Water tanks to secure availability for years

Workers construct a concrete roof on a 2-million gallon water storage tank installed in Safford in 2009.

Gila Valley residents need not worry about hackers getting into their water supply system like what happened in one Florida community last week, local officials said.

The main reason is our water systems aren’t online, said Morgan Seale, the water division manager for the City of Safford and Phil Cook, assistant general manager for Graham County Utilities.

On Monday, officials in Pinellas County, Florida reported that someone hacked into the water system in Oldsmar on Feb. 5 and raised the level of lye in the water from 100 to 11,100 parts per million.

Doctors with the National Capital Poison Center told NBC News that anything more than 10,000 can lead to “difficulty swallowing, nausea/vomiting, abdominal pain, and potentially even damage to the gastrointestinal tract.”

The breach was found right away, the order was rescinded and no extra lye got into the water.

The City of Safford and Graham County Utilities, the only two water suppliers in the Gila Valley, don’t use lye, which removes heavy metals from water and controls water acidity, Seale and Cook said. They use chlorine.

Their water systems are also standalone systems; they aren’t connected to the Internet and any chlorine adjustments must be physically made, Seale said.

As far as security, Seale and Cook said their tanks are locked and monitored routinely.

If any locks are broken, there are protocols in place, Seale said Both the state and the community would have to be notified as part of those protocols.

Both men also said the state requires them to test the water regularly.

The incident in Florida was not the first such incident.

According to media reports, a hacker broke into computers that controlled Bowman Dam in Rye, New York, in 2013, but the controls were offline for maintenance. Three years later, the Justice Department charged an Iranian national with the hack, saying he worked for a company tied to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.

If anyone does spot something suspicious going on near the tanks, they should immediately call 911, Seale said.

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