In Reply Refer To:

Mail Stop 412                                   October 22, 2001




Subject:  USGS Capabilities and Plans Related to Water System Security


In recent weeks, several Districts have been contacted by cooperators asking what can be done to provide early-warning monitoring of source water for public water supplies.  There are many promising sensors and monitoring systems in varying stages of development, but relatively few that are commercially available and even fewer that have been tested by USGS.  We plan to initiate a joint program with the DOE Sandia National Laboratory to provide field-testing for some of the advanced sensors they have been developing, and this holds promise for future monitoring systems for our cooperators.  One such sensor, the "micro-chemlab on a chip," is described, as a hand-held application, in a fact sheet available at  We hope to have the field-testing program in place with Sandia sometime this year.  


Various biomonitoring systems have been designed to test for a broad range of toxic substances in water.  The principle is the same as the canary in the coal mine:  a sentinel species is exposed to the water, and adverse effects are detected through some physiological change.  Such a system would be likely to detect most of the acutely dangerous chemical and biological toxins, but would not provide detection of pathogenic microbes such as bacteria, viruses, and protozoa.  These systems, especially when automated, are expensive, but they may provide a measure of desired protection depending on your cooperator’s need.  The Office of Water Quality (OWQ) has gathered some information on commercially available biomonitoring systems and has included this information in this message.   None of these systems has been tested by the USGS, and their being mentioned in this message does not imply any endorsement by the USGS.  If you and your cooperator are interested in pursuing such a system, you are encouraged to determine whether such a system might meet your requirements.


We would also like you to know about three supplemental budget requests for fiscal year 2002, related to water system security, that have gone forward to DOI. 


1.  $11 million for the Mapping Discipline, and $2.4 million for the Water Discipline, for enhancements related to the National Hydrography Dataset (NHD).  This includes improving the resolution of the NHD in about 400 watersheds with drinking-water intakes, acquiring computer infrastructure to store, manage, and deliver the NHD data, associating USGS streamflow gages with NHD stream reaches, associating dams with NHD stream reaches, estimating flow, velocity, and volume for each NHD reach, and re-compiling time-of-travel information from paper reports into a digital file.  These enhancements, along with work already underway to associate water-supply intakes with NHD stream reaches, would facilitate more accurate estimates of travel time between any two points on the NHD stream network, including intakes.


2.  $2 million for the Water Discipline to support the proposed field-testing program for sensors developed at Sandia Labs (see above).


3.  $3 million for the Water Discipline to determine background concentrations in water of some pathogens likely to be used in terrorist attacks, so that intentional releases can be distinguished from natural background occurrence.


The first request has gone forward from DOI to OMB; the second two have been submitted to DOI. 


If you have questions about the USGS and water system security, please contact Steve Sorenson (, 703/648-6864) or Glenn Patterson (, 703/648-6876).





Stephen K. Sorenson

Acting Chief, Office of Water Quality




This memorandum does not supersede any other OWQ Technical Memorandum.


Distribution:  District Chiefs, District and Regional Water-Quality Specialists, and Senior Staff