Report: Government-Run Hydroelectric Dams Are At A ‘High Risk’ Of ‘Insider Threats’

Jason Hopkins | Energy Investigator

A report by the Department of the Interior (DOI) found that hydroelectric dams run by the federal government are at an extreme risk of compromise.

Hydroelectricity has become a considerable component of the U.S. power grid. Hydropower plants currently make up about 7 percent of the country’s total production of electricity and around 44 percent of total renewable energy generation, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. By utilizing running water to spin a system of turbines, hydropower dams have long been established as an essential source of emissions-free electricity.

However, a report by the DOI inspector general is raising concern over the safety of the country’s hydroelectric industry.

Currently, five hydropower dams run by the Bureau of Reclamation are classified as critical infrastructure by the Department of Homeland Security. The DOI inspector general evaluated two of these dams and determined they were “at high risk from insider threats.” While the report found the overall industrial control system to be safe from cybersecurity threats, personal security practices and account management by the Bureau of Reclamation were found to be underperforming. (RELATED: Environmentalist: Why Are Americans Fearful Of Nuclear Energy?)

“These deficiencies occurred because [Bureau of Reclamation] management failed to strengthen bureau risk management practices in response to rapidly escalating threats to critical infrastructure,” according to the evaluation by the inspector general’s office. “An ICS breach could disrupt USBR operations and has the potential to adversely affect national security.”

The report shines a light on possible cybersecurity attacks against hydroelectric generators, which are among the oldest power facilities in the U.S. The average U.S. hydropower plant has been in operation for 64 years. The 50 oldest power plants in the U.S. are all hydroelectric.

The federal government controls a large stake of the country’s hydroelectric sector. The Bureau of Reclamation, the Army Corps of Engineers and other federal departments own 52 percent of all hydroelectric generation, according to the National Hydropower Association.

“Cyber attacks against industrial control systems that operate critical infrastructure are escalating,” states a portion of the inspector general’s conclusion. “As such, the [Bureau of Reclamation] must strengthen its security practices to minimize risk of disruption to its major hydropower producing dams.”

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