COVID-19 and Our Water Supply

June 1, 2020

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globe in a mask - covid19

We are now four months into the worst pandemic virus the world has faced in over one hundred years. Although we are learning more everyday about the COVID-19 virus, there are still a lot of unanswered questions. Whenever any kind of epidemic breaks out major concerns arise about the water supply: is there danger of it being contaminated, can the virus or disease be transferred by the wastewater system, or can our crops be contaminated by irrigation water?

The United States Environmental Protection Agency and COVID-19

The EPA is the US government agency that is responsible for protecting human health and the environment. They have repeatedly stated that the risk of COVID-19 affecting either drinking water or wastewater is very low and that Americans can use their regular tap water for drinking, cleaning and all other household uses as usual.

However, they are reminding everyone to flush only toilet paper down the toilet, while disposing of wipes and diapers in trash cans. They have also determined that employees of companies related in any way to water and wastewater (including manufacturers and contractors) are essential workers who have full privileges to travel, work, and access secure areas during the pandemic. [1]

In addition, the EPA has put in place a wide range of agencies and measures to help deal with water-related problems:

  • Water and Wastewater Response Networks (WARN): Personnel and equipment to keep water and wastewater utilities up and running at all times.
  • Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC): A Congress-approved compact that allows personnel and equipment to move across State borders in response to needs that rise in any given State.
  • Approval of additional laboratories for testing water.
  • Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds: Provide low cost funding for infrastructure projects.
  • Technical support , as well as a Pandemic Incident Action Checklist.[2]

WHO and Water, Sanitation and Hygiene

The World Health Organization of the United Nations has come out with strong guidelines concerning Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) during the COVID-19 pandemic. A nine-page report provides guidelines for personal hygiene to reduce the spread of the virus. In addition, while saying that it is safe to drink local water, the WHO outlines best practices for ensuring water purity, such as using chlorination and UV lighting to disinfect water. The report goes into detail about hand washing, wastewater treatment, and guidelines for health care centers and private homes where COVID-19 patients are being cared for.

In addition, the WHO has issued guidelines for managing COVID-19 on ships and aircraft.[3]

Ongoing Studying of COVID-19 and Our Water System

Many studies indicate that COVID-19 is destroyed by the routine disinfection procedures that are used to keep tap water safe for drinking and other purposes. In this way COVID-19 differs from the related SARS virus, which was transmittable via water.

According to Ian Pepper, Director of the Water and Energy Technology Center at the University of Arizona, their studies indicate that not only is our tap water safe, but the virus cannot withstand ordinary disinfectants and 99% of all traces of COVID-19 are gone from wastewater after two to three days.[4]

The US Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that not only is it safe to drink tap water, but it is safe to enter any pool, hot tub, Jacuzzi, or spa as long as the water is treated with chlorine and bromide.

Although confirming that there is a very unlikely chance of catching the COVID-19 virus through wastewater, virologist Sabastien Wurtzer at Eau de Paris, Paris’s public water utility claims that by monitoring and measuring the concentration of the virus in wastewater, you can tell if the virus is on a rise or decline. [5]

The Final Word

As scary as COVID-19 is, we have been very lucky that there is little to no impact on our water systems. It is also reassuring to know that there are contingency plans, task forces, and resources in place to protect water resources should they be affected by a pandemic.

References

[1] EPA, Cornavirus, Drinking Water and Wastewater, April 23, 2020
[2] EPA, Water Utility Resources for the COVID-19 Pandemic, May 6, 2020
[3] World Health Organization, WASH and COVID-19, April 23, 2020
[4] Alejandro Maceira Rozados, Water disinfection treatments, effective against coronavirus, April 20, 2020
[5] AS English, Coronavirus: Can Covid-19 be spread through water?, May 1,2020

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