Craig Miller, the general manager of the Western Municipal Water District, said: “Your water is safe, and it’s plentiful: toilets will continue to flush. Let’s talk about water quality: the same treatment techniques that we’ve been using for decades, treat for viruses on a constant basis.”
Meanwhile, answering the question of ‘Is the Covid-19 coronavirus in our water?’, The Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD) in the US published a Q&A referenced on its website.
“The Covid-19 virus has not been detected in drinking water,” the utility stated. “Conventional water treatment methods that use filtration and disinfection, such as those in most municipal drinking water systems, should remove or inactivate the virus that causes Covid-19.”
Addressing a critical situation in Italy; lessons from Hong Kong
Aquatech media partner Global Water Intelligence (GWI) produced a webinar featuring multiple water utility leaders on how water utilities are implementing business continuity during Covid-19.
Franco Fogacci, head of water at service provider Gruppo Hera in Italy, one of Europe’s most severely affected countries from the pandemic, said: “The situation in Italy connected to the coronavirus epidemic is becoming more and more critical day by day…the main concern is about possible quarantines of entire groups of workers dedicated to essential services such as those involved in the remote-control management of networks and plants.”
He added: “The conditions we are facing overcome the scenarios on which we based our previous emergency plans.”
Meanwhile,, in Hong Kong, Cahu Sai-Wai, deputy director of water supplies at the Hong Kong Water Supplies Department (WSD), told GWI that the organisation “built up some experience” from SARS (Severe Cute Respiratory Syndrome) in 2003.
He said: "We prepared a contingency plan to deal with SARS afterwards. Luckily it hasn't been used again since, but now comes the Covid-19 that is similar…we also have a contingency plan from the government, that is a good reference."
WSD serves more than seven million people with drinking water.
The deputy director of water supplies said that “we are well prepared, in that sense, to react, to respond to this sort of incident”.
Dusting off pandemic contingency plans in the UK
Across the Atlantic, multiple water utilities in the UK addressed the situation, including “dusting off” pandemic contingency plans to ensure lifeline services continue without interruption.
United Utilities spoke to Utility Week magazine about enacting what it called a “well-rehearsed” pandemic response plan for the first time.
Another angle picked up by the title included an inevitable spike in water demand due to increased handwashing and more people working from home.
With the government recommending two minutes for hand washing, this could use as much as two litres of water at a time, the site reported, following an interview with Waterwise managing director, Nicci Russell.
Meanwhile, SES issued a message of reassurance from its chief executive officer, Ian Cain.
The statement said: “Our main focus has been to plan for staff shortages, taking pre-emptive measures across the business to protect our people and their environments, to enable remote working and to stop all non-essential activities.”
National strategy in Australia
Over in Australia there is a lot of activity happening at a national, state and utility level, according to Adam Lovell, executive director of the Water Services Association of Australia (WSAA).
He told Aquatech Online that a national strategy is being developed similar to efforts by Water UK to help with customers with financial difficulties due to the pandemic.
"The association is also working with the Federal Government on chemical and other essential supplies as well as looking to "help smaller regional members if absenteeism becomes an issue".
Also similarly to the recent warning by UK utility Thames Water about unflushables potentially blocking sewers, Lovell said that “wet wipes have become a huge issue again, although we hope that might settle down as toilet paper becomes more ‘normal’ in the shops again”.
Meanwhile, on its Covid-19 response page, utility Water Corporation referenced an AUS$607 million stimulus package for Western Australian Households in the wake of Covid-19, meaning there would be a freeze in increases to household fees and charges until at least 1 July 2021.
Another Australian utility, Coliban Water, took to Twitter to actively communicate during the crisis, like many other utilities.
Using the platform, the organisation’s CEO Damian Wells announced that he would donate 20 per cent of his salary to a food donation programme.
Wells also announced on LinkedIn that Coliban Water would pay its outstanding invoices from suppliers of goods and services to help “support the local economy”.
In update to the post, the managing director said this resulted in the utility paying AUS$1.36 million to suppliers.
“Hopefully this has helped the local and general economy a little bit – notwithstanding we are facing a huge health and economic challenge that has a long way to go,” he said.
- Do you have any other examples of utilities proactively communicating during the pandemic? Get in touch: Tom Freyberg.