McDONOUGH — In an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19 and protect the safety and well-being of customers, employees and the community, the Henry County Water Authority has implemented a number of actions in phases to address the current coronavirus crisis.

Once the first documented cases of the coronavirus reached Henry County, or approximately two weeks ago, the HCWA immediately implemented Phase 1 of its business continuity and redundancy plans to assure continued water and sewer operations, while protecting public health.

Phase 1: Closing customer service lobby

This first phase involves limited public access for customers to reduce interactions with each other and with utility employees. In addition, HCWA redundancy planning provides for continuity at water production and wastewater treatment facilities, while ensuring there is redundancy in staffing crews to repair any broken water lines or sewage blockages that may occur during this time.

A manifestation of Phase 1 was to close HCWA facilities to the public, including the customer service lobby at its Headquarters on Highway 20 West in McDonough. However, the drive-thru window has remained open. HCWA customers also can pay their bill online or by phone/mobile device.

Suspending service disconnections, working remotely

Additional measures within Phase 1 of the HCWA business continuity and redundancy plans involved the suspension of customer cut-offs and allowing customers to make special payment arrangements. In addition, new development or pre-construction conferences or meetings are being held in the field. Finally, some employees are able to telework or report directly to respective job sites.

Phase 2: Redundancy and Consistent Coverage

Phase 2 of the HCWA business continuity and redundancy plans involves the Authority providing redundancy in operations and consistent coverage. First, the Authority has identified essential operations and employees to make sure there is continual coverage of their critical functions, which primarily include customer service, water treatment and wastewater treatment.

To further assure redundancy in personnel and operations, the HCWA has annual labor contractors who are on call to assist with line repairs and related emergencies, if necessary. The Authority also has placed some retired water and wastewater plant operators on notice to assist with plant operations, if needed.

In addition, the HCWA has duplicated its Customer Call Center, moving staff to a separate building to assist with handling the higher volume of calls. And current authority employees with experience in customer service, who now are working in other areas of the utility, may be called upon if the HCWA Customer Service staff needs assistance. Finally, all preventative maintenance activities that are not mission critical have been suspended.

Is my water safe to drink?

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, conventional water treatment like that of the HCWA uses filtration and disinfection that removes or inactivates the virus that causes COVID-19. In addition, the World Health Organization adds that the presence of the COVID-19 virus has not been detected in drinking water supplies.

The toilet is not a trash can

While HCWA customers are confined to their homes during the COVID-19 pandemic, the authority has had to deal with the unintended and likely unintentional consequences of a higher volume of wet wipes and grease entering its sewer lines.

To maintain the integrity of the HCWA sewage collections system, Authority officials are requesting that customers refrain from flushing any type of flushable or non-flushable wet wipes down the toilet, which are likely to clog HCWA sewer lines and cause sewer spills and overflows, which threaten the environment and water quality.

In addition, authority officials note the similarly damaging effects of excessive fats, oils and grease (FOG) to sewage collections and conveyance, when customers dispose of these items down the sink. Customer compliance with proper wet wipe and grease disposal – in the trash – will help the HCWA continually maintain a fully functioning sewer system, especially during this current crisis.

For updates and more information on HCWA operations during the COVID-19 pandemic, citizens can contact the authority at 770-957-6659 or visit www.hcwa.com.

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