NFGWS advice to group water schemes in light of the continuing spread of COVID-19 coronavirus
NFGWS General Advice Note No. 2 – For GWS Boards and Management during the COVID-19 outbreak, click on the link below to see full PDF:
This purpose of this advice note is to:
- Provide guidance on contingency planning for GWSs to ensure the continuity of supply and prevent further spread of the COVID-19 virus through community transmission,
- Highlight that traditional water treatment methods which utilise filtration and disinfection should inactivate COVID-19 virus.
As the number of reported cases of the Coronavirus COVID-19 increases throughout the island of Ireland, Group Water Scheme boards and staff need to make sure that their scheme is properly prepared, that people working on behalf of a scheme are protected, and that necessary precautions are taken to prevent further spread of the virus. This basic guidance note for GWS boards and management aims to help prepare for the management of a scheme in the event of the continued spread of the virus. The note focuses on preventing community transmission, contingency planning for GWS management and protecting your water supply.
Preventing Community Transmission
People working on GWSs are active within rural communities and can have dealings with many people on a daily basis. To prevent further spread of the virus through community transmission, frequent and proper hand hygiene must be adhered to. Regular washing of hands with soap and water is one of the most important prevention measures for COVID-19. GWSs should ensure that more frequent and regular hand hygiene is observed and that hand sanitiser/hand washing facilities are made available to those working on behalf of the scheme. When washing hands, you should adhere to the HSE guidance:
GWSs carry out operational monitoring regularly as part of Quality Assurance System implementation. This requires chlorine residual testing to be completed at consumers’ taps at various locations on a scheme. In light of the spread of Covid-19, group water schemes are encouraged to continue undertaking operational monitoring to verify the efficiency of disinfection systems, but with samples taken from the distribution main, where possible. Entering the homes of consumers should be kept to a minimum.
All non-essential public meetings should be put on hold. Many GWSs normally hold Annual General Meetings at this time of the year. While schemes may, at present, hold such events, it is important that the government’s advice note on mass gatherings is consulted when making a decision about whether or not to proceed. This advice note is at https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/472f64-covid-19-coronavirus-guidance-and-advice/#mass-gathering-guidelines. As this Advice Note is likely to be updated regularly over the coming weeks, GWSs should update themselves before organising any meeting/event.
Contingency Planning for GWSs
Every scheme should have a plan in place to deal with emergencies as part of its Quality Assurance System. While emergency planning to date has largely focused on dealing with potential water quality incidents, emergency plans should also address the issue of personnel back-up (i.e having a person/people available to take the place of those who have been infected and/or are unable to fulfil their duties). In some instances, GWSs may have become reliant on one or two individuals to carry out all of the operational functions on their scheme. These people have considerable local knowledge and operational expertise, including the management of assets such as valves and fittings. GWSs should document this information in so far as possible and familiarise themselves with the Standard Operating Procedures outlined in the NFGWS Quality Assurance System. In the event of further spread of COVID-19, schemes will need to be prepared for situations where GWS staff members or volunteers may no longer be able to perform their duties. Contingency plans should be put in place now rather than reacting to issues as they arise over the coming weeks. Each scheme should ask themselves the following questions:
- If the person responsible for operating and managing our scheme (operator, manger,
caretaker, volunteer) fell ill suddenly, how would we continue to supply potable drinking
water to our members?
- Have we discussed contingency planning with our contractors?
- Have we discussed contingency planning with our suppliers (particularly chemical
The NFGWS is recommending that every scheme completes the following over the coming days, if it has not done so already:
1. Hold a contingency planning meeting of the GWS Board/committee to
a. consider the questions raised above.
b. ensure that all GWS staff and board members are aware of the possible implications of the current outbreak for the group water scheme and that they have available to them the most up-to-date information and advice on containing the spread of the virus.
c. discuss contingency planning, with a view to ensuring continuity of supply to GWS members over the coming period.
2. GWS in Design Build and Operate contracts:
a. Speak to your Employer’s Representative / DBO Operator in relation to their planning to ensure continuity of operations during the ongoing outbreak. (The NFGWS is making contact with all DBO operators in relation to same and will circulate any relevant information to schemes).
3. GWSs not in a Design Build and Operate contract:
a. Ensure arrangements are in place with private service providers/contractors should their services be required at short notice.
b. At least two other individuals should be trained and briefed on treatment plant operations including Health and Safety requirements.
4. All GWSs (including publicly sourced GWS):
a. Where possible GWSs should speak to neighbouring schemes about the possibility of working together to ensure continuity of supply and QA implementation and sharing resources such as expertise and staff if necessary. Amalgamation and rationalisation cluster groups have been established in a number of counties and these groups could facilitate such a process.
b. For operating and managing GWS networks, make sure that emergency contact details (e.g. contractors, LA, HSE) are documented and made available to all GWS officers and staff.
c. Have at least three GWS representatives trained and briefed on how to implement the schemes Quality Assurance System from source to tap, including operational monitoring roles.
GWSs are advised to document any contingency plan and update previous plans as necessary. NFGWS Development Officers are available to assist and advise GWSs on the above and training continues to be available now through the NFGWS (https://nfgws.ie/training-water-awareness/) and the Local Authorities Services National Training Group (https://www.lasntg.ie/).
Protecting water supplies The presence of the COVID-19 virus has not been detected in drinking-water supplies to date and based on current evidence, the risk to water supplies is estimated to be low according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). Traditional water treatment methods which utilise filtration and disinfection should inactivate COVID-19 virus. It has been shown to be sensitive to chlorination and UV disinfection. It is, therefore, extremely important that hygiene standards are strictly observed and that disinfection systems are operated and maintained correctly. As always, the distribution network should be cleaned/scoured and a chlorine residual maintained at the consumer’s tap.
All schemes have now completed Quality Assurance training and are widely implementing the system across the sector. The fundamental objective of the NFGWS Quality Assurance System is to ensure that water provided is compliant with the drinking water standards. As part of the recommended multi-barrier approach to protecting water from catchment to consumer, proper management of disinfection system is of paramount importance.
Many co-benefits will be realised by safely managing water and sanitation services and applying good hygiene practices. Such efforts will prevent many other infectious diseases, which cause millions of deaths each year.
Stay Up to date with Developments
The latest government advice on the Coronavirus Covid-19 can be viewed at https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/472f64-covid-19-coronavirus-guidance-and-advice/. This is regularly updated.
The first is a short Technical Brief summarizing WHO guidance on water, sanitation which is relevant for viruses (including coronaviruses). This Technical Brief is written in particular for water and sanitation practitioners and providers. It is available at the link under:
The second is an advice note by the HSE on COVID-19 in chlorinated drinking water supplies. It is available at the link under:
On broader COVID-19 information there are dedicated pages on the HSE, Department of Health and Health Protection Surveillance Centre websites, these are updated twice daily, providing a trusted source of information to the public.
Health Service Executive (HSE): www.hse.ie
Department of Health: https://www.gov.ie/en/campaigns/c36c85-covid-19-coronavirus/
Health Protection Surveillance Centre: www.hpsc.ie