TREADING WELL: Water Bouyant Despite Virus

Water supply companies are critical for providing drinking water and wastewater services to industrial, commercial and residential customers. Even as COVID-19 impacts the entire world and negatively affects the global economy, water has an important role to play in the prevention of spread of the virus. At the most basic level, regular hand washing for approximately 20 seconds is a reliable way to prevent infection and avoid spreading this highly contagious virus. Social distancing resulting in suspension of employment has also made its mark, forcing millions to hold out payment on water and wastewater services. Fortunately, many private water companies in the United States are planning to continue to provide services despite non-payment of dues. It seems that, at least when it comes to water, we’re all sharing the same raft.

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, the coronavirus has not been detected in drinking-water supplies and considers the risk to be low, advising that everyone continue to access and use water from their tap. However, hundreds of thousands of water lines rupture per year in the U.S., resulting in billions of gallons of leaking water. Since most agree that government funding is going to be difficult to secure, water supply and wastewater utilities will have to take it upon themselves to upgrade infrastructure to control and check wastage. Luckily, recently lowered interest rates will help these companies fund long-term projects to provide water and wastewater services to an array of customers.

One major obstacle, however, is the fragmented nature of the water utility industry which creates a number of challenges in regards to replacing components of aging water and wastewater systems. With only 7% of the country’s systems serving a population of more than 10,000 and 1% serving more than 100,000, the slippery business of acquiring small water utilities by bigger utility companies may be the best way to ensure high-quality upgrades to smaller service providers. And as demand for potable water increases in the United States (and around the world) a growing number of desalination plants have been called upon to provide the necessary water stores. In fact, a recent report states that over 2,000 desalination facilities are currently running in the U.S. and that number continues to rise.

So, what do water treatment professionals need to know? Is there reason to be concerned about the effectiveness of water treatment filtration regarding the removal of this coronavirus? Experts believe that, if the proper precautions are taken, current filtration products and processes are more than suitable for the task. However, it should be noted that because this virus is new, there isn’t a rich history of effective treatments covering a wide range of experiences that often vary with water quality and process details. Some studies reveal that coronavirus is not especially resistant to water treatment and that its survival is temperature dependent, favoring lower temperatures. This could mean reduced presence in raw wastewater and surface waters during the warmer seasons.

How the virus is transmitted is also an important factor. Human viruses don’t replicate in the environment, so for Covid-19 to be transferred through water it must be able to remain viable in human waste, retain its ability to infect, and then make contact with a person, usually via aerosols — not an easy pathway to travel. There are also the considerations that wastewater treatment plants receiving sewage from hospitals and centers treating coronavirus patients may have elevated concentrations of viruses, and that lack of data could mean there simply isn’t enough information available. Nonetheless, it appears the virus can be eliminated by current water treatment processes and would pose a minimal risk through drinking water.

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