Water Action Platform’s webinar claims water shutoff ban saves lives

Hosted by Isle, the online event marks the first anniversary of the Water Action Platform, a global initiative that brings water companies together to share knowledge and innovation across the world

Nearly half a million COVID-19 infections could have been prevented in the US alone if there had been a nationwide ban on water shutoffs, according to a research highlighted at the latest Water Action Platform webinar.

The global issue of water shutoffs and disconnections during the pandemic was brought into stark focus at the online event hosted by Dr Piers Clark, chairman of Isle, which took place on 15 Apr 2021.

Last year, water utilities and municipalities around the world started holding back their plans to cut off non-payers amid concerns a lack of access to critical water and sanitation could escalate the rising pandemic.

The research carried out by Cornell University and Food & Water Watch found that states in the US, which suspended disconnections, had “significantly reduced growth rates” of COVID-19. If similar policies had been adopted across the country, the study model estimates that almost 500,000 cases of COVID-19 would have been prevented.

Clark explained: “Before the pandemic, protections from water shutoffs were rare in the US but on 9 Mar 2020, Detroit became the first US city to pause water shutoffs and temporarily reconnect water services for all residents. This action sparked a wave of moratoria nationally, with more than 800 locations and states following Detroit’s lead.”

The Cornell researchers ran a regression model and concluded that water shutoff bans decreased the daily infection growth rate by 0.235%, and the death growth rate by 0.135%. Modelling showed a similar moratorium on water shutoffs nationwide could have saved around 480,000 people from COVID-19 infection, and almost 10,000 lives.

This research demonstrates the critical impact of access to water, especially during a public health crisis, and makes a clear case for national strategies to ensure water and sanitation services are accessible for low-income households.

Efficiency through innovation
Access to water is vitally important for health, businesses and communities. So how can the water sector meet regulatory water efficiency targets, while delivering benefits for customers and the environment?

The Water Action Platform webinar also explored research and technologies that address water efficiency issues, and shared learnings from utilities in the UK and Spain about addressing water efficiency during the pandemic and beyond.

Creative EC, a UK company, showcased a product called Waterfall – a smart meter which generates insight into water usage by collecting water event and billing-grade consumption data from domestic and commercial customers. Waterfall applies the principles of the interest of the Internet of Things (IoT), cloud technology and machine learning to uncover and use data on water usage events in individual properties.

“This data set provides detailed insights into the nature of water consumption, allowing water companies to encourage customer water efficiency using techniques like behavioural analytics, gamification and nudge theory,” Clark added.

Securing London’s water
With improvements of up to 40% required to reach the UK Government’s per capita consumption (PCC) targets, research shows reductions can be most effectively achieved through a combination of customer behaviour changes alongside utilities addressing leakage and unmetered flows. As one of the largest water providers in the UK, by population, the biggest challenge Thames Water faces is from population growth and development.

Andrew Tucker, water efficiency manager at Thames, presented water efficiency data for London, which has been generated through its smart meter programme rollout.

“Quite simply we do not have enough water for the future. We need new water resources to come in, and we need to bring demand down,” he explained. “The more knowledgeable we can be, the more detailed we can be able to understand what is happening to our water, the better we will be able to manage this precious resource.”

As part of its drive to address this issue, Tucker provider an update on Thamas Water’s ongoing smart meter programme rollout to every household and business in its region. Over 500,000 smart meters were installed to Mar 21, and Thamas is now receiving millions of meter readings per day.

“With manual meter reads, we were getting around one million a year. With smart meter reads, we’ve leapt to 11 million a day,” he concluded. “We have gone from a traditional water company to a big data company overnight. Our key focus now is using data, turning it into insights and putting it into action to drive demand reduction.”