Just when it looked like small drinking water systems in California were finally getting the long-term help they so desperately need, along came COVID-19. The state is peppered with failing small systems, many serving low-income communities without the resources to repair them. At least one-third of those failing systems are in the San Joaquin Valley, according to the State Water Resources Control Board.
Studying concentrations of pathogens in wastewater — a practice known as wastewater-based epidemiology — is a time-honored approach to gathering crucial public health data that traditional approaches might miss. During the coronavirus pandemic, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are partnering with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to establish a formalized, federal-led approach to WBE over the next 18 months.
The coronavirus economic crash is tightening the financial vise on utilities that supply water and sanitation across the country, potentially putting water companies on the verge of financial insolvency while millions of Americans struggle to pay their utility bills.
When Alexis Rodriguez laughs too hard, she sometimes gets such a bad cough that she needs to use her inhaler. It’s been this way for the 29-year-old since she was first diagnosed with asthma as a child. Her symptoms typically rear up in the spring, when the high desert around California’s Salton Sea starts to warm, and the dust begins to blow. But Covid-19 was something else.
The water is too contaminated to safely drink, but residents of this farmworker community in the Central Valley pay $74 a month just to be able to turn on the tap at home.
Their bills are even higher if they use more than 50 gallons a day, a fraction of daily water consumption for the average California household. And when Fresno County completes a new well that has been planned for years, the price will increase again to cover the cost of treating manganese-laced water pumped from hundreds of feet below.
As the world resets for a long-awaited post-coronavirus existence, new realities for business and life in general are taking shape. Amid a plethora of forecasts on changes involving how and where post-COVID-19 business will be conducted, it is a safe bet that employees and overall public health will be a primary influencer as the evolution to the “next normal” begins.
Ever since it became clear the COVID-19 pandemic would send the U.S. economy into a tailspin, there’s been lots of talk about using government stimulus funds to create clean energy jobs rather than propping up fossil fuel companies whose business model is fueling the climate crisis.
Water is assumed to be among the most ‘resilient’ of sectors. Whatever the economic picture, we all need water. Sophisticated engineering design means technical threats can be engineered out. And the experience of Covid-19 so far appears to back up the assumption. The share prices of the big water firms have held up well; issues like increased demand have had only a minimal effect.
Several state legislators have asked the Governor to extend his order prohibiting water shutoffs for nonpayment to even the smallest water utilities.
Right now, the Governor’s April 2 order applies to water utilities serving 200 or more connections.
As Covid-19 and social unrest dominates news headlines, another problem beneath Central Valley residents’ feet is coming to surface. This was the first year plans had to be submitted for many irrigation districts through the state of California as part of 2014’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.