Population in the metropolitan Washington region continues to increase and with it so has the complexity and interrelationships among water supply systems. As a result, area governments and water utilities have become increasingly concerned over their continued ability to provide clean and adequate supplies of water during significant emergency events. These concerns have already led to significant long-term planning, the construction of water supply reservoirs, and the adoption of emergency response agreements and plans by area utilities and local governments.
For over 30 years, COG has coordinated water security efforts in the region under the umbrella of the regional Water Supply Emergency Plan (WSEP). The WSEP has served as the agreement and communication and coordination protocol for regional water systems and local governments, in collaboration with regional, state, and federal agencies, to respond to drinking water quality (contamination) events and drinking water quantity (shortage and outage) events including drought.
The region currently operates under two primary water supply emergency response plans. The first is the Water Supply Emergency Plan, adopted in 1994 to coordinate response actions in the event of a water supply emergency in which water supplies from the Potomac River to the metropolitan region are affected. The plan contains three components, 1) regional response for health-related emergencies in the Washington Aqueduct System; 2) response to emergencies that affect more than one of the utilities that withdraw raw water from the Potomac River; and 3) routine planning and cooperative operating procedures, which would reduce the risk of drought affecting the region’s water supply. The plan was updated following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks to better respond to unnatural and unexpected threats and, most recently, in 2009 to provide greater regional coordination and communication guidance in the event of a disruption, outage, or threat to regional water supplies and as those supplies might relate to wastewater operations.
The second plan is the, “Metropolitan Washington Water Supply and Drought Awareness Response Plan", which was developed as a result of a severe period of drought, which began in 1998 and continued through most of 1999. Historically, it was the third worst drought on record in the region. Given the conditions during that time, there was great concern among area elected officials as to the ability of the region to continue to meet water supply demands as well as the apparent need for improved drought coordination and communication. The plan, which was formally adopted in June 2000 by COG, addressed those concerns by providing important communication and coordination guidance to area water utilities and local governments during periods of drought. It established a series of drought related triggers and associated actions that would occur in the event of a regional drought. The plan also incorporates a regional year round wise water use campaign.