The Rhode Island Department of Health's (RIDOH) Center for Drinking Water Quality was honored for its efforts to protect the Rhode Island drinking water supply during the COVID-19 pandemic response.
All of the State drinking water systems in New England, State water and wastewater response networks, and other water sector associations were awarded a 2021 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Environmental Merit Award for their collective efforts. Environmental Merit Awards are awarded by EPA for outstanding efforts in preserving New England's environment.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the water supply for the 15 million people in New England that are served by 2,700 community systems was threatened. Water systems, which are responsible for maintaining and providing safe drinking water, faced reduced availability of staff, shortages of chemicals used for treatment purposes, and worker health and safety challenges.
"The continued diligence and expertise in RIDOH's Center for Drinking Water Quality and Rhode Island's many water systems keep drinking water in Rhode Island healthy and safe," said Director of Health Nicole Alexander-Scott, MD, MPH. "Protecting our drinking water is one of the core functions of RIDOH and of public health. I am grateful to our dedicated staff and partners who worked tirelessly to provide this critical service despite the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic."
RIDOH's Center for Drinking Water Quality and other New England drinking water programs developed creative solutions to address the regulatory, policy, and technical assistance challenges of the pandemic, including developing new guidance. To protect worker health and safety, RIDOH's Center for Drinking Water Quality focused on transitioning certain responsibilities and activities to virtual platforms, including designing new protocols that enabled State staff to perform some critical duties remotely, hosting virtual meetings, developing virtual training opportunities, and offering professional trainings to keep certified operators up to date.
During this challenging time, RIDOH's Center for Drinking Water Quality strived to conduct essential in-person field inspections in a safe manner, with the health conditions of customers and our staff members safeguarded, including appropriate PPE protections. As a result of such efforts, RIDOH has fulfilled all the required Rhode Island Drinking Water public water systems sanitary surveys in 2020, and RIDOH anticipates to fully accomplish all the required surveys in 2021 again.
Many Rhode Islanders may be surprised and interested to learn how their drinking water gets to them, how it is monitored, and where to find monitoring results. The Drinking Water Watch web portal allows citizens and water suppliers to see drinking water monitoring data and other information for public water systems in Rhode Island: https://dwq.health.ri.gov/DWW.