Resources > Latest News > A practical guide on covid 19 for the water industry

A practical guide on COVID-19 for the water industry

On this page, you'll find important information on COVID-19 including:

Recent developments
What is COVID-19?
Workplace and employer information
COVID-19 and water
Government policies and responses
Engaging with AWA members during COVID-19

Recent developments

Australian Telewater Network for international development

The Australian Water Partnership is supporting the Australian Water Association (AWA), the Pacific Water and Wastewater Association, and HunterH2O on a new knowledge-sharing initiative.

The Australian Telewater Network is a web-based initiative aimed at providing effective and increased access to Australian technical advice, knowledge and tools in developing countries that will assist in their preparedness, response and recovery from COVID-19.

Find out more

Increasing employment and economic activities by the water industry

The Australian Water Association has developed recommendations for the consideration of the COVID Working Group on ways to maximise employment and boost economic activities after COVID-19 restrictions are eased. The recommendations harness the water sector’s vital role as an economic driver for Australia.

READ RECOMMENDATIONS HERE

AWA facilitating industry impacts and views on COVID-19 to Government

The Association recognises the broad impacts on our members, other sectors and the community as a result of COVID-19. AWA is Australia’s peak national water Association and is in a unique position to communicate the views and recommendations from the water industry to Government.

To facilitate this conduit to Government, the AWA has been invited to join the industry advisory group called the Utilities Work Stream, reporting to the COVID-19 Coordination Commission.

AWA’s representation is to bring the views of the water industry to the Commission who then advises the National Cabinet. AWA is involved with COVID-19 meetings twice a week to discuss developments on the crisis.

AWA is also in weekly contact with the Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment, the lead Commonwealth Agency for the water sector. In addition, AWA is being briefed on the Water - National Coordination Mechanism (NCM).

Feedback from the water industry

The Association's members have been sharing their own COVID-19 issues and recommendations throughout the crisis. A summary of the feedback can be read here.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dOYMyPuqOec&feature=youtu.be 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nbkDf_zIqLM&feature=youtu.be

What is COVID-19?

COVID-19 is a new strain of coronavirus that was first reported in Wuhan City, China in December 2019. Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that cause respiratory infections. Symptoms of COVID-19 can include fever, cough, sore throat and shortness of breath. Your first port of call for information around COVID-19 should be the Australian Government Department of Health website. 

How does COVID-19 spread?

The COVID-19 virus spreads primarily via droplets of saliva when an infected person coughs, sneezes or breathes out, or by droplets of discharge from the nose.

For further reading, The Guardian has published an article on the science of how COVID-19 affects the human body, and the Sydney Morning Herald has published an article on what COVID-19 does to the body and what it's like to have the illness.

Protecting yourself and others

Deputy Chief Medical Officer Professor Paul Kelly has issued some advice for protecting yourself from COVID-19.

  1. Wash your hands regularly
  2. Sneeze into your elbow 
  3. Don't touch your face 
  4. Practice social distancing 
  5. Stay at home
  6. Avoid touching things  

With the increase in hand-washing, it's important for the water industry to make sure the message of saving water isn't lost on the community. For example, washing your hands for 20 seconds doesn't mean you have to keep the tap running the entire time.

Essential Workers Guidance

In collaboration with the Water Services Association of Australia, Dr Dan Deere from Water Futures and the Australian Water Partnership, we have produced some guidance material for keeping essential workers safe in the workplace. The two fact sheets below are tailored to Australian water utilities and international water utilities. They include information on:

  • Hand hygiene
  • Shared spaces and equipment
  • If sanitising isn’t an option
  • Separating critical workers
  • Contingency planning
  • Prioritising activities
  • Working with wastewater
  • Protecting higher risk workers
  • Working safely from home
  • Awareness

Fact sheet for Australian water utilities

Fact sheet for international water utilities

Information for employers

The Australian Government Department of Health has put together an information sheet for employers about COVID-19. It includes information on whether staff should go to work, what precautions to take when cleaning, and how to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Below are some measures and practices organisations can take: 

  • Domestic and international travel restrictions
  • Strict isolation measures for people with or exposed to symptoms
  • Flexible working arrangements
  • Contingency plans for workplace lock-downs
  • Limited exposure to public gatherings and social distancing
  • Up-to-date staff contact details for rapid communication
  • Heightened hygiene measures

With many employees now working from home, organisations should encourage their staff to keep up healthy habits while practising safe social distancing.

COVID-19 and our water

The COVID-19 virus has not been detected in drinking water. Conventional water treatment methods that use filtration and disinfection, such as those in most municipal drinking water systems, should remove or inactivate the virus that causes COVID-19. 

Water utilities continue to operate without interruption to ensure continuous service delivery to their customers. Utilities will also focus on providing support for their staff and proactively managing any health related risks associated with staff, particularly those involved with day-to-day operations. 

Australian utilities are now developing business continuity and contingency plans in response to COVID-19 that are in line with State and Territory Government advice. This is to ensure they remain well prepared to continue delivering an essential service and can continue to engage suppliers and contractors who are undertaking critical tasks across their network.

Utilities are also working closely with their customers to ensure they remain connected to their water supplies during this period so they can wash their hands regularly.

We recently published an article on how Australian water utilities are responding to COVID-19. Other resources and links you might find useful for educating the community about the safety of their water include the Water Services Association of Australia's COVID-19 fact sheet and the Water Environment Federation's guide to COVID-19 for water professionals.

You might also want to keep the community informed that there is no need to buy bottled water during this pandemic. However, in some towns, bottled water still remains an important option for those people who do not have access to safe water, as this article tells.

Implications for our wastewater network

The World Health Organisation has advised that there is no evidence to date that the COVID-19 virus has been transmitted via sewerage systems with or without wastewater treatment.

The COVID-19 virus has been detected in wastewater and is providing a new opportunity for containment through regular testing of wastewater to guard against future local outbreaks of the virus. Researchers in the NetherlandsFrancethe United States and Australia have been testing sewage for SARS-CoV-2 for more than a month, and have generally reported that the rise and fall of their results reflect the officially reported local rates of infection with COVID-19. This article helps set the context for current SARS-CoV-2 wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE) programmes being undertaken.

Since the toilet paper shortage, an increasing number of people have been found to be flushing wet wipes, paper towels and newspaper down the toilet. If customers are going to use any sort of wipe or toilet roll alternative, the advice is to bin them. Toilets are not a bin. 

Sydney Water has advised that in the last month alone they have received an increase of 22% in blockages due to non-flushables being found in their network. Similar network challenges are being seen across the country including from Unitywater and Townsville Water in Queensland.

For further reading on sewage issues relating to COVID-19, The Guardian has published an article on how the UK's sewage system is in danger of gridlock from toilet paper substitutes. And while Americans are sterilising surfaces, The New York Times says the disinfectant wipes and paper towels they're using are being flushed down the toilet.

COVID-19 and biosolids

The mission of the Australian and New Zealand Biosolids Partnership (ANZBP) is to support sustainable biosolids management. The ANZBP creates resources so that the opportunities and risks associated with biosolids can be identified, assessed, and managed, and so that biosolids managers can respond effectively to the changing social and regulatory environment.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the ANZBP is staying informed of the most up-to-date research via a network of national and international experts. They have developed a factsheet that aims to answer a few questions that you may have regarding risks of biosolids land application programs in this time of uncertainty.

DOWNLOAD BIOSOLIDS FACT SHEET HERE

Water, sanitation and hygiene

Clean water is the first line of defence in preventing the spread of COVID-19. If there is no access to clean water, the situation could worsen across the world.

In Australia, we are fortunate enough to have access to clean water but the same can't be said for other countries like India, where clean water is difficult to access. The provision of safe water, sanitation and hygiene is essential to protect health during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The best defence against COVID-19 is soap and clean water.

Government policies and responses

Australian Health Protection Principal Committee

The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) is meeting daily to assess the risk to Australia and recommend public health actions. You can keep on top of their updates here.

Economic Stimulus Package

On 22 March 2020, the Commonwealth Government released the second stage of its economic plan to cushion the economic impact of the coronavirus and help build a bridge to recovery.

A total of $189 billion is being injected into the economy by all arms of Government in order to keep Australians in work and businesses in business.

This includes $17.6 billion for the Government’s first economic stimulus package, $90 billion from the RBA and $15 billion from the Government to deliver easier access to finance, and $66.1 billion in today’s economic support package.

On 30 March, the Government released the third stage of its economic plan with a focus on keeping around 6 million workers employed by providing a $1,500 per fortnight wage subsidy through their employer, before tax. The total value of the package is $70 billion over six months.

The payment will be paid to employers who receive a significant financial hit caused by the coronavirus, for up to six months, for each eligible employee that was on their books on 1 March 2020 and is retained or continues to be engaged by that employer.

State Governments

State and Territory Governments are working closely with the Commonwealth Government to manage COVID-19 and its effects on Australians. To view the latest updates in your state or territory, click on any of the following links:

ACT

NSW

NT

QLD

SA

TAS

VIC

WA

Engaging with our members during COVID-19

The Australian Water Association (AWA) is keeping members and the water industry updated through all the usual channels including email, the weekly Source newsletter and the Water Source website. You can also see our latest official updates on our media page.

Our events team, branch managers and committees are working hard to bring the water industry more virtual events for sharing information, connecting with each other and inspiring positive change. For the latest news on our upcoming events, please visit our dedicated page on Events & COVID-19.

What are our members doing?

To find out what policies and procedures are being taken by some of our members, click on the following links: SMECSUEZVeoliaGHDSeqwaterMelbourne WaterInfinite WaterKPMG and CMP Consulting.

How can I share my experiences?

The AWA welcomes your contributions to share positive messages of how you are supporting each other during this challenging period. If you have any personal experiences you want to share, send us an email at membership@awa.asn.au. Or share them with us on our social media channels.