Break in at Eagle Mountain, Utah water tanks highlights small town vunerabilities

Break in at Eagle Mountain, Utah water tanks highlights small town vunerabilities

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Image: Luke Addison (Creative Commons)
Image: Luke Addison (Creative Commons)

EAGLE MOUNTAIN, Utah, September 30, 2014 — Eagle Mountain, Utah mayor Chris Pengra plans to report to citizens the result of State certified water testing after the cities water source was broken into. Last night Eagle Mountain residents were warned that a water storage tank that feeds into the city’s municipal system was broken into and could possibly have been contaminated.

The city’s Facebook page states that officials became aware of the break-in when it was reported that a lock had been sawed off of a gate, a report modified to state the lock had been removed from a water holding tank.

In the Mayor’s blog, Pengra confirmed that “..the chain link fence surrounding one of the tanks was compromised and the lock latch on the water tank access hatch was cut.”

It is believed the break-in occurred sometime over the weekend when the tank was filling, meaning water was coming in not flowing out to residents, however that cannot be guaranteed. The compromised tank was quickly isolated from the rest of the water supply but it is unknown if or for how long residents could have been exposed to any potential contaminants.

City officials continue to state that there is no evidence at this time that the water supply has been contaminated. Residents have been advised to not drink, shower in, brush teeth, cook with, wash dishes or otherwise come into contact with the city water until testing for contaminants has been completed.

Results are expected back Tuesday evening and a press release for today, September 30, at 6:00pm MT is planned. Officials have also said that they will begin daily inspections of the city water storage tanks to ensure that no more tampering occurs.

The ease with which the water supply of this small Utah town was accessed highlights potential vulnerabilities that cities face in light of domestic terrorism threats.

A report by the Congressional Research Service states that although smaller sized municipalities such as Eagle Mountain are not perceived as key targets of terrorists in risk assessments, they are more vulnerable to terrorists or vandals and have the potential for wide-spread panic in the wake of an attack.

With the recent “lonewolf” attack and killing in the small town of Vaughn, Oklahoma, risk to smaller environments as a clear and present danger is increased.

With no federal funds currently allocated for these types of purposes, utilities face the dilemma of how to pay for security improvements. Companies must reach into their own pockets to ensure the safety of the water supply and these expenditures in smaller cities compete with other capital interests of the companies.

While it is currently unknown whether the break-in was a result of a teenage prank or something more sinister, domestic terrorism is on residents’ minds but seemingly not a serious concern.

“We’ve taken multiple samples throughout our city into one of the state certified laboratories so what we are doing now is waiting for the results of those tests which they will get back to us tomorrow evening,” said David Norman, Public Works Director for Eagle Mountain.

Norman said there is no reason to believe the water was tampered with.

“There has been no indications from illnesses, any taste or odor that anything is wrong with the water,” Norman said. “We just felt like we should get it out to the residents what we knew, what had happened, because we just felt the residents should be aware.”

Residents have questioned the dilution factor of so many gallons of water on potential contamination and wondered if reverse osmosis systems will eliminate any future threat.

City officials have so far been unable to answer these questions, deferring until test results are returned later today.

Most Eagle Mountain residents are taking a wait and see approach to the break-in.

Posted on the city’s Facebook page, one resident said, “I’m going to go take a shower since its most likely the breach in the water tank happened who knows how many hours, days, or even weeks ago. Unless somebody dumped Polonium 298 into the system, I doubt the water will hurt my skin.”

Breaking into a water storage system is a federal offense punishable by to 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine.

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