Water purveyors step up security

Locks, fences and chains bar the way to this Silverdale Water District reservoir on Leeway Avenue off Anderson Hill Road. Local water purveyors have increased site monitoring since Sept. 11, and the Silverdale Water District has installed electronic sensors to boost security. - Rogerick Anas
Locks, fences and chains bar the way to this Silverdale Water District reservoir on Leeway Avenue off Anderson Hill Road. Local water purveyors have increased site monitoring since Sept. 11, and the Silverdale Water District has installed electronic sensors to boost security.
— image credit: Rogerick Anas

Is water in Kitsap County safe from contamination?

Local water purveyors went by the book when a Kitsap Public Utilities District (PUD) water tower on Newberry Hill Road was vandalized Nov. 29. Nearby Klahowya Secondary School was closed while officials made sure the water supply was safe.

While no contaminants were found in the school’s water supply, the incident was a good test of the PUD’s incident response plan and security patrols.

“We have fences around each site, but those don’t always keep people out,” said Mike Koepke, PUD utility operations manager. “Kids are pretty ingenious sometimes and when they break in, it also becomes a liability factor for us.”

Ensuring water security is the job of the suppliers.

“The responsibility falls to the purveyors,” said Mike Means, drinking water division program manager for the Bremerton-Kitsap County Health District. “All of them have implemented increased security steps in the past months following the terrorist attacks.”

Major local water operators agreed that the threat of terrorists contaminating drinking water remains remote. However, the threat of vandalism, like what happened at the Newberry Hill Road site, remains constant.

“Historically, individual water purveyors may experience between zero and five incidents of some form of intrusion or vandalism on an annual basis,” said Jeannie Screws, a Manchester Water District employee and chairperson of the Water Purveyors Association of Kitsap (WaterPak). “Facilities located in remote areas are commonly used as dumping grounds and usually receive no actual damage to the facilities themselves. Facilities in more rural areas are prone to incidences of graffiti or tagging.”

The Silverdale Water District is hit by graffiti a couple times a year, according to General Manager Morgan Johnson.

“Our policy is to remove graffiti within 24 hours after it is discovered,” Johnson said.

The Silverdale Water District has increased site monitoring to decrease vandalism, Johnson added. So have other agencies, including the PUD. That’s how the Newberry Hill incident was discovered.

“We’re more vigilant with our in-house security,” Screws said. “The level of monitoring is determined by each individual purveyor and is increased or decreased based upon necessity. Purveyors have been on a heightened state of alert and have increased monitoring since the attacks. The monitoring will increase or decrease dependent upon the risk level determined by individual purveyors.”

If a water source is contaminated, the federal Environmental Protection Agency requires water systems to notify affected customers promptly through media sources or signs posted in the area.

When the Newberry incident occurred, Koepke’s office was working on adding a new security system to monitor storage sites.

“We are setting up systems at each site which are tied to a telemetry system that we can monitor from a remote site 24 hours a day,” Koepke said. “Our dilemma is that we have 59 storage sites and we serve a real rural part of the county, so some of these sites are in out-of-the-way locations which can’t be observed by a neighborhood watch program.”

Johnson said larger sites in the Silverdale Water District already have monitors which sense everything from water levels 600 feet underground to whether a pump station door has been opened.

“If a door is opened,” Johnson said, “we’re immediately notified. If someone gets into a reservoir or pump house, it’s going to set an alarm off.”

According to Kathleen Cahall, water resources manager for the city of Bremerton, people caught tampering with or trespassing on water system property are subject to prosecution.

Means said WaterPak’s 20 members — a combination of cities, water districts, private systems, the state departments of Health and Ecology, the county Health District and the Kitsap County Homebuilders Association — are working together to keep the water clean.

“We’re working with neighborhoods to increase watches, adding remote alarms and working with the local law enforcement agencies,” Means said.

“WaterPak brings everyone together to work on common issues,” said Johnson, one of the group’s co-founders.

Screws recommended that people keep a supply of water on hand in case the tap is shut off for any reason.

“Purveyors support the American Red Cross’ recommendation of having a minimum of at least a three-day supply of water on hand for essential needs to meet any circumstances that cause an interruption of the water supply,” Screws said.

But as long as there are water towers, there will continue to be vandalism.

“It’s a normal attraction,” Koepke said. “We don’t live in a risk-free society and if people want to break in then they are going to do it.”

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