Water Conservation and COVID: An Unlikely Connection

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted a unique use for water conservation. Last month, the city of Orlando, Florida, drew national attention for its unusual plea asking water customers to conserve water due to increased liquid oxygen consumption at healthcare facilities across the state and nation. Over the last year, healthcare facilities began to use liquid oxygen for treating severely ill COVID-19 patients, and as the virus rapidly surged through Central Florida (cases have since declined considerably), the demand for liquid oxygen ascended to extraordinarily high levels. Orlando also uses liquid oxygen in a process called ozonation, which removes contaminants and sulfur smell from water before it is distributed to Orlando residents. 

The predicament in Orlando demonstrates both the economic and public health benefits of water conservation. To help free up additional liquid oxygen for use within healthcare facilities across the nation, AWE member Orlando Utilities Commission—The Reliable One (OUC), looks to reduce water consumption by 25% to 50% from the current consumption level of 90 Million Gallons per Day (MGD). If Orlando residents comply with the requests of OUC and reduce water usage in their homes, they will not only help local hospitals care for more sick patients by freeing up liquid oxygen for vital respiratory treatments, residents will also save money on their monthly water bill. OUC also will benefit from the water conservation efforts of residents, as every gallon saved by consumers is water that OUC does not need to pump, treat with liquid oxygen, and deliver to customers, which reduces OUC’s short-term costs.

The process of ozonation is common in Florida as many utilities treat their drinking water with liquid oxygen to remove contaminants and the naturally occurring sulfur smell found in Florida’s water supply. During ozonation, liquid oxygen is converted to a gaseous form, then electricity is added to turn the oxygen gas into ozone, which kills harmful bacteria and viruses. The ozone also breaks down hydrogen sulfide, the compound that causes the “rotten eggs” sulfur smell of water. 

Ozonation is a vital part of the water treatment process for Florida utilities, and a shortage of liquid oxygen can have negative consequences. Fortunately, utilities have found solutions to manage this difficult situation. OUC has implemented an aggressive public information campaign to conserve water in the face of liquid oxygen shortages which has helped the utility reduce demand by 12.2% already.  Another Florida utility and AWE member, Tampa Bay Water, has also urged consumers to conserve water due to the liquid oxygen shortage. In addition to water conservation measures, Tampa Bay Water began using sodium hypochlorite (bleach) as a substitute for liquid oxygen to remove hydrogen sulfide from the water supply at the Lythia Hydrogen Sulfide Removal Facility. As the pandemic prevails, patients continue to require hospitalization and treatment with liquid oxygen, so utilities will have to keep conserving water and finding new solutions to accommodate for the shortage.

Water conservation has many benefits, such as reducing energy use and greenhouse gas emissions, protecting rivers, bays, and aquifers by limiting water withdrawals, reducing utility costs, and saving consumers money. Now we can add another benefit to the list: helping healthcare facilities manage the COVID-19 pandemic and save lives.

For more information on water conservation visit Home Water Works  and the Alliance For Water Efficiency