Water & Wastewater Workers Considered Essential During COVID-19 Outbreak

March 23, 2020

10 workers are quarantined inside the Claude Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant 

10 workers are quarantined inside the Claude Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant in Carlsbad, California for the next three weeks. 

The workers are monitoring and adjusting gauges and switches, watching for leaks, and completing other tasks needed to safeguard San Diego County’s only significant local source of drinking water. All 10 volunteered themselves. The Carlsbad plant is home to 40 employees overall, reported the San Diego Tribune.

The request for volunteers was a precaution against the spread of COVID-19, reported the San Diego Tribune.

According to the DHS Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), there are 14 employment categories that the agency identifies as Essential Critical Infrastructure Workers, including water and wastewater operators.

According to CISA, employees needed to operate and maintain drinking water and wastewater/drainage infrastructure, include:

  • Operational staff at water authorities;
  • Operational staff at community water systems;
  • Operational staff at wastewater treatment facilities;
  • Workers repairing water and wastewater conveyances and performing required sampling or monitoring;
  • Operational staff for water distribution and testing;
  • Operational staff at wastewater collection facilities;
  • Operational staff and technical support for SCADA Control systems;
  • Chemical disinfectant suppliers for wastewater and personnel protection;
  • And workers that maintain digital systems infrastructure supporting water and wastewater operations

“We asked some employees to be locked down at the plant for 21 days to isolate the risk of infection,” said Gilad Cohen, CEO of IDE Americas, the global company that operates the Carlsbad plant and others around the world.

The employees are deemed “mission critical” and will work 12-hour shifts, sleeping in rented recreational vehicles in the parking lot and resupplied with fresh food left for them at the plant’s gate. 

They are also being supplied with washers and dryers to do their own laundry and the desalination plant’s kitchen and cafeteria are available for use as well.

“There is a whole routine of lab sampling throughout the plant to ensure the quality of the water in production and monitor discharge into the ocean,” Cohen said. “All these routines must remain in place and that’s a big part of the work on a daily basis.”

The Carlsbad plant produces 50 million gallons of desalinated seawater a day, reported the San Diego Tribune

The Water Authority and its member agencies have taken additional steps to ensure the coronavirus pandemic does not affect the safe delivery of water throughout the county. Last week, Carlsbad activated its Emergency Operations Center and reviewed plans for member agencies to assist each other in the event that 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. Keri, general manager of the Water Authority. “We are taking strategic, precautionary steps to ensure the region’s water security.”

Administrative operations will continue at the off-site offices and none of the plant staff will be laid off, but some could take leaves or training time during this time.

The shelter-in-place plan was developed in about 10 days and what happens after the initial 21 days is yet to be determined.

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About the Author

Cristina Tuser

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