The Need To Take Measures To Protect Against Power Outages In Your Water System

It is not breaking news we are living in an increasingly dangerous world. The daily news cycle is loaded with dangers caused by nature, and dangers of the man-made variety. No one seems to be immune from the dangers, including public water systems. In this article I will be focusing on a man-made danger, and how it can endanger public water systems. The man-made danger is attacks on the U.S. power grid, the primary energy source for public water systems. In a January 11, 2023 article in Newsweek Magazine by Tom O’ Connor and Navee Jamali, with the title “Domestic Terrorists Could Take Out U.S. Power Grid—And Attacks Have Started”, many instances of such attacks are chronicled. The attacks have been growing in number. The article states that in the first eight months of 2022, the U.S. electrical grid was physically attacked 107 times. This was the most in more than a decade. 

Many of the attacks, some of which by extremist groups, have involved shootings/sniper attacks at electric substations and  transformers. The electric grid, which is spread out over vast areas is difficult to protect from such attacks. In an April 14, 2023 article in Marketplace, with the title “Are Utility Companies—and the Government Ready for the Next Attack on the Grid”, the answer was not very encouraging. A fear is that if electricity from the grid is interrupted by these attacks for an extended period of time, public water systems will not have electricity to operate their pumps and treatment facilities and the public will be without potable water. This of course is something that terrorists would relish. Any attack on the U.S. Power Grid is indirectly an attack on public water systems. Water is a target because during times of war the first thing attacked is critical infrastructure, e.g. electrical grid, water and wastewater facilities, gas pipelines, airports, roads and bridges. Check what is happening in the Ukraine if you have any doubts. If an enemy can control a water supply it can control a country.

All of this leads to the question of what can public water systems do to ensure they have energy to operate their systems 24/7? One way is to take measures to protect their own electric systems, including transformers, and backup power generators from physical attacks. Security experts recommend securing energy facilities with “Defense in Depth”. A security firm, COSECURE, recommends the following series of counter measures as you move toward critical assets: fences, access control points, landscaping, bollards and architectural elements, security cameras, electronic access control, lighting, signage, continuous training, evaluation, repair and improvement. Backup power generators are an important component of the defense against power outages, however they are not fool proof, and should be continuously evaluated, repaired and improved.

If a public water system is sued for personal injuries and/or property damages due to failure to provide water service due to a power outage caused by a physical attack on its electric system, including backup generators, plaintiffs’ attorneys may try to establish that the system was negligent in protecting against such an attack. Plaintiffs’ attorneys would likely introduce evidence of the many physical attacks on power systems. The plaintiffs’ attorneys would then ask the water system manager or supervisor, under oath,  if they had knowledge of these attacks happening.  The answer would probably be “yes”. The witness would then likely be asked what measures the water system has taken to protect against this happening to its system? “None” would not be a good answer. “Continuous training, evaluation, repair and improvement”, if true, would be much better. So, ask yourself that question.

Too Much Of A Good Thing Can Sometimes Be Bad

Water is a necessity of life. Safe drinking water is vital to life itself. Ergo, safe drinking water is good. We know safe drinking water to be safe if it meets the water quality standards set forth in the Safe Drinking Water Act. But what about water quantity standards? We read and hear in the media on a regular basis, especially during the Summer, that we need to stay well hydrated and drink plenty of water. But can drinking plenty of water ever be a bad thing? An incident that occurred during the Summer of 2023, got headlines warning people not to drink too much water, and that doing so could be deadly. As reported by WRTV, Monticello, Indiana in an article published on August 5, 2023, a young mother died from water toxicity while out in the sun over the 4 th of July weekend. The young mother was reported to be feeling dehydrated. She then drank four bottles of water in 20 minutes for a total of 64 ounces. She later died of water toxicity. Water toxicity can occur when drinking large quantities of water over a short period of time. When I was a kid my ever-observant Grandmother would warn me, I was going to “flood my guts” by gulping too much water. The United States has become a country of warning labels, required by law, or done voluntarily to protect against legal liability. As an attorney, I am wondering whether because of deaths due to water toxicity, such as the one described herein, at some point public water systems will be required to, or voluntarily decide to put warning labels on communications, e.g. bill inserts, with customers not to drink too much water, too quickly. Public service announcements could be another form of getting information to the public on this subject. Of course, if that ever happens ”too much water” would have to be quantified and determined, by a person’s age, weight, physical condition, etc., not something easily done.