When Will the Water Come Back On?

John Organek, Water Sector Coordinator at Electric Infrastructructure Security Council

Water Systems

How critical is grid power to water systems, and how long can they get by without it in a long Black Sky event?

Water is existential to life, and it plays a large role in sustaining communities, economies, and societies. Its presence attracts and sustains, while its absence disperses and condemns. Communities require sources and systems that meet quantitative and quality needs for drinking, sanitizing, production, and firefighting, or they too may die. Water is also required for the continued operation of other vital infrastructures such as electricity.

Like water is to life, electricity is vital to maintaining an adequate supply of water at an adequate level of pressure. Electricity is used to draw, treat, transport, and deliver water throughout a system. Without electricity, most water systems die within a few days. And they don’t simply stop running; they begin to become contaminated by inflow, severely complicating and prolonging restoration following a complete shutdown. A black start in a water system is more difficult and prolonged than a black start involving an electric system.

The most disastrous effects of the loss of water will take place in large cities, where people may not be able to flee in time to avoid a complete loss of supply.  A widespread, long-duration grid outage caused by a cyber or EMP attack would prevent outside support, trapping large numbers of people in densely populated areas, creating widespread panic, and causing many deaths. Rapid restoration of electric service is paramount!

Besides water and wastewater systems being one of their most important customers, electric system operators and regulators should also recognize the valuable loads that these systems provide during grid restoration, especially during a black start, following a Black Sky event. Both water and electrical utility operators and their regulators need to collaborate closely to ensure that water comes back expeditiously to ensure the continuity of life, community, and society.

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