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Sustaining Our Access to Clean, Safe Drinking Water

Homeland security researchers provide the tools water utilities need to monitor drinking water systems.


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Over a billion people in the world do not have access to clean and safe drinking water. However, for people in the United States, access to clean water is as simple as turning the knob on a faucet. With more than 80% of consumers in the United States accessing water through privately or publicly owned distribution systems, protection of water systems is vital for a community’s survival. Water is a part of our daily lives and allows mundane activities such as brushing teeth or washing dishes to occur without second thought.

However, following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, concerns over a deliberate contamination of drinking water systems were heightened. The terrorist attack also reinforced the notion that water distribution systems are a vulnerable component of our water system.

Water monitoring systems alert water utility workers to changes in the quality of drinking water systems. To help support EPA’s homeland security’s research efforts and enhance water utilities’ ability to detect and respond to water contamination events, EPA’s researchers developed extensions to EPANET, a widely used software application that models water distribution systems.

EPANET, a software technology (U.S. EPA, 2000) was developed to help water utilities maintain and improve the quality of water delivered to consumers through drinking water distribution systems.  EPANET is the industry standard because it is universally available and has been utilized by commercial entities for the basis of their products. Products related to EPANET are also widely used and accepted in the water community.

EPA researchers developed EPANET-based applications and extensions that could be used to help improve the security of water systems.  The first EPANET-based application was TEVA-SPOT (Threat Ensemble Vulnerability Assessment Sensor Placement Optimization Tools).  The EPANET-based extensions were EPANET-MSX (multi-species extension), which allows the modeling of multiple, interactive contaminant species, and EPANET-RTX (real-time extension). These tools and technologies provide water utilities with the ability to plan and respond to contamination incidents.

TEVA-SPOT enables water utilities to design optimal sensor monitoring networks and identify vulnerabilities to better predict public health and infrastructure consequences from events such as contaminant intrusion, pipe breakage, or main replacement.  TEVA-SPOT was used in the EPA's Water Security Initiative Pilot Projects.  The CANARY Event Detection Software, uses sensor data to identify abnormal water quality patterns and alert water professionals of a contaminant. The CANARY Event Detection Software was piloted in Cincinnati, New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and San Francisco, and Singapore. EPANET-RTX enables the linkage of an EPANET-based network infrastructure model with the water utility’s Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) data to provide a real-time understanding of what is occurring in the water distribution system.  EPANET-RTX is being piloted in the Northern Kentucky Water District to explore opportunities for using real-time modeling to improve operations and reduce costs along with improving security.

“We want to demonstrate and prove to the water community that real-time modeling can reduce operational costs and improve management and operations,” explains EPA homeland security researcher Robert Janke.

The EPANET-based modeling framework   integrates existing network infrastructure models, tools and technologies to provide water utilities with the ability to plan and respond to contamination incidents. Some of these tools were developed in collaboration with Sandia National Laboratories, Argonne National Laboratory, and the University of Cincinnati.

EPA homeland security researchers work with water utility operators and managers to minimize vulnerabilities in drinking water systems and develop tools to better prepare the water utilities and communities to respond to emergencies. The goal of these efforts is to ensure that access to clean water for people across the United States remains as simple as turning the knob on a faucet.

The tools developed are free to the public through an open-source license. More information about EPA’s water detection technologies are at http://www.epa.gov/nhsrc/.

EPANET (U.S. EPA, 2000) is available at www.epa.gov/nrmrl/wswrd/dw/epanet.html.

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EPA Homeland Security Research

EPA Homeland Security Tools & Applications

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