‘It’s not a water-borne pathogen’; county water officials address panic-buying of bottled water

ST. GEORGE — Water is considered the life blood of the community and is also a must-have for any emergency preparedness kit. However, as COVID-19 continues to spread across the United States, it is one of the items civil officials have asked shoppers to ease up on when running to the grocery store.

Zachary Renstrom, the general manager of the Washington County Water Conservancy District, discusses the county’s water treatment process, St. George News, Utah, March 19, 2020 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

This is particularly emphasized by water officials who say the new coronavirus is not a water-borne sickness.

“Our system can easily handle this situation,” Zachary Renstrom, general manager of the Washington County Water Conservancy District, told St. George News Thursday. “It’s not a water-borne pathogen, so we’re not as concerned about it in regard to drinking water.”

Even if someone sneezes into the water, going through the county’s treatment system would kill off the virus before it made it to anyone’s faucet, Renstrom said.

The county primarily draws its water from the Virgin River and its watershed, which is diverted by the water district into the Quail Creek and Sand Hollow reservoirs. Around 60-70% of the county’s water is also sent though the Quail Creek Water Treatment Plant.

Water enters the facility though a 60-inch pipeline that can transfer more than 40,000 gallons a minute and runs through multiple treatment processes that use chemicals and filtration systems to separate solids and other contaminants from the water.

Members of a tour at the Quail Creek Water Treatment Plant look into one of the facility’s filtration tanks in which water is separated from contaminants. The black sludge on top of the water is the result of that process, Hurricane, Utah, May 10, 2018 | File photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

Part of the process involves filtered water moving to the bottom of a filtration tank while the separated material rises to the top of the water as a dark, sludge-like substance. The sludge is then swept off the top of the water and sent to the facility’s nearby lagoons where it is collected and hauled away.

“The (treatment) process we’ve been using, we’ve been using that process for years, (and it) easily treats the COVID-19 virus,” Renstrom said.

The treatment process takes approximately four hours to complete.

Regarding people buying of bottled water, it is a good idea to be prepared, Renstrom said, but having an emergency supply of water on hand is more for events like an earthquake, which can destroy water infrastructure, or a pipe rupture that can disrupt regular service for up to 12 hours or more.

For people who choose to forego getting water from the supermarket and use culinary water from the tap for storage, Renstrom recommends using containers specifically suited for that purpose. Stored water also needs to be changed out at least once every six months, Renstrom said, though there are special chemicals one can use to extend storage time.

“It’s always good to have a little supply on hand,” he said.

While some bottled water remains on the shelf at the Harmons supermarket in St. George, the less expensive varieties had already been cleared out for the day, St. George, Utah, March 19, 2020 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St George News

Related to other items that have been a target of so-called “panic-buying,” such as toilet paper, Renstrom said the water district has noticed some issues involving wet wipes. While these products are advertised as flushable, they really aren’t, he said.

“They don’t dissolve in the water as quickly as toilet paper and can create clogs,” Renstrom said.

While not a major issue, it is one the water district is presently monitoring.

The panic-buying of water and other products has been repeatedly addressed by Gov. Gary Herbert. One of his most recent comments came in the wake of Wednesday’s earthquake in northern Utah. He said:

Let’s work together, because we are all in this together. And by the way, our grocery store supply chains are good. Cows will still provide milk. Chickens are still laying eggs. Toilet paper is still being manufactured, and water is still available. So please, shop normally at grocery stores. Bare shelves are the result of panic buying, not an actual limit on our food supply.

As to the overall water situation in Washington County, it is doing well, Renstrom said.

Moving into the new water year, which starts April 1, the snowpack in the county’s higher elevations is between 110-115% above normal.

Quail Creek Reservoir as seen from an outlook at its northern end, Quail Creek State Park, Utah, May 1, 2019 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

“Our reservoirs are all full right now,” he said, “and going into this summer we are very well positioned.”

Like other public entities, the water district’s office just off Red Hills Parkway is open by appointment only as social distancing measures are observed. District employees and water technicians are also asked to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, among other preventive measures enacted by the water district at this time.

COVID-19 information resources

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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