At the beginning of 2020, water professionals were busy planning a prosperous future. AWWA was developing its strategic plans for the next several years. AWWA utility and operator members were mapping out long‐range operational and capital plans for their water systems, ever cognizant of their essential mission of providing safe and plentiful drinking water for the public. At the same time, AWWA section winter conferences were being planned, papers and presentations were being prepared, and vendor displays were being spruced up with the latest information on the newest technologies and equipment. AWWA volunteers were busy working with federal and state legislators to find ways to fund infrastructure improvements and old infrastructure replacements. The group was also working closely with regulators to improve water quality and protect public health.
As March Madness came closer, COVID‐19 began to creep into everyone’s lives. The spread started slowly, showing up here, then there, taking out random victims and infecting them with the likes of nothing seen before in living memory. Soon, health officials realized this was just the beginning of a potentially lethal pandemic, with all the markings of long‐term consequences of exposure. While health officials scrambled to figure out what would work or not work to contain the virus, government officials realized that additional actions were needed—and quickly. Water professionals immediately realized this was a game changer, and the potential for any disruption in the drinking water supply had to be mitigated.
ADAPTING TO THE NEW NORMAL
Although utilities had emergency response plans in place and ready to be implemented, this situation was unique in that it didn’t affect water supplies directly. It did, however, affect operations staff who keep water systems running day to day. Water professionals quickly learned from the health care field what needed to be done to protect utility workers. Protocols on cleaning, handwashing, temperature taking, mask wearing, and more were implemented to protect the safety of all utility team members, the public, and those deemed critical to the overall mission of protecting the water supply.
Many local waterworks groups and AWWA sections immediately formed ad hoc committees to discuss the COVID‐19 outbreak, how to operate water and wastewater systems while minimizing contact between staff members, and best practices for using modern virtual platforms to meet online without having to meet in person. Water professionals quickly became essential employees, as the seriousness of the situation became clear.
The spring of 2020 became an alternate reality where nothing made sense. Working from home wasn’t an option for many, as water and wastewater facilities require highly skilled, trained, and licensed professionals to operate their systems. Supervisory…