Welcome to the Pipeline!
Welcome to the latest edition of American Water's the Pipeline, a quarterly resource for all things water. We see this as one more way to stay connected.
Securing Our Water Infrastructure
Threats Increasing, Solutions Advancing
Recent cyber-attacks, extreme weather events, and other adverse events have illuminated critical challenges facing the utility industries. While not new, these threats are more sophisticated, increasing in number and escalating in their impacts on utilities and customers. In addition, these threats span all industries. When a catastrophic natural or man-made event impacts the energy industry, for example, these threats present a potential downstream impact on water utilities because of how intertwined the sectors are and their interdependencies on each other.
At American Water, we take security and emerging weather threats seriously. To help secure our infrastructure and protect our customers, we are committed to investing $22-25 billion over the next 10 years in infrastructure renewal, optimizing operational efficiency, bolstering technology & innovation, improving water quality, enhancing resiliency, and expanding our system. Together, these proactive investments help position American Water for emergency preparedness, threat assessment, and the deployment of innovative solutions to threats that might arise. Continued awareness and advanced planning are essential as these dangers become more common.
This issue of the Pipeline provides information regarding the increasing threats the water industry faces and the people, processes and technology in place at American Water to mitigate threats to our infrastructure and help protect the customers and communities we serve.
Taking Action to Address Potential Threats
According to a recent NBC infrastructure series, “of all the country's critical infrastructure, water might be the most vulnerable to hackers: the hardest in which to guarantee everyone follows basic cybersecurity steps, and the easiest in which to cause major, real-world harm to large numbers of people.” There have been a number of recent real-world examples of the aforementioned threats to the water utility systems across the country. In this section you will hear from Nick Santillo, the Vice President of Digital Infrastructure and Security at American Water, about how he and his team work to help keep customers and employees safe in these unprecedented times. Additionally, this edition of the Pipeline will discuss how American Water is responding to these threats and supporting legislative efforts in states within its footprint that are advancing enhanced compliance requirements for water safety and security.
In February, the data network of a small municipal water system in Oldsmar, Florida was infiltrated and an attempt was made to increase the amount of lye in the water to unsafe and harmful levels. While threats to any utility can prove detrimental, the fact that water utilities provide an ingestible product means any manipulation of a utility’s operations could have catastrophic results. Fortunately, during this event, an alert employee spotted the issue and thwarted the attempt.
Extreme Weather and Power Loss
Also in February, an unprecedented winter storm swept across Texas causing widespread power outages. Over 4.5 million homes and businesses were left in the cold with no heat, no lights, and no water for days. The loss of electric power impacted the water and wastewater utilities’ ability to process, treat, and pump water at their facilities. Events like this can have a major impact on water and wastewater operations. While American Water does not own any water systems in Texas, our Military Services Group, which manages two military installations in the state, was able to continue to provide essential water service and performed well during this extreme weather event.
Spotlight: A Conversation with Nick Santillo
Vice President, Digital Infrastructure and Security
Solutions to Address Water Safety and Security
In recognition of the growing number of challenges and threats facing water utilities, legislators and regulators in a growing number of states are implementing new rules and requirements aimed at bolstering the safety and security of water and wastewater systems.
New Jersey was one of the first states to enact such a law. Its Water Quality Accountability Act sets forth a number of requirements that water systems with 500 or more connections must meet to help maintain the provision of reliable water services across the state. Included among the criteria is the need to develop a cybersecurity plan and conduct regular risk assessments to identify potential cyber threats and vulnerabilities.
Other states that have passed similar legislation, include Missouri, which adopted its Water Safety and Security Act, HB 1877, in 2020 and Indiana, which enacted similar legislation, SB 362, in 2018.
American Water applauds these states and stands ready to work with legislators, regulators, and the Biden Administration to develop similar frameworks so that consumers across the country are served by resilient water systems. The Biden Administration has made infrastructure—water infrastructure—a cornerstone of their “American Jobs Plan” and such a bipartisan focus is welcomed by American Water. Water and wastewater infrastructure remains a bipartisan issue and we will stay engaged with leaders at the state and federal levels on this issue on behalf of our customers. We work with both sides of the aisle on constructive water policy.
American Water wants to be a resource of information for you. Through active outreach and engagement with a variety of stakeholders, American Water has taken part in a great exchange of ideas, issues and insights about the challenges that communities face during COVID-19 , as well as what opportunities possibly lie ahead. Please do not hesitate to reach out to us on any water or wastewater topic. Here are just a few examples of resources that provide background on the topics we covered:
- EPA Water & Wastewater Cybersecurity Brief for States: A brief published by the EPA to support states in response to cyberattacks on water utilities.
- Article: Hackers have a devastating new target: A CNN article on hackers targeting critical infrastructure.
- Article: Colonial hack reveals major threats to water sector: E&E News article on the cyber threats to water sector.
We're here if you need us.