.  “If you can, take poison and put it in their meal or in their drink,” a man in one of the videos says. “Make them die, make them die of poisoning, kill them wherever you are.”

An Information Bulletin from the Massachusetts Commonwealth Fusion Center notes that the Islamic State and al-Qa’ida have targeted water sector infrastructure in the past — specifically in Iraq — but that most of these efforts occurred in the context of a localized conflict or to control the water supply for specific populations, geographic regions, or critical assets.  Still, in addition to being encouraged by foreign terrorist organizations in various forms of media, there are concerns that homegrown violent extremists will be emboldened to perpetrate the same acts they see being committed overseas.

Whether real or a hoax, intentional or not, water contamination incidents typically entail major implications for water utilities.  Fortunately, there are a number of tools and resources available to bolster utilities’ preparedness and response for any incidents.  One of these is the U.S. EPA’s Water Laboratory Alliance (WLA), which offers an integrated nationwide network of laboratories that provide water and wastewater utilities with the analytical capability and capacity to respond to contamination events.  The WLA program includes exercises and training opportunities to support laboratory preparedness and numerous guides pertaining to laboratory operations, methods, and technologies. On a WaterISAC webcast earlier this month, the Portland (Maine) Water District’s Mike Koza discussed his organization’s positive experiences with WLA, including its participation in a WLA exercise.  EPA’s Michael Goldberg provided an overview of the WLA and presented a soon-to-be-released, interactive tool for helping to access its resources.

Also briefed was EPA’s Water Contaminant Information Tool (WCIT), a database that provides information on chemical, biological, and radiological contaminants of concern for water security. Parties wishing to use WCIT must register with EPA.  Another resource is the DHS Chemical Security Analysis Cell (CSAC), which was described in the May Inside Water Security.  CSAC is a program within DHS’ Office of Science and Technology that addresses chemical threats and provides resources and services that can assist critical infrastructure sectors, including the water sector.  The “CSAC Reachback” capability allows federal, state, local, territorial, and first responder agencies to submit inquiries related to chemical threats and hazards 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. CSAC’s responses are developed by following well-defined procedures and quality management processes, which include verification, validation, and peer-review.  Another of CSAC’s capabilities is the Chemical Terrorism Risk Assessment (CTRA), which ranks chemicals by risk based on impact of exposure, intelligence information, and modeling techniques.  Agencies use the CTRA Desktop Tool to maintain awareness of chemical threats and analyze mitigation and response strategies to protect the public.  CSAC has worked with water utilities to apply CTRA to their distribution systems.

For more information about the WaterISAC or to subscribe, please contact Michael Arceneaux arceneaux@waterisac.org.