By Karen Freifeld
Staff Writer

May 20, 2002

New York City official objects to water scare

A New York City environmental official yesterday blasted a Bronx assemblyman for releasing a report that claims the city hasn't done enough since Sept. 11 to protect its water supply.

"He's never given us this report," said Charles Sturcken, chief of staff at the city's Department of Environmental Protection, which oversees the water system. He defended the current state of security. "Our system, we've been told, is years ahead of any other municipality in the country."

The report, put out by the New York State Assembly Committee on Oversight, Analysis and Investigation, found that security at sites examined met less than half of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and state Department of Health recommendations since the terrorist attacks.

"I'm not trying to be an alarmist, I'm not trying to create fear. I'm simply saying that something as important as the security of our water system has to be handled in a very, very careful manner," said Bronx Assemblyman Jeff Klein, the committee's chairman.

Investigators for the committee analyzed reservoirs treatment plants and other water supply sites over several months using a 21-point security checklist to see if such items as windows, doors, and fencing were properly designed and maintained.

Of five facilities in the city that were checked, whose locations were undisclosed, the report found that not one of them was in compliance with federal standards regarding fencing. In some cases, fences had holes or gates were unlocked. In others, the fences could be climbed under or over.

Investigators also were able to gain access and photograph the interior of buildings at two facilities without being questioned. And, Klein said, information about the facilities, including detailed maps, was available on the Internet.

But Sturcken pointed out that two investigators were stopped when they tried to gain access to a Yonkers reservoir and were about to be arrested when a DEP official -- Sturcken himself -- intervened.

"New Yorkers should be assured that the city has been working with the federal and local security experts," Sturcken said. "We have strengthened the police forces and are spending $35 million on improving security systems for water."

Sturcken said experts are "not worried about somebody ... putting some kind of biological agent in the water. The concern is dams, bridges ... it's infrastructure," he said. He did not elaborate.

The invitation for Klein to meet with DEP and provide a detailed report is still open, Sturcken said. But he added "We've lived through two world wars and the water supply will outlast this present war."

This story was supplemented with Associated Press reports.

Copyright 2002, Newsday, Inc.