Editorial Letter: Building Water System Challenges Following COVID-19 Closures

May 26, 2021

This article originally appeared in WQP June 2020 issue as "From the Tap"

About the author:

Lauren Del Ciello is Managing Editor of WQP and can be reached at [email protected]

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As of press time, at least 43 states have begun easing shelter-in-place restrictions, ranging from reopening parks to permitting more businesses to reopen, according to CNN. Where I live in Illinois, stay-at-home orders continue through May 30. 

The WQP team has been working remotely in response to the coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, since mid-March, and our office building has been temporarily unoccupied, leading me to wonder how our building water system is faring. As states across the country slowly begin to re-open businesses, maintaining safe drinking water needs to remain a top priority. Lead contamination due to corrosion and legionella bacteria growth due to prolonged water stagnation are two of the biggest threats our building water systems now face following unprecedented and unexpected building closures.

To learn more, I spoke with Andrew Whelton, associate professor of civil, environmental and ecological engineering at Purdue University. Whelton and his team at the University Center for Plumbing Safety are working under a rapid response effort to help develop guidances for safely reopening building water systems. I was frankly a bit shocked to learn from him that very few national guidelines are in place for buildings reopening after extended shutdowns and that many building owners–especially small businesses–do not have emergency response plans in place. You can read more on that and find additional resources at bit.ly/covid19-commercial

It is my hope that these turbulent times can serve as a catalyst to open up conversations encouraging education and standards surrounding safely reopening building water systems. And I know that water professionals will be at the forefront of this effort, working closely with their communities every step of the way. During shelter-in-place orders, you stepped up to find new ways to connect and help your customers receive clean water. Now, amid this ever-shifting landscape, your voice and expertise is needed more than ever.

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