Why Worry About the Water?

Dear Fellow Survivalist;

As the Coronavirus saga unfolds, I’ve been a very interested spectator. I’ve written about survival for years and this is the first nationwide disaster I’ve seen. So it’s been interesting to compare it with my presuppositions and the various theories that I’ve written.

One of the things which has been different than my expectations is that this crisis has been coming on slowly, building towards a pinnacle. Typically, we look at a disaster as something that hits fast and hard, leaving us stunned as we try to catch up. But this has been quite different. The good thing about that is that it has allowed people who weren’t prepared the opportunity to do something about it.

That’s been interesting in and of itself, especially looking at what has emptied out in the stores. Of course, we all know about the run on toilet paper, which has become the laugh of the year. But the other one that’s really surprising me is how bad the run on water has been.

Granted, water is an important part of survival, normally considered our number two priority. If you don’t have clean water to drink, you can only survive three days or so. Any prepper knows that they need to stockpile water, have a way of harvesting more water and have a good water purification system.

But all that’s based on not having city water supplies available to us. One of the things we assume is that the electrical power will be out, which will take out all of the other utilities with it. But that’s not the case here. There is no reason to think that electrical power is going to go out anytime in the next week, two weeks, month or even year. Yet people are stocking up on bottled water as if they’re going to die without it.

The only way that our water supplies from Coronavirus could be at risk is if something happens to the people who run our fresh water purification plants. This means enough of those people falling ill, that the plants can’t be kept open. So the question is, is that likely to happen?

To start with, we have to understand that neither fresh water treatment plants or sewage treatment plants are automated. These processes require constant monitoring and testing of water samples. That can’t be done my machines, and the results of those tests determines adjustments in the amounts of the various chemicals which are used in the processing of the water. People need to make those decisions and then add the chemicals to the water.

This led me to be concerned about what would happen to our water supply and our sewage systems if the workers in these plants fell sick to COVID-19. Could they operate these plants with a skeleton crew and if so, how many people did it take? How long could they operate in that mode?

This isn’t the kind of thing you can just look up on Google. I tried. Even emergency operations plans aren’t going to tell you what they can do in a worst case scenario. You’ve got to find someone in the know and pick their brain. Fortunately, I have a contact which allowed me to do just that.

It turns out that our city water department and wastewater department were asking themselves the same questions I was, which was a fortunate coincidence. That allowed them to answer my question quickly.

In a worst case scenario, wastewater treatment plants can be operated by two people for a few days and fresh water treatment plants by four. The people have to be certified and trained; so you just can’t put anyone in there. Besides, if we tried to put just anyone in those plants, they wouldn’t have the least idea what to do, let alone how to make sure they were doing it right.

If it went past a few days, they would need to call in additional personnel to relieve those workers. That could include management, almost all of whom come up out of the ranks, so they know the systems as well as the guys out there running the plant. They also have to be certified, which just about guarantees that they have not only received the training, but have done the work.

So, the good news is that the chances of actually needing all that water that people have been stocking up on is just about zero. The ability of running the plant on roughly ¼ the normal complement of personnel gives a nice thick cushion if people start getting sick. Thick enough a cushion, that the first ones to get sick just might very well be back on the job, before the last ones succumb to the disease. That sounds like betting odds to me.

If you’ve already got a bunch of water, that’s great. Hang onto it. You never know when you might need it. But if you missed out on that and the stores were sold out before you could get there, don’t worry. Chances are pretty good that your tap water is going to stay running and you won’t need the bottled water anyway. Either way, you can look at bottled water just like we do other things, such as keeping your powder dry and your survival gear close at hand. In other words, things for “just in case.”

Dr. Rich

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