Water Infrastructure Security

The safety of our water infrastructure is critical to ensuring that water sources and water distribution systems are protected from accidental of intentional contamination events and that reliable systems are in place should an event occur. As water resources become increasingly scarce and the infrastructure to convey these resources becomes increasingly complex, the risk of an unintentional or malicious contamination of our water distribution systems will increase. Researchers at Sandia National Laboratories have developed the solutions and tools needed for the complex challenges of water infrastructure security at multiple levels (regional, national, international) and for multiple stakeholders (government agencies and private industry). Motivated by the signing of Homeland Security Presidential Directive 9 (HSPD-9) by President G.W. Bush in 2004 that called for more rigorous monitoring and assessment our nation’s water sources and distribution systems after 9/11, Sandia researchers have developed multiple drinking water contamination warning system tools which combine online water quality monitoring with public health data streams to protect both people and infrastructure. Sandia’s water security software (in parentheses below) is designed to enable decision makers to know the following:

  • Where to place sensors (SPOT)
  • How to detect water quality events (CANARY)
  • How to rapidly locate a contaminant source (WST)
  • How to assess risk in physical infrastructure (RAM-W)

For more information on these software tools, click on the tabs at the top of this page.

The Future of Water Security

Conducting risk assessments and utilizing software tools to identify vulnerabilities is just the beginning. In the intermediate and long-term real time monitoring will play a major role. Sandia has the expertise to have a major impact in this area, by providing further refinement of our understanding of threat to water systems, systems-level tools for real-time management of water distribution systems, and technologies for treating contaminated water.

Water Quality Event Detection/CANARY

Rapid and accurate detection of contamination incidents in drinking water is critical for notifying consumers of threats and risks to public health and for making remediation and recovery decisions. Sandia National Laboratories and the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) developed the CANARY Event Detection software to enable online contaminant event detection for time-critical decision making in both routine and emergency water quality assessments. As a free software tool, CANARY is available to drinking water utilities of all sizes (worldwide) who are striving to provide the best quality water to their customers.

CANARY is a software package that performs on-line, multi-variate, event detection from networked sensor data. Employing statistical forecasting and classification algorithms, CANARY continuously analyzes time signals for anomalous conditions. The software allows for:

  • The use of a standard data format for input and output of water quality and operations data with the ability to directly connect to existing utility SCADA systems.
  • The ability to select different detection algorithms (CANARY contains three different mathematical approaches for analyzing the data).
  • Custom configuration of detection algorithms to suit the background water quality variation of any monitoring station.
  • Both an online operations mode and an off-line evaluation mode.
  • The ability to generate data needed to establish performance metrics (e.g., false alarm rates).

One example of a water utility currently using CANARY software is Singapore’s national water authority, (PUB), where the use of this tool has enabled a “quantum leap” in the utility’s practice. Historically Singapore’s water utility has depended on preset limits of three water characteristics to determine water quality. With the implementation of CANARY, relative changes in the patterns of the three parameters can be used to uncover water quality events, even if each individual parameter lies within the alarm limits. This dramatically improves PUB’s ability to respond to water quality changes, and allows PUB to arrest poor quality water before it reaches consumers.

CANARY is compatible with any sensor technology running on any information technology platform and can be easily modified for specific applications. In contrast to proprietary systems, CANARY provides the end-used with transparency in algorithms and their parameterization, which is important for utility and location-specific customization.

Through an open-source licensing approach, CANARY allows all utilities access to state-of-the art event detection capabilities that can leverage their existing investments in water quality sensors.

Open-source version of CANARY

Executable version of CANARY

The Water, Energy and Carbon Sequestration Model (WECSsim): A Collaborative Systems Model

The Water, Energy and Carbon Sequestration Model (WECSsim) is an integrated assessment software tool developed to calculate the potential performance, location and cost characteristics with a national CO2 storage program utilizing geologic saline formations. Users can run power-plant specific scenarios to capture and store CO2 emissions while incorporating the additional value of extracting, treating and utilizing the saline waters.

Carbon Management System Questions

Carbon Management Systems Questions

Optimal Sensor Placement/SPOT

Early Warnings Enhance Water Security and Provide Faster Crisis Response

Several elements of Sandia’s research revolve around the optimal design and management of Contamination Warning Systems (CWSs). A well-designed CWS protects drinking water systems by identifying a significant range of contaminants early enough to reduce public health and economic consequences of a contamination event. In conjunction with other tools such as physical monitoring, CWSs use sensors to detect drinking water contaminants. Sensor placement optimization is an important component of CWSs, particularly for large water distribution systems that can include thousands of miles of mostly underground pipe.

Sandia, in partnership with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Argonne National Laboratory, and the University of Cincinnati, provides support for CWS networks with its Sensor Placement Optimization Toolkit (SPOT). SPOT facilitates the creation of sensor networks that can provide early warnings for multiple contaminants within a given water distribution system.

The toolkit provides discrete optimization tools that ascertain the number and optimal locations for contaminant sensors while minimizing monitoring cost and response time. SPOT also facilitates improvements to distribution system management and can be used to simulate the effects of different response times to a contamination incident.

Proven Results and Unique Advantages in Protecting Water Supplies


Containment Warning System (would be particularly effective if sample sensor network locations could be overlaid on the system)

In a 2006 Sensor Network Optimization, SPOT was used to design sensor placements for eight large U.S. cities and execute actual placement in four of those. The estimated reduction on fatalities from high consequence attacks on drinking water was 48%, with a $19B median reduction in estimated value of lives lost due to high consequence attacks.

SPOT also incorporates attributes for each water distribution system, including utility-specific system network models, and permits the user to examine trade-offs among different network designs by integrating customized performance objectives such as population-based health measures, volume of contaminated water consumed, and time to detection. The toolkit also provides optimization techniques that can function on limited computer memory, addressing runtime restrictions associated with end-user computer systems.

SPOT has additional application possibilities, including protecting air networks in sensitive buildings, detecting intruders in road networks, and providing physical site security protection.

Response/Recovery/Restoration (WST)

The Goal of the Water incident Response Management (WST) tool is to integrate real-time models and sensor data to manage contaminant incidents. WST is uniquely designed with a dynamic response strategy that is able to:

  • Predict the source of the contaminant
  • Plan manual samples
  • Collect grab samples
  • Initiate flushing
  • Hyperchlorinate pipes
  • Redirect flows with valves
  • Isolate the contaminated sub-network
  • Provide continuous iteration until contaminant is identified

Risk Assessment Methodology for Water (RAM-W)

Because of the uncertainty and need to be responsive in the event of a malevolent event involving our critical water infrastructures, managers and decision-makers must have a reliable way of estimating risk to help them decide how much security is needed at their facility. After 9/11, under heavy pressure from water utilities around the country, the Environmental Protection Agency asked Sandia to perform vulnerability assessments for 300 U.S. cities by December 31, 2002. This was a monumental task and no organization in the U.S., including Sandia, was prepared to effectively accomplish that task.Working closely with the American Water Works Association (Awwa) and the American Water Works Research Foundation (AwwaRF), a risk assessment methodology for water (RAM-WTM) was created to assess the risk from malevolent threats at various types of facilities and critical infrastructures.Using the RAM-W tool, Sandia delivered safety and security training to over 5000 water utility personnel across the country via the AWWA training networks. Sandia teams also conducted additional risk assessments for several major U.S. cities, refining the methodology further with each assessment. A more comprehensive hands-on training course was developed for major water utilities and by March 2002, representatives from 120 water utilities from across the country had received this training. Sandia has also developed an automated cyber assessment tool for the analysis of risks associated with computer-based SCADA systems used to automate systems control. We have provided congressional testimony on water security to House committees on two occasions.For more than 30 years, Sandia has applied performance-based methods for designing and evaluating physical protection systems (PPS). This approach has been applied for many years to high-consequence government facilities, and in the last several years this approach has been modified, tested, and applied to various critical infrastructures, (e.g., federal dams, power utilities, water utilities, etc.).While non-nuclear sites, facilities, and critical infrastructures may not require the highest levels of security used at nuclear weapons sites, the approach is the same. The foundation of RAM-WTMis comprised of the following major steps:

  • Planning
  • Threat Assessment
  • site characterization
  • Consequence Assessment
  • System Effectiveness
  • Risk Analysis
  • Risk Management and Reduction

Energy production requires a reliable, abundant, and predictable source of water, a resource that is already in short supply throughout much of the U.S. and the world. The electricity industry is second only to agriculture as the largest user of water in the United States. Electricity production from fossil fuels and nuclear energy requires 190,000 million gallons of water per day, accounting for 39% of all freshwater withdrawals in the nation, with 71% of that going to fossil-fuel electricity generation alone.1 Coal, the most abundant fossil fuel, currently accounts for 52% of U.S. electricity generation, and each kWh generated from coal requires withdrawal of 25 gallons of water. That means U.S. citizens may indirectly depend upon as much water turning on the lights and running appliances as they directly use taking showers and watering lawns. According to the 2001 National Energy Policy, our growing population and economy will require 393,000 MW of new generating capacity (or 1,300 to 1,900 new power plants-more than one built each week) by the year 2020, putting further strain on the nation’s water resources.