The power goes out, but the water flows on

by Patti Kay Wisniewski

Exercising emergency response plans at DC Water’s Fort Reno Reservoir Pumping Station

Exercising emergency response plans at DC Water’s Fort Reno Reservoir Pumping Station

Have you ever wondered how water continues flowing to your faucet even when your power goes out?  Lots of us take this fact for granted, because losing water service is so rare. That’s no accident. It’s because the water industry invests significant time and effort to keep the water flowing during all types of emergencies.

Maintaining power at water treatment plants is key to making sure the water delivered to homes and businesses is safe. They need power for dosing treatment chemicals, measuring treatment performance, and powering pumps. Many water utilities have back-up generators to keep these important components functioning, as well as close working relationships with energy providers to ensure that they are a top priority for restoring service.

EPA and state drinking water programs have worked with water utilities for decades to develop emergency response plans. But, a plan that simply sits on a shelf doesn’t do much good in an emergency. That’s why EPA, states and utilities “exercise” these plans – to practice what would happen in a crisis, and ensure that the water continues to flow in a real emergency.

For example EPA’s Mid-Atlantic drinking water program works closely with utilities in the District of Columbia to develop and exercise response plans.  Last year, we held exercises to test water sampling plans, laboratory capabilities, and communicating with the public and the media during emergencies.

The potential impacts of climate change also play a part in response plans and emergency exercises.  Water utilities understand the importance of delivering safe water to their customers, even when extreme weather causes flooding, power outages, or even losing a water source.

Paying close attention to the local weather forecasts is also critical to pre-planning efforts, as is working closely with other emergency responders, such as fire, police, and haz-mat, as well as local and state agencies.  Many utilities have joined water and wastewater agency response networks (WARNs) that let them more easily obtain support during severe weather events, and provide support to utilities in neighboring communities.

Check out EPA’s website to learn more about water utility emergency response and efforts to help water utilities be more resilient when emergencies happen.


About the author: Patti Kay Wisniewski has worked in the drinking water program for over 30 years covering such topics as emergency preparedness, consumer confidence reports, and the new electronic delivery option.


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