Investigation: Is Your Drinking Water Safe? Security Questions Raised

For years Homeland Security has warned cities - protect your water supplies, as they are easy targets for terrorists.

But the city of Fresno either didn't get the memo or is ignoring it.

How safe is your water supply?

Of the 260 water wells and pump stations throughout the city of Fresno most are only protected by a deadbolt lock on a gate and a private property sign.

Mind you, these pump stations supply drinking water directly to our homes.

City of Fresno Public Utilities Director Patrick Wiemiller says, "We do have some security measures in place, but we do recognize not to take these issues lightly at all. We recognize the single largest consumable we have in the city of Fresno is the public water system."

Public Utilities Director Patrick Wiemiller would not give specifics.

But sources within and outside the water department say we are vulnerable and that the city is doing nothing about it.

Right now, sources say the city doesn't have a clue on who enter these pump stations, no records are ever kept.

Sources even say cable and even cell phone company employees have keys to some of the stations, because their equipment is inside the gate. These are people without city background checks.

Professor Kenneth Hansen says, "When it comes to terrorism everything is vulnerable, and the water stations as you describe them would be a soft target."

Fresno State Associate Professor Kenneth Hansen has studied national security issues, and teaches public administration.

Hansen says this lack of security isn't confined to just Fresno.

Up in Sacramento recently a man and woman who broke into a pump house near the Sac State campus needed to be rescued by firefighters, after they scaled the fences and got into a water treatment facility.

No wonder, several congressional reports on terrorism and security issues facing our water infrastructure state, "Drinking water and wastewater systems represent the greatest targets of opportunity for terrorist attacks."

One congressional report warns it won't take much for terrorists to attack our water supply. A little poison chemicals or biological material will go a long way.

And kill a lot of people.

So what would happen if someone did pour a toxic chemical down one of these wells, could it get into your drinking water?

Patrick Wiemiller says, "I'm not going to get on here and say there is no way it could happen, I would expect it would quickly become a fairly isolated event."

Wiemiller says there is a gate system in place that could isolate the contaminated water to a specific area.

But the city would have to find out about it fast and nearly 2,200 people could be hurt or killed if terrorists hit just one well.

Professor Hansen says, "If it's a small contained body of water and it goes to a limited number of people then it could be compromised. You wouldn't know about it until people got sick or died, and tested the water and isolated whatever is killing them."

What if multiple terrorists attacked multiple pumps at the same time?

Patrick Wiemiller says, "It's worth having a concern about and for us to give attention to, and be vigilant on our security system we don't take that lightly, but I would hope I can assure people that this has been and our plans are to continue it to be a safe, clean, healthy water supply."