The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Region 6 homeland security coordinator said the agency is working with communities to protect drinking water supplies from terrorist attacks in the region that includes El Paso.
“The EPA has been assigned the responsibility of protecting water infrastructure following September 11,” said Mary Kemp, the EPA coordinator. “Part of this involves working on a U.S.-Mexico (emergency) response team, working with sister cities in Mexico along the border, and translating into Spanish a guidebook for our unified command system.”
Kemp was the featured speaker Wednesday for the EPA’s border forum at the Armijo Branch Library in South El Paso. Others present included representatives from Fort Bliss, El Paso Water Utilities and the El Paso City-County Health and Environmental District.
Kemp said the EPA’s objectives as to water supplies include protecting facilities and systems, responding to and recovering from a terrorist attack, and continuing government operations in a national emergency.
Kemp added that protecting all surface water systems, such as the Rio Grande, is nearly impossible.
Darrin Swartz-Larson, director of the EPA’s El Paso Border Liaison Office, said that even though the EPA was not mandated to deal with vulnerability to terrorism attacking the air, there are plans for a border exercise involving a simulated chemical or biological attack.
Swartz-Larson said El Paso Mayor Ray Caballero recently agreed to resume work toward a contingency plan in case of an attack or leak at Juárez’s hydrofluoric acid plant.
“It’s definitely something people have told our office about,” he said.
David Brosman, operations manager for El Paso Water Utilities, said the EPA had approved a $115,000 grant for a study assessing vulnerability.
“We’re in the process of seeking a consultant for the study,” he said.
Kemp and Brosman agreed that the study must be kept secret to prevent terrorists from knowing weak points.
Kemp said, “The EPA received authorization in May to classify information.”