Water system preparing for threats

By Justin Reedy

Clayton County's water system is more prepared than ever to deal with a possible terrorist attack, thanks in part to a federal grant.

The Clayton County Water Authority has just completed a several-months-long review of its security and preparations for catastrophic events, such as terrorist threats or natural disasters.

The detailed vulnerability assessment was funded by a $115,000 grant from the federal Environmental Protection Agency, and culminated in recommendations on how the Water Authority could improve its security. Some of those changes have already been made, officials say, while others will be made in the near future.

The Water Authority board of directors voted recently to use the remainder of those grant funds to update the CCWA's emergency response procedures, another step officials say would help the water system to respond to a catastrophe.

"It's really a planning and troubleshooting thing, to make sure we have procedures in place that are effective," explained Water Authority General Manager Wade Brannan. "And if there are areas we can improve on, then that would be identified and addressed."

With the threat of terrorism on the forefront in the United States after Sept. 11, government entities from the federal to the local level have taken steps to deal with possible attacks. Ensuring the safety of the drinking water in Clayton County is just one of those steps, but Jonesboro resident Jack Williams is glad to see it being done with the water supply in most cities easy to access.

"It's probably a good idea (to prepare for a possible attack) with the way things are in the country at this time," Williams said.

Though Water Authority officials can't discuss most of the changes and upgrades that have been made because of security concerns, Brannan said he is confident that Clayton County is as prepared as it can be for such an incident. Even so, it's a good idea to continually work on emergency response procedures and other areas dealing with security, Brannan said, especially if that means the CCWA will be able to prevent a dangerous water contamination.

"I think keeping security procedures on the forefront prevents you from becoming complacent," he said. "Prohibiting something from happening is better than dealing with it when it happens. I think our system is in excellent shape."

The Water Authority has implemented some new technology over the last year to help prevent biological contamination of the county's drinking water, intentional or otherwise. All of the county's water plants now have ultraviolet light disinfection systems, which neutralize biological contaminants by shining UV light through purified water.

"(Ultraviolet light) will alter the DNA of protozoa so they cannot reproduce, helping eliminate bacteria and viruses that may still be present in the water," explained Guy Pihera, water production manager for the CCWA. "It gives additional protection, and also gives redundant protection, to some of the existing systems for biological contaminants."