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Water Systems in Closed Buildings May Require Flushing and Testing

Plumbing systems in buildings closed or vacant for long periods may need to be flushed to safely remove stagnant water.

Water provided by the San Diego Water Authority and its 24 member agencies continues to meet all state and federal drinking water standards. But after water leaves the agencies’ distribution systems and enters private service connections, the water quality can deteriorate if water becomes stagnant.

Most commercial and industrial buildings have been partially occupied even during the COVID-19 shutdown, and HVAC and water systems continue to be maintained and operated even though many employees are working remotely. However, building owners and managers should take special care with plumbing systems in buildings that have been vacant or have had periods of low water use to protect the public and employees returning to work.

That’s because plumbing systems must be actively managed and maintained to prevent bacteria growth. Bacteria can flourish in pipes, fixtures and associated equipment (like fountains, cooling towers and HVAC systems) that aren’t used for several days. Schools, for example, commonly flush pipes before kids and teachers return from breaks.

Plumbing systems-stagnant water-Shutterstock-Coronavirus

Water Systems in Closed Buildings May Require Flushing and Testing

Plumbing systems in buildings closed or vacant for long periods may need to be flushed to safely remove stagnant water.

Water provided by the San Diego Water Authority and its 24 member agencies continues to meet all state and federal drinking water standards. But after water leaves the agencies’ distribution systems and enters private service connections, the water quality can deteriorate if water becomes stagnant.

Most commercial and industrial buildings have been partially occupied even during the COVID-19 shutdown, and HVAC and water systems continue to be maintained and operated even though many employees are working remotely. However, building owners and managers should take special care with plumbing systems in buildings that have been vacant or have had periods of low water use to protect the public and employees returning to work.

That’s because plumbing systems must be actively managed and maintained to prevent bacteria growth. Bacteria can flourish in pipes, fixtures and associated equipment (like fountains, cooling towers and HVAC systems) that aren’t used for several days. Schools, for example, commonly flush pipes before kids and teachers return from breaks.

Building owners should prepare plumbing systems

Water agencies and other organizations are providing public notice about plumbing safety; however, it is the responsibility of building owners and managers to address any related issues on their own properties.

Several steps are necessary to prepare inactive plumbing systems for building re-occupancy, and workers performing start-up tasks should wear PPE and receive appropriate training. The steps involve flushing the entire plumbing system with water and testing to ensure “residual chlorine” levels are within the safe range. Testing to ensure effective flushing is recommended; if testing reveals high levels of bacteria in the system, additional steps are needed.

8 Key Steps for Reopening Buildings

Develop a comprehensive water management program for your water system and all devices that use water. Guidance to help with this process is available from CDC and others.

  1. Develop a comprehensive water management program for your water system and all devices that use water. Guidance to help with this process is available from CDC and others.
  2. Ensure your water heater is properly maintained and the temperature is correctly set.
  3. Flush your water system.
  4. Clean all decorative water features, such as fountains.
  5. Ensure hot tubs/spas are safe for use.
  6. Ensure cooling towers are clean and well-maintained.
  7. Ensure safety equipment including fire sprinkler systems, eye wash stations, and safety showers are clean and well-maintained.
  8. Maintain your water system.

The CDC has more details about these recommendations.

Water Treatment Plant-Coronavirus-WNN-primary

San Diego Region’s Water Supplies Safe to Drink

The San Diego region’s water supplies remain safe to drink.

The San Diego County Water Authority and its 24 member agencies have increased regional coordination and communication to ensure the coronavirus pandemic does not impact safe and secure water service for San Diego County.

Public water supplies in the San Diego region remain safe to drink due to numerous robust treatment processes used by local and regional water providers.

Despite widespread fears about coronavirus, there’s no evidence that the virus is transmitted through treated water. The U.S. EPA recommends that Americans continue to use and drink tap water as usual.

Robust water treatment processes used by water providers

Drinking water provided by the Water Authority and its member agencies is treated by a combination of technologies – including sedimentation, filtration and disinfection – that chemically deactivate and physically remove bacteria, viruses and other contaminants.

To ensure continued water supply safety, the Water Authority and its 24 member agencies continuously monitor and test supplies throughout the treatment process, while maintaining uninterrupted operation in compliance with state and federal water quality standards.

Emergency Operations Center activated

To support continued operation of critical infrastructure, the Water Authority has activated its Emergency Operations Center, increasing the region’s ability to respond to any challenges that emerge.

The EOC supports the need for enhanced communication between the Water Authority and its member agencies as the public health crisis evolves. In addition, the agencies have back-up plans to assist each other should key personnel be unable to work.

“In these unprecedented times, the region’s water agencies are collaborating in complete solidarity to perform our vital mission of providing safe and reliable water supplies,” said Sandra L. Kerl, general manager of the Water Authority. “We are taking strategic, precautionary steps to ensure the region’s water security.”

‘Critical’ water agency staff continue work

Water agency employees identified as critical to operation and maintenance of key infrastructure will continue to report to work and conduct normal job functions while complying with enhanced safety precautions such as social distancing measures.

Non-critical staff at many agencies, including the Water Authority, are telecommuting or will begin remote work shortly to minimize the potential for virus transmission.

Until further notice, the Water Authority will hold its Board meetings remotely. A schedule of meetings, Board documents and live streaming of meetings will continue to be at www.sdcwa.org/meetings-and-documents.

Many water agencies across the region, including the Water Authority, have temporarily closed their offices to the public. Residents should consult their water provider’s website for additional information. Residents who don’t know what agency provides their water can find out by entering their address at www.sdcwa.org/find-your-water-district/.

How to stay healthy – Coronavirus

According to the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization, coronavirus is spread from person to person contact, breathing or contacting respiratory droplets from an infected person, and contacting surfaces contaminated with the virus.

Here’s what you can do to stay healthy:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.

For more information about virus prevention and treatment, go to the CDC’s website or the County of San Diego Health & Human Services Agency.