The United States has been trying to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic for nearly a year. One aspect of this widespread illness that may be under-appreciated is its impact on water. Not actual water itself, but how having a majority of people working from home and not working in the urban centers for which water infrastructure was placed is impacting water utilities.
One lesson that utility managers are learning is that contingency planning is vital, and the more contingencies for which they plan, the better.
For the most part, water infrastructure has been built with the premise that urban centers, large and small, will have the highest demand. With millions more people now working away from those areas, the centralized system is not set up to meet the demands put upon it; people are staying in areas where the distribution system is not sufficient to meet the need. Before the pandemic, one in five workers who could telecommute did. Now, 71% of those who can, do, and nearly 75% of those people say they will continue working from home if possible. The issue becomes the need for continued strength of water pipes that are being used in ways for which they were not built. Equally important is the lack of use in systems that were built for significant water flow, leading to concerns about water quality.
The good news is that water utilities across the country are trending toward proactiveness. Utilities are building water networks that can withstand unforeseen changes in water demands. They are also developing ways to gather data about how needs are changing in their service areas. They are building for the future and whatever it may bring.