News Briefs: Wastewater Testing Plays Key Role in Tracking Omicron Variant

Also in this week's water and wastewater news, San Francisco declares a water shortage emergency in response to a statewide drought

Wastewater sampling and testing is playing a crucial role in tracking the spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, as laboratory researchers are able to detect the mutation’s characteristics.

This week, the variant was detected in a number of U.S. cities via wastewater testing, including Houston, Texas; Merced and Sacramento, California; Boulder, Colorado; and others.

The methods used to detect the Omicron variant are sensitive enough to detect even one or two cases per 100,000 people.

Honolulu Board of Water Supply Shuts Down Largest Water Source

The Board of Water Supply shut down its largest water source — the Halawa Shaft — on Oahu, Hawaii due to reports from the Navy regarding contamination at their Red Hill well. When BWS heard about Red Hill well being shut down on Sunday night, they immediately reduced pumping capacity by 50%: 10 mgd to 5 mgd. While this reduction did not impact customers’ use, it did signal serious concerns from the utility.

“We are deeply concerned that we were not notified immediately by the Navy regarding the shut down of their Red Hill water source,” says manager and chief engineer Ernest Lau. “We have data that shows when they stop pumping at Red Hill, water starts moving in the direction of our Halawa Shaft due to our pumping. In an abundance of caution, we must shut down Halawa Shaft until further notice.”

The BWS will make up the 20% supplied by Halawa Shaft by upping pumpage from other resources. They do not anticipate any major impact at this time.

San Francisco Declares Water Shortage Emergency in Response to Statewide Drought

San Francisco Mayor London N. Breed and the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission recently declared a water shortage emergency and approved measures aimed at further conserving and reducing water usage across the SFPUC’s service territory in response to exceptionally dry weather conditions that have affected the entire state over the past two years.

As a result of the emergency measure, which the SFPUC unanimously approved, San Francisco has declared a 10% reduction in water usage across its regional system. The 10% reduction will be compared to water use from July 2019 to June 2020 and will be applied to all of the SFPUC’s 2.7 million customers, which include customers in San Francisco, Alameda, Santa Clara and San Mateo counties. The call for voluntary water reduction will go into effect immediately.

“With California still experiencing devastating drought and the uncertainty around this rainy season, we need to make tough decisions that will ensure that our water source continues to be reliable and dependable for the future,” said Breed.


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