AbstractThe COVID-19 pandemic affected the operation of water utilities across the world. In the context of utilities, new protocols were needed to ensure that employees can work safely, and that water service is not interrupted. This study reports on how the operations of 27 water utilities worldwide were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Interviews were conducted between June and October 2020; respondents represent utilities that varied in population size, location, and customer composition (e.g., residential, industrial, commercial, institutional, and university customers). Survey questions focused on the effects of the pandemic on water system operation, demand, revenues, system vulnerabilities, and the use and development of emergency response plans (ERPs). Responses indicate that significant changes in water system operations were implemented to ensure that water utility employees could continue working while maintaining safe social distancing or alternatively working from home. A total of 23 of 27 utilities reported small changes in demand volumes and patterns, which can lead to some changes in water infrastructure operations and water quality. Utilities experienced a range of impacts on finances, where most utilities discussed small decreases in revenues, with a few reporting more drastic impacts. The pandemic revealed new system vulnerabilities, including supply chain management, capacity of staff to perform certain functions remotely, and finances. Some utilities applied existing guidance developed through ERPs with slight modifications, other utilities developed new ERPs to specifically address unique conditions induced by the pandemic, and a few utilities did not use or reference their existing ERPs to change operations. Many utilities suggested that lessons learned would be used in future ERPs, such as personnel training on pandemic risk management or annual mock exercises for preparing employees to better respond to emergencies.

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