The city of Miamisburg completed its conversion to a soft water system last year as part of a $70 million overhaul of its water and sewer network. FILE

Ohio group provides backup for local water systems amid COVID-19

With the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s vital that local governments have properly functioning water systems and healthy, qualified personnel to operate them, Miamisburg Public Works Director Valerie Griffin said.

Membership in the Ohio Water/Wastewater Agency Response Network, or WARN, will allow the city access to a number of resources, including worker exchanges should any of Miamisburg’s plant operators get the virus, she said.

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“In my mind, that is the greatest benefit for us because we have a small staff,” Griffin said. “We’re pretty good about keeping equipment on hand. But we only have so many people.”

The Environmental Protection Agency requires plant operators to be “very specialized” and meet strict guidelines, Griffin said.

Ohio WARN’s mission is to support and promote statewide emergency preparedness, disaster response, and mutual aid assistance for public and private water and wastewater utilities, according to its website.

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Ohio WARN has more than 40 members, including Dayton, Fairborn and New Carlisle. Members range in size from Lorain County’s village of Wellington, which has about 4,900 residents, to Cleveland and Columbus, according to the organization.

The organization is supported by the U.S. and Ohio EPA, and the Ohio Emergency Management Agency.

Miamisburg has fewer than 10 licensed operators for its water and waste water plants, which were part of a $70 million system overhaul completed last year. Other WARN members have at least twice as many, if not many more, Griffin said.

“So when you have only a few of those, then you start to worry that if those people get ill, what do you do?” she said.

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Taking measures to ensure those Miamisburg plant operators are not exposed to the coronavirus is a high priority, Griffin said. So far, no employees have tested positive for COVID-19, she said.

“We’ve taken a lot of measures with our workers to protect them from getting sick,” Griffin said. “We’re doing daily disinfection and the plants and all of our facilities, all of our vehicles, and we’re also working on a split shift with our workers so we can minimize exposure.

“We’re taking measures to confine them and keep them away from people,” she added.

Miamisburg Mayor Michelle Collins said, “It’s times like this that make you think about all the backups that we need in place. You don’t want to wait until it’s too late.”

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The network says it offers members increased planning and coordination, expedited arrival of aid, reduced administrative conflict and continuity of operations, among other benefits.

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