USGS Capabilities and Plans Related to Water System Security

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

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 /s/
                         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

(See attached file: biomonitor02.02.htm) 
(See attached file: Biomonitors.attach.0202.htm)

Stephen K. Sorenson
Acting Chief, OWQ
412 National Center
Reston, VA 20192
703/648-5722 fax