Chattanooga looks at securing wastewater facilities

Chattanooga looks at securing wastewater facilities

December 1st, 2011 by Cliff Hightower in News

The wastewater treatment plant for Chattanooga is located at Moccasin Bend.

Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.


$170,000: Amount the city will pay for a security study on the city's wastewater infrastructure

72: Number of pump stations across the city

8: Number of combined-sewer operations facilities

Source: City of Chattanooga

The city is trying to tighten the fence around Moccasin Bend Wastewater Treatment Plant.

"If you have chemical storage, that's real to us," said Steve Leach, the city's Public Works administrator. "We have to do what we can to provide some protection to the public."

The Chattanooga City Council on Tuesday night approved a study of security of Moccasin Bend Wastewater Treatment Plant, along with all wastewater facilities the city owns, including combined sewer operations facilities and pump stations.

Burns & McDonnell, an engineering firm, will perform the $170,000 study.

The study will evaluate everything from terrorist threats to how to handle "acts of God" incidents such as lightning strikes or tornadoes.

Jerry Stewart, director for Wastewater Resources, said there are other elements that make the plant vulnerable.

"I have different kinds of chemicals out here," he said.

Stewart said the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is requiring the study be conducted and he anticipates the U.S. Department of Homeland Security would call for increased security measures at wastewater treatment plants soon. He said the presence of chemicals along with the type of product the facilities deal with could create problems.

"If I lose power, we would be putting raw sewage into the river," he said.

He said water providers have been mandated federally to increase security for years and it was only a matter of time before wastewater would be targeted as well.

Stewart said the study would not have helped prevent something like the sewage spill in January 2010 when an electrical malfunction occurred at the plant. Hundreds of thousands of gallons of raw sewage spilled into the Tennessee River. But it would have helped in August 2010 when a lightning strike cause a sewage overflow and killed 3,600 fish around Browns Ferry Marina, he said.

There have been other problems in the past. Within the last year, he said one pump station was broken into twice and both times the air conditioning equipment was stolen.

Leach said the city has to outsource the security study because city employees are not trained to do that type of work. He said he would not know the cost of what security measures would be needed.

He said a "capital program over several years" would address the issues.

Jessica Presley, spokeswoman for Tennessee-American Water Co., affirmed Wednesday her company put security measures in place after the Sept. 11, 2011, terrorist attacks. Tennessee American conducted a vulnerability study, she said.

"Water is something we all use, so in some aspects it can be vulnerable," she said.

She said the company upgraded its security, but could not give details because of security reasons.

Tom Dittmaier, project manager for Burns & McDonnell, said his company has handled security studies of government facilities in the past. He said the study should take six to nine months to complete.

Most wastewater facilities have chlorine, which is poisonous, and oxygen, which can be explosive, he said. He said wastewater facilities are just now realizing that security is essential.

"It's something that hasn't been a top priority in 10 years," he said.