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UTWARN Supports Rural Utah During COVID-19

Small systems receive big support from local network that provides backup operators, training and logistics

photograph of a water operator wearing a face mask at a desk looking at computer monitors.

UTWARN is compiling a pool of certified water and wastewater operators who are available at a moment’s notice to provide emergency on-site assistance across Utah.

By Christian V. Jensen

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic response, drinking water and wastewater system operators have been on-duty providing vital services to homes, citizens and businesses across Utah. These tireless and dedicated individuals are frontline workers and ensure the protection of public health through safe drinking water and sewers. The infrastructure they operate is critical.

The Utah Water and Wastewater Agency Response Network (UTWARN) was set up to quickly respond to events like the coronavirus and ensure the seamless operation of water infrastructure. Administered by the Rural Water Association of Utah (RWAU), UTWARN provides operational assistance to water systems across the state.

For example, there may be systems, that due to an outbreak of COVID-19, require backup operators. In such a case, a neighboring water systems or resources from other cities could be called in to provide backup coverage. Additionally, UTWARN is compiling a pool of certified water and wastewater operators who are available at a moment’s notice to provide emergency on-site assistance. Operators do not need to be a member of the UTWARN network to take advantage of the system. However, RWAU encourages systems to participate in this effort.

In May, UTWARN took steps to provide even more assistance by coordinating the delivery of 50,000 cloth facemasks for water operators and staff. These masks were manufactured and donated by the Hanes Corporation and are being distributed to drinking water and wastewater operators to increase their ability to maintain social distancing while continuing to provide their essential public service to all Utah communities.

“There may be systems, that due to an outbreak of COVID-19, require operational assistance,” said Dale Pierson, executive director of the Rural Water Association of Utah—the organization that administers UTWARN. “Accordingly, the Utah Water and Wastewater Agency Response Network is compiling a pool of certified water and wastewater operators who might be available to provide emergency on-site assistance to other systems in the event a system has a personnel shortage.”

The masks were attained through a joint effort of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the American Water Works Association (AWWA), UTWARN and RWAU. The masks are being distributed to systems primarily by RWAU. Masks are available to all sizes and types of drinking water and wastewater systems on a first-come-first-served basis. Five points of distribution will be located throughout the state where systems may pick up masks they request.

The Utah Water and Wastewater Agency Response Network have selected the Central Utah Water Conservancy District as the main distribution site for the 50,000 cloth facemasks. Masks will also be available at Bear River WCD (Brigham City), Central Utah WCD (Orem), Price River WID (Price), Washington County WCD (Saint George), and Jordan Valley WCD (West Jordan). to drinking water and wastewater operators. Additional distribution times will be announced through June 5 or until the masks run out.

Water systems play a vital role in public health. Without this valuable infrastructure, it is hard to believe how life, even pre-coronavirus life, would be the same.

Contact Rural Water for more information about UTWARN. Water operators and staff can click here to order masks.

I am the manager of public relations and marketing at the Rural Water Association of Utah. I am passionate about community and public health issues that involve water and wastewater.