Consensus Report

Improving the Nation's Water Security: Opportunities for Research (2007)


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Concern over terrorist attacks since 2001 has directed attention to potential vulnerabilities of the nation's water and wastewater systems. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which leads federal efforts to protect the water sector, initiated a research program in 2002 to address immediate research and technical support needs. This report, conducted at EPA's request, evaluates research progress and provides a long-term vision for EPA's research program. The report recommends that EPA develop a strategic research plan, address gaps in expertise among EPA program managers and researchers, and improve its approaches to information dissemination. The report recommends several high-priority research topics for EPA, including conducting empirical research in behavioral science to better understand how to prepare people for water security incidents.

Key Messages

  • Currently, some important information on priority contaminants and threats that could improve utilities' response capabilities has been classified and cannot be shared with utilities, even through secure dissemination mechanisms.
  • Numerous tools have been developed, including a contaminant information database, an exposure assessment tool, and refined distribution system models that will help users improve their terrorism preparedness and response capabilities.
  • Other areas, such as physical and cyber security, contingency planning, and wastewater security, have shown weaker or somewhat disjointed progress.
  • The EPA water security program has initiated research and technical support projects that address some important issues and critical gaps in knowledge. With proper continued management, these projects could yield results that will be useful for improving the nation's water security and its response and recovery capacity if the findings reach those who need them in a timely way.
  • Two key water security research gaps behavioral science and innovative water and wastewater infrastructure designs are identified that were considered in the short-term planning horizon of the Action Plan.