The Co-Intelligence Institute // CII home // Y2K home

Toxic "Dischargers":Risk to Our Waters



Dear friends,

There are SO many details of Y2K to track. One of the most important -- which few people are commenting on -- is the risk that toxics will be discharged into water. I am not tracking this one closely (since I am still trying to focus on the transformational dimensions of Y2K), but I was greatly encouraged to learn there is a good site on this subject which I'd like to share, should any of you (or people you know) like to follow it.

(Just to correct a false impression some folks have: I don't spend my days surfing the net looking for these things. I am on a number of emailing lists and have scores of friends sending me their finds. I can't read them all and only a small percentage of them do I forward to my full list [this one, which you're on]. I know you are all overloaded with email. I hope my choice of items meets your standards at least 75% of the time. If you ever want to be removed from my list, just send a note with "Remove me" in the subject line.)



_ _ _ _ The State Water Resources Control Board The Year 2000 - Information for Waste Dischargers

-- particularly their impressive annotated list of articles and resources at

And FYI, here's their intro page and their letter to "dischargers":

YEAR 2000 - Information for Waste Dischargers

The purpose of these web pages is twofold: first, to gather together copies of documents and links that will help waste dischargers understand the potential impacts on water quality of non-Y2k compliant computer systems and embedded microchips (microprocessors contained in most electronic devices); and second, to provide a forum where dischargers can share experiences they have had dealing with Y2k issues.

Clean water is essential to our survival. The potential failure of non-compliant devices (valves, switches, monitors, etc.) is a significant threat to the quality of water in California (as well as the rest of the world). Based on observations and the experiences of experts in the field, the embedded microchip problem is considered a more serious threat to our health and safety than the computer programs that may fail to operate correctly after 1/1/2000. Many experts feel the problem is too big to solve. No one, however, is proposing that we wait until the turn of the century to see what fails before attempting to fix it. It behooves every public and private enterprise to do their best to identify and correct non-compliant programs and processors. Failure to do so could have legal consequences. Every discharger should prepare a detailed contingency plan describing the steps it will take in the event that the power fails, that vendors are unable to provide critical supplies or if one or more critical devices fail to operate properly.

Fixing non-compliant devices is no easy task. Identifying and testing embedded microchips with date functions is very difficult. Although engineers recommend contacting the manufacturer of devices with embedded chips regarding Y2k compliance, they admit that many manufacturers don't know or they may believe the chips to be compliant when they're not. Consequently, they strongly recommend that all chips be tested (especially those residing in critical systems). Testing individual chips (when possible) does not always prove a system or process is Y2k compliant. Devices must be tested in combination with other devices in order to ensure a particular piece of equipment will work properly. Testing must be done carefully. There are examples of situations where dates after 1/1/2000 have been simulated causing the device to fail and requiring extensive downtime while the chip or device is replaced. Once a non-compliant chip has been located, fixing it can be problematic. Often, a piece of equipment must be taken offline for extended periods while the chip is either repaired or replaced, or in some cases, the entire device must be replace.

This site contains a selection of documents from the Internet that relate to embedded microchips and the water utilities. It can save you numerous hours "surfing" through the multitude of Y2k sites on the Internet. It contains white papers and articles describing the magnitude to the problem; step-by-step procedures for testing the embedded microchips; case histories; surveys and survey forms; opinions and advice. For those who are interested in learning more about the "bug"; how it happened, the forms it takes, how it may impact each one of us, predictions (dire and otherwise), there are numerous links to pages with this kind of information. There is very little information on the Internet about Year 2000 as it impacts waste dischargers. It may be that this area has been overlooked, or that efforts to address these problems have not been documented. With your participation, we hope that this site will help serve to fill this void.

_ _ _ _ _

Dear California Discharger:


A major part of the mission of the State Water Resources Control Board is to ensure the highest reasonable quality of waters of the state of California. The purpose of this letter is to advise you of a potentially serious threat to our water quality.

I'm sure that you have heard of the Year 2000 computer problem, where untold thousands of computers and computer programs may not operate properly after midnight on January 1, 2000. At first, it was generally believed that the problem was limited to old mainframe computers and programs that ran on them. Now, it is widely recognized that personal computers, local area networks and a variety of commercial software are also affected. Although this is a major concern for most businesses, an even greater concern to many businesses and government agencies is the impact of non-Year 2000 compliant microchips embedded in many electronic devices. These devices range from VCRs and microwave ovens to timers, valves, monitoring equipment, meters and switches in many settings, including devices that treat wastewater. Some of these embedded chips control processes and use a year date as part of the control process. If the chip is "non-compliant" it may cause the device it controls to quit working or to work improperly on the first day in the Year 2000, in which the chip changes the process that runs the device.

By way of a real-life example, the failure of a key valve in a water treatment plant test caused toxic levels of chlorine to be added to a community's drinking water. A wide variety of toxic discharges to waters of the state could result from valves or other equipment failures.

Rather than try to explain the history and potential impact of these devices in detail, I would like to refer you to an article from the April 27, 1998 issue of Fortune Magazine entitled "Industry Wakes Up to the Year 2000 Menace". It can be found at your local library or on the Internet at: The article does an excellent job of explaining the magnitude of the problem we are all facing.

Although most experts agree that it will not be possible to identify and correct every device with non-compliant microchips, any that can be fixed will reduce the severity of the disruption. Also, if dischargers make themselves aware of potential failures, they will be able to make contingency plans, thus reducing the chance of a complete shutdown or major incident. The State Water Resources Control Board would like to act as a clearinghouse, where your experience addressing Year 2000 embedded chip problems can be posted on our Internet site and shared with others. In addition, we will be posting links and information from other Internet sites on our Web Page (http:/ that will assist you in your efforts to address your non-compliant devices.

I might also mention that failure of an electronic device due to a non-Year 2000 compliant microchip will not be an excuse for any violation of waste discharge requirements or other water-quality standards or prohibitions. You should also be aware of predictions of potential litigation against companies who endanger health, safety or create financial hardships by failing to correct their non-Year 2000 compliant systems.

If you have any questions or suggestions, or wish to submit material for posting on our Internet site, contact Michael Gentry at (916) 657-1591. You may also e-mail him at: If we all work together, I am confident we can solve this problem.


Walt Pettit

Executive Director