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Software tool helps protect Nation's drinking water: Now available in all 50 states

Knowing the movement of contaminants, what threat they may pose to the public, essential to a quick response

A new software tool that can be used by incident commanders, water utility managers, and others to protect community drinking water sources from contamination during emergencies is now available in all 50 states. Preliminary versions of the tool, called ICWater, have already been used by water utilities and State HAZMAT (hazardous materials) response teams in Oregon and Washington, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.

Now, the tool is available for use by every state in the Nation, according to its developer, Douglas Ryan, a scientist at the USDA Forest Service's PNW Research Station. Recognizing the need for a readily available, single source of information, Ryan led an interagency effort to develop ICWater (pronounced "icy water"), a tool designed to help incident commanders protect drinking water in an emergency. He serves as the effort's overall task manager and is based at the PNW Research Station's Forestry Sciences Laboratory in Olympia, Wash.

In the United States, hundreds of thousands of bodies of surface water--like lakes, rivers, and reservoirs--help supply the American public with its drinking water. If a chemical, radioactive or biological contaminant were accidentally or intentionally introduced into a drinking water source, knowing what threat it posed to the public would be essential for incident commanders who direct first responders to mount an effective emergency response.

"Incident commanders need timely and accurate information to guide their decisions on deploying first responders to best protect the public," said Douglas Ryan, manager of the Pacific Northwest Research Station's Aquatic and Land Interactions Program. "This information often can be drawn from sources that already exist, but they are scattered and usually not quickly available to on-the-scene commanders in emergencies."

ICWater is a computer–based tool that integrates multiple information sources and data for incident commanders at the scene of a surface water contamination. With this information, it quickly produces maps, tables, and charts that tell incident commanders if drinking water intakes are in the contaminant's path, and when and in what concentration the contaminant will reach the intakes. Developing ICWater drew upon the extensive expertise of the USDA Forest Service in water research as well as data sources from several other agencies.

Sherri Richardson Dodge | EurekAlert!
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