Federal Water Tap, February 15: After Florida Hacking, Cybersecurity Officials Warn Utilities About Vulnerabilities

The Rundown

Federal agencies issue an assessment of the cyberattack on a Florida water treatment plant. A Senate committee advances the nomination of Michael Regan to be EPA administrator. EPA adds climate change data to its environmental justice screening tool. NOAA submits a report to Congress on improving short-term weather forecasts. And lastly, the Bureau of Reclamation provides $15.4 million for water reliability projects in the western states.

“Like I said during our hearing last week, I am confident that Michael Regan is the right person to lead EPA. He is a man of deep faith who believes that we have a moral obligation to be good stewards of this planet.” — Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) after the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee voted to move forward with Regan’s nomination as the EPA administrator.

By the Numbers

14-6: Margin by which the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee voted to approve Michael Regan as the administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The next step is a vote of the full Senate.

$15.4 million: Funding awarded by the Bureau of Reclamation to 18 projects in seven western states to improve the reliability of water supplies. The projects range from groundwater storage in Utah and Arizona to habitat restoration in Nevada for an endangered fish.

News Briefs

Florida Water Utility Hacking
Unidentified hackers broke into the computer network of a Florida water utility and attempted to add dangerous amounts of chemicals to the drinking water.

Federal cybersecurity experts believe that the utility’s computer network was vulnerable because of an outdated operating system and weak passwords. Continuing to use Windows 7 increases the risk of hacking, the agencies said in an assessment of the attack. Microsoft stopped actively providing security updates to the operating system in January 2020.

They are also investigating the role of software that allows employees to access utility networks from their homes. In this case, the software is called TeamViewer.

The attempt to tamper with chemical levels did not succeed. An employee at the water plant noticed the intrusion before any harm could be done.

In context: Water Sector Prepares for Cyberattacks

Land and Water Conservation Fund Order
The Department of the Interior revoked a Trump administration order that restricted the use of the Land and Water Conversation Fund.

Studies and Reports

Weather Forecasting Report
NOAA submitted a report to Congress on how weekly and monthly weather forecasts can be improved to reduce the risk of natural hazards like floods and fires.

Forecasters need more computing power and more precise monitoring equipment, the report states. The computer models that produce short-term weather forecasts need to better show the relationship between the land, ocean, atmosphere, and ice.

In addition to technical advances, the report notes that authorities will need to leverage the insights from social and behavioral sciences in order to communicate the risks and uncertainties of weather forecasts to the public and businesses.

On the Radar

EJ Screen Updated
The EPA added new data to its tool for mapping areas where pollution and environmental risks harm low-income areas and communities of color.

The agency added data on climate change, including flooding and sea-level rise. All the data on EJ Screen can now be downloaded at the census tract.

Federal Water Tap is a weekly digest spotting trends in U.S. government water policy. To get more water news, follow Circle of Blue on Twitter and sign up for our newsletter.

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