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Moline officials approve proposal to improve water treatment plant's cybersecurity

The City is working on a $327,000 plan to improve computer systems and hardware and guard against cyberattacks.

MOLINE, Ill. — The attack could come from anywhere and deal severe damage.

"A failure within the control system could cause us to not meet our mission, which is to provide continuous high-quality and safe drinking water to our customers," City of Moline Utilities Director Tony Loete said.

Moline's water treatment plant on 18th Street is working to upgrade its computer systems, following a proposal made by City officials.

The facility first switched to using computers in the early 2000s, but some programs and hardware haven't been replaced since then.

As part of the American Water Infrastructure Act of 2018, the city did a 'risk and resilience assessment' in 2021.

"[The study] ranked cyber intrusion as the number one vulnerability of the water system," Loete said.

Successful hacks at other plants in the U.S. added to the City's concerns.

"[In] the 2021 cyber attack in Oldsmar, Florida, a water treatment plant was hacked," Loete explained. "The hacker was allowed to gain access to the chemical feed for sodium hydroxide. Fortunately, there were humans that intervened and were able to correct the dosage before it affected the finished water. But it revealed vulnerabilities within the industry."

These concerns led the city's utilities department to create a $317,000 plan to improve the systems.

The main upgrade would be for the Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition (SCADA) computer program. The City of Moline's two wastewater treatment plants already use the platform, which allows for monitoring and control over the entire plant's systems.

The plant's Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs) would also be upgraded. The PLCs are small computers placed throughout the facility that make decisions and feed information to the SCADA.

The City of Moline voted unanimously to approve the resolution on Tuesday, Sep. 13.

The City will work with engineering firm Strand Associates to design the new SCADA system and determine the right hardware to install.

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