Agencies, Organizations Cooperate on Water Sector Response to COVID-19

Agencies, Organizations Cooperate on Water Sector Response to COVID-19

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As COVID-19 sweeps across the globe, agencies and organizations like the Water Environment Federation (WEF) have been working to provide current and accurate information about how the virus will affect the water sector.

WEF Executive Director Walt Marlowe says he’s proud of the work the federation is doing. “We have our members who are subject matter experts in the field, and they have been amazingly willing to generously share their expertise during this time.”

The federation is working closely with its members and is in contact with several agencies and organizations around the world in its effort to look for answers, including the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the Department of Homeland Security, the Canadian CDC, and European health agencies.

How do treatment plant operators stay safe?

Through its work with these agencies, WEF has learned that there is presently no evidence that COVID-19 survives the current disinfection process for drinking water and wastewater. “We’re fortunate that the coronavirus is still a virus,” says Marlowe. “Its physical composition is similar to other viruses and our existing disinfection techniques are proving sufficient and our sanitation systems are safe.”

At this time, the risk of COVID-19 transmission through sewage systems and feces is thought to be low based off of data from previous outbreaks of related coronaviruses, according to Marlowe.

The standard protocols, safe work practices and personal protective equipment (PPE) that operators already use are proving sufficient in protection. That said, Marlowe wants to stress the importance of not cutting corners on process procedures and PPE during this time. “We don’t want to have a situation where we had the right things in place but had a slip up, and as a result we end up having one of our operators get sick.”

He adds that everyone recognizes they’re on the same team in the battle against COVID-19. “We are all trying to fight this common enemy of coronavirus,” says Marlowe. 

That sort of attitude is a positive outcome WEF has seen, and it has resulted in a great deal of cooperation between different agencies that realize now is a great time to listen to other perspectives and acknowledge where each organization’s expertise may be, and how they can bring those components together to form a team. “It’s been great to be part of the water sector through this pandemic,” says Marlowe. “You don’t get involved in this because you’re looking to be a millionaire — you’re really concerned about making a contribution to public health and I think that shows up in the response.”

Event cancellations

WEF is also working to find alternative avenues for several planned events that had to be cancelled due to the outbreak. Gatherings like the National Stormwater Symposium, Odors and Air Pollutants Conference, Residuals and Biosolids Conference and the National Water Policy Fly-In will moved to an online or virtual platform, and their goal is to start delivering those by mid-April.

For more information, WEF has a webpage dedicated to COVID-19 information for the water sector and recently rolled out a new online content management system called Access Water.

Marlowe stressed the federation’s gratitude for all operators and water professionals out there working through these difficult times. “Thank you, thank you, thank you. Our workers are the frontline heroes in protecting public health and WEF is trying to make sure we let operators know that they’re appreciated.” WEF is also working to make sure that local communities know how vital operators are to their health.

“We are trying to go out to the public to make sure that the public recognizes them as local heroes,” says Marlowe. “These people are in their communities, they are their neighbors, they are their friends, and they have to recognize that these people are out there protecting them every day at some level of risk to their own health.”


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