AWWA / Prince George Utilities urge building managers to freshen water systems before reopening

The temporary shutdown or reduced operation of a building and reductions in normal water use can create hazards for returning occupants. Buildings that have closed for weeks or months and have reduced their water usage during that time period have a potential for stagnant water inside building plumbing. This water can become unsafe to drink or otherwise use for domestic or commercial purposes. EPA recommends that building owners and managers take proactive steps to protect public health by minimizing water stagnation during closures and taking action to address building water quality prior to reopening. 

American Water Works Association (AWWA) and its member utilities are encouraging building managers and operators to freshen the water while preparing to reopen office buildings, hotels, childcare facilities, residences and other buildings that were shut down for several weeks during the coronavirus pandemic to .

With little or no water running through building water pipes and fixtures for an extended period of time, Legionella is more likely to proliferate. Stagnant water conditions can result in discolored water, lower chlorine levels and higher concentrations of lead and copper.

To address these concerns, AWWA encourages its members to raise awareness among their customers about guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on how to safely prepare water systems and end-use devices before reopening buildings or residences. The CDC offers additional resources, including the Toolkit: Developing a Water Management Program to Reduce Legionella Growth and Spread in Buildings.

Fresh water should be drawn into building water systems and stagnant water flushed out before they are reopened. It’s important to note, however, that each building’s water systems are unique. Building owners and operators should be aware of information provided by their state or local water system.

AWWA’s Public Affairs Council has collected examples of different ways utilities are elevating this issue to their commercial customers. Those examples are available on AWWA’s coronavirus resource page, where CDC and AWWA flushing guidance is also posted.

Information on Maintaining or Restoring Water Quality in Buildings with Low or No Use

Guidance for reopening a closed building or facility (PDF).