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Water Utility Resources for the COVID-19 Pandemic

Americans can continue to use and drink water from their tap as usual. Coronavirus, which causes COVID-19, is a type of virus that is particularly susceptible to disinfection and standard treatment and disinfectant processes are expected to be effective. Read the latest information from EPA about COVID-19 and water. EPA is providing the following summary information of a wide range of resources that were developed for general preparedness purposes. These resources are being provided as a simplified and transparent resource to support the operational needs of drinking water and wastewater systems, including maintaining adequate staffing and laboratory capacity.

EPA supports preparedness planning across the drinking water and wastewater sector by providing resources and tools to states and utilities as they work to provide safe drinking water and wastewater treatment across the United States. Most water systems already have continuity plans in place as part of their best management practices. EPA recommends that states work with their utilities to review their continuity plans.

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System Operations

The following resources are available to support water system operations: 

Water and Wastewater Agency Response Networks (WARN)

If resource needs arise for any reason, the Water and Wastewater Agency Response Network (WARN) provides water and wastewater utilities with the means to quickly obtain help in the form of personnel, equipment, materials and associated services from other utilities to restore critical operations impacted during any type of emergency, big or small. Utilities can find contact information for their  WARN on each state's website or can contact EPA via email

Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC)

EMAC is the only congressionally ratified mutual aid & assistance compact between all 50 states plus the D.C., the U.S.V.I., Puerto Rico and Guam. EMAC allows states to send personnel, equipment and commodities to other states to help during governor-declared states of emergency. View additional information on EMAC and how it can support utilities. 

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Circuit-Rider Program

USDA funds Circuit Riders to respond to natural disasters and emergencies in the regular line of duty. Under this program, certified Circuit Riders can be deployed to provide technical assistance and expertise to support systems in need, including providing temporary operational assistance. The EPA will work with USDA, states, and systems to connect small systems to this resource. Water systems must be eligible for USDA funding in order to receive assistance. Learn more about circuit riders. 

Water Sector Technical Assistance Programs

Organizations such as the National Rural Water Program (NRWA) Exitand the Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP) Exitmay be able to provide technical assistance through water and wastewater Circuit Riders that may work onsite with utility system personnel to troubleshoot problems and respond to natural disasters and other emergencies. They may not be able to provide extended coverage but may be available to assist as necessary. 

State Water and Wastewater Operator Program Offices

State water operator program offices can be contacted for information for help in finding resources for water system operations, including certified operators within a state. Most of these state offices maintain lists of all operators within the state that can be used to help systems identify back-up operators in case of illness due to COVID-19. Many of these state websites can be found on EPA’s Operator Certification contact website and additional information about operator certification programs is available in EPA’s Summary of State Operator Certification Programs (PDF).

Association of State Drinking Water Administrators (ASDWA)

ASDWA is the professional Association serving state drinking water programs since 1984, and can be contacted for assistance in finding water operation information at the state level.  Visit ASDWA for more information or send an email inquiry to ASDWA.

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Laboratory Capacity

In the event a laboratory is closed due to staffing impacts or otherwise not able to perform standard sample analysis for potential water system contaminants, to identify alternative laboratory support options, water systems may contact their state drinking water laboratory certification program to review their list of additional state certified drinking water laboratories.

Additionally, the water system may consider the following options for identifying an alternative certified or accredited drinking water lab:

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Funding and Financing

Water sector utilities may have incurred financial impacts from COVID-19 such as increased labor costs to backfill operators and other essential staff; increased costs for chemical supplies, laboratory supplies, personal protective equipment (PPE), and equipment; and loss of revenue from customers unable to pay their utility bill. There are various federal funding programs that can assist water systems with financial losses due to COVID-19.

Health and Human Services (HHS)

The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 (Public Law No: 116-260) signed on December 27, 2020, included $638,000,000 in funding with instructions for the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to carry out grants to assist low-income households, particularly those with the lowest incomes, that pay a high proportion of household income for drinking water and wastewater services, by providing funds to owners or operators of public water systems or treatment works to reduce arrearages of and rates charged to such households for such services. The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 included another $500,000,000 for the similar purpose. HHS will distribute these funds through the Low-Income Household Water Assistance Program (LIHWAP) which applies to both water and wastewater bills.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

EPA’s Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds (SRFs) provide communities with low-cost financing for a wide range of water infrastructure projects. The SRFs are a federal-state partnership that can provide loans with interest rates as low as 0% and offer flexible repayment options. State DWSRF programs have a certain amount of federal funds to use on non-infrastructure activities and programs, known as set-asides. Utilities can receive technical assistance through these set-asides.

Utilities that are having difficulty paying back existing SRF loans due to COVID-19 can talk to the SRF representative in their state to see if flexibility or refinancing is available. Visit EPA's Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF) website or EPA's Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF) website to learn more.

Finally, the Water Utility COVID-19 Financial Impact Tool can help drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater utilities assess the financial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on their cashflow. Through a series of questions on revenues, expenses, and cashflow, utilities can better understand their financial health and financial needs.

U.S. Department of Treasury

Through the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, the Treasury establishes a Homeowner Assistance Fund to mitigate financial hardships associated with the coronavirus pandemic by providing among other needs, payment assistance for utilities, including electric, gas, home energy, and water. Additional details will be provided when available.

Through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act of 2020 (CARES Act), the Treasury provides $150 billion to state, local, and tribal governments to cover necessary expenditures incurred due to the COVID-19 public health emergency. For water utilities, this could cover increased costs for labor, chemicals, and equipment; however, it would not cover loss of revenue from decreased water use by industrial or commercial customers. Utilities should contact their local treasurer, manager, or grants administrator to find out how they can be reimbursed for eligible costs.

Individuals facing economic hardship may be eligible to use CARES funding to pay utility fees and continue to receive critical services. Through their local governments, some utilities have been able to help customers obtain CARES funding to pay water or wastewater utilities bills. Examples include Raleigh Water in North Carolina, Louisville Water in Kentucky, and selected utilities in the Missouri Public Utility Alliance. Typically, the customer must submit an application and certification form to the utility to show that the inability to make payments is COVID-19 related. For more information on CARES Act funding for COVID-19, visit CARES Act Assistance for State, Local, and Tribal Governments.

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)

USDA’s Water and Environmental Program (WEP) serves populations of 10,000 or fewer for direct loan and grant programs, except for the Loan Guarantee Program which has an eligible population of up to 50,000. WEP provides assistance in three critical areas: financing rural infrastructure at affordable rates, payment assistance to current borrowers, and technical assistance to rural utilities. USDA offers flexible payment schedules on both new and existing loans, if needed, during COVID-19. For more information on these funding and technical assistance opportunities, visit USDA Water and Environmental Programs.

Technical Assistance Providers

To avoid further financial losses due to staff shortages associated with COVID-19 (e.g., staff with COVID or under quarantine), utilities can use technical assistance providers (e.g., National Rural Water Association and Rural Community Assistance Partnership) to provide temporary operators or other critical staff. Additional support is available for small drinking water systems dealing with reduced revenues and increased expenses.

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Pandemic Incident Action Checklist

EPA’s Pandemic Incident Action Checklist is comprised of three different “rip & run” checklists that can help water utilities prepare for, respond to, and recover from a pandemic. Each checklist provides examples of actions that drinking water and wastewater systems can take.

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Information on Maintaining or Restoring Water Quality in Buildings with Low or No Use

Building and business closures for weeks or months reduce water usage, potentially leading to stagnant water inside building plumbing. This water can become unsafe to drink or otherwise use for domestic or commercial purposes. EPA recommends that building owners and managers take proactive steps to protect public health by minimizing water stagnation during closures and taking action to address building water quality prior to reopening.  

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NOTE: EPA is not making an independent recommendation, rather EPA is ensuring that the water sector is provided with CDC information.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends states and local jurisdictions develop a phased approach for COVID-19 vaccinations. In defining essential workers, CDC references the Department of Homeland Security’s Guidance on the Essential Critical Infrastructure Workforce: Ensuring Community and National Resilience in COVID-19 Response Version 4.0 (PDF). This document recognizes water and wastewater workers, as well as the manufacturers and suppliers who provide vital services and materials to the water sector, as essential workers. The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices’ (ACIP) Updated Interim Recommendation for Allocation of COVID-19 Vaccine (December 22, 2020) recommends non-frontline essential workers, which include water utility workers, receive priority vaccination under Phase 1c.

State and Local Roles in Vaccination Distribution

Although the CDC and ACIP provide vaccination recommendations, the final decisions for vaccine  planning and distribution occur at state and local levels. CDC requested that each of the 64 jurisdictional immunization programs (50 states, the District of Columbia, 8 U.S. territories and freely associated Pacific states and five cities) submit an Interim Jurisdiction COVID-19 Vaccination Playbook to the CDC in October 2020. The Draft Executive Summaries of these plans are posted on the CDC website and some states also released their complete plans, which are available from the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (PDF).Exit

Water utility personnel should check with their local and state health departments (PDF)  Exitto confirm how the water sector workforce qualifies for vaccination under their phased approach. The National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) has a directoryExitof local health departments.

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Additional Resources