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COVID-19 and safe drinking water

March 23, 2020

By Matthew Cohn

A substantial amount of information has been posted recently regarding drinking water concerns in connection with COVID-19. Some of that information is summarized and discussed below.

Tap waterU.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) guidance

The EPA has a set up a webpage with useful information regarding COVID-19 water quality issues. According to the EPA, “Americans can continue to use and drink water from their tap as usual.”

Citing the World Health Organization (WHO), the EPA reports that COVID-19 has not been detected in drinking water supplies.  Boiling water is not required as a precaution against COVID-19.  Tap water is safe for hand-washing, and according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines, hand-washing should be frequent, with soap and water applied for at least 20 seconds.

For those whose water is from a public water utility, EPA advises that questions or concerns about the quality of drinking water be directed to the supplier.  There is no need to buy bottled water.  For those who obtain water from private wells, water can be treated with certified home treatment devices.

EPA’s regulations require treatment for waterborne pathogens such as viruses. As the EPA explains about WHO’s findings, “conventional, centralized water treatment methods which utilize filtration and disinfection should inactivate COVID-19 virus.”

EPA also reports that there is no evidence of COVID-19 being transmitted from sewage treatment.  The same is true for septic systems.  Properly managed sewage is designed to avoid impacting water supplies.

American Water Works Association (AWWA) guidance

The AWWA is the largest association of water professionals in the world, including over 4,300 utilities among its members.  This organization has posted some COVID-19 information for its members here.  Like the EPA, the AWWA reports that “Public health agencies are reminding their communities that tap water can be used as normal and the COVID-19 has not been detected in drinking water supplies.”

The AWWA recommended to its members that they delay any customer water shutoffs during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Access to clean water is essential for hand washing and hygiene, and is thus necessary to fight the pandemic.

The greatest COVID-19 concern among AWWA members was absenteeism and the continuity of operations.  The majority of the AWWA members who responded to a recent AWWA survey have business continuity plans.  This organization posted a useful guidance document on business continuity planning that can help water suppliers ensure that essential functions are able to be performed without interruption. 

An example of a COVID-19 press release by a water company

The principles set forth above were the subject of a press release delivered by one major water supplier in Illinois.

Illinois American Water provided the following information to its customers:

  • “Illinois American Water’s drinking water treatment barriers provide protection that includes filtration and disinfection of our surface and ground water supplies (lakes, reservoirs, rivers, or aquifers). These treatments are effective in removing and/or inactivating viruses.”
  • “We have initiated our business continuity plans to help provide additional stability to our operations that include water and wastewater services to our customers’ homes and businesses.”
  • “In an effort to keep our customers safe during the coronavirus pandemic, Illinois American Water will be placing a moratorium and discontinuing service shut offs at this time.”

Our Environmental Practice Group is continuing to monitor these developments and is available to answer your questions related to matters affected by COVID-19.

Link to COVID-19 Resources page

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