COVID-19: How the pandemic influences water quality and management

By: Narcís Prat Fornells, University of Barcelona

Fortunately, the coronavirus is not transmitted through water and current purification systems are sufficient to reduce the risk of water contamination by this infectious agent.

We can be calm, the drinking water systems of developed countries have been mobilized and there are many action protocols. But more than 2 billion people who, according to the UN, do not have access to drinking water or basic sanitation, do not know if they will die of coronavirus, thirst or typhus …

The virus has been found significantly in sewage. The concentrations of the virus (low to infect) that they harbor are correlated with the presence and intensity of the pandemic. For this reason, they are proposed as global indicators of the disease and even to know in which areas of a population there are more cases.

It can also be detected when an outbreak started with frozen sewage. In a recent study, the presence of SARS-CoV-2 in frozen wastewater from more than a year ago has been detected in Spain.

Impacts on the health of rivers

Another interesting point, in addition to the increase in plastic waste in the environment, is whether so much disinfection with bleach and other disinfectants may or may not be a problem for the fauna and flora of the water bodies that may receive the water directly (for example, from rainwater collectors).

More unnoticed are the effects that population confinement has had on ecosystems. Much has been said about the recovery of the rivers, the clean waters of Venice and other positive aspects. But we highly doubt that these effects last too long.

The new normal it does not clearly contemplate a greener economy, greater conservation of nature or other measures aimed at better ecosystem management of water. As soon as people go back to traveling as before, all these effects will probably revert to the previous situation.

There is also little talk about how, taking advantage of the confinement, attacks on the environment are being committed, such as the construction or massive approval of new reservoirs that will destroy the rivers of Latin America.

At the local level, river clean-up work due, for example, to the Gloria storm, has developed quickly and inadequately, taking advantage of the fact that environmental activists were confined.

We have seen protests against the Law creating the Catalan Agency for Nature, clamor for the reconstruction of the river dikes and protests so that the damage in the Ebro delta is not repaired or promenades rebuilt.

How many mayors or political leaders have spoken or acted to give more space to rivers to prevent floods? I have seen a few criticize the water authorities for lack of investment in cleaning rivers, but almost none mention environmental restoration.


He coronavirus it seems to have been a curtain for us to forget about climate change. News such as the 38 ℃ of Sibera have circulated in a modest way regarding the importance of whether the beaches will open or not and how. Forgetting about climate change will not free us from its consequences.

As for the future, it is difficult to find reasons for optimism. It seems that new normal it will be limited to masks, hand washes, disinfectants or the 1.5 meter separation. For the rest we continue almost the same. Will we know or can we react?

Narcís Prat Fornells, Emeritus Professor of Ecology, University of Barcelona

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original.