Water agencies throughout the West are changing their operations during the coronavirus outbreak to make sure cities and farms don’t run dry.
Their responses range from extreme measures to modest adjustments to ensure their most critical workers don’t succumb to the virus.
In San Diego, leadership at the Carlsbad desalination plant asked staff to volunteer for a 21-day isolated stay at the facility. A second set of workers are self-isolating at home to arrive on site for their stay at the treatment plant should the outbreak extend beyond the initial 21-day period.
Many others aren’t taking as drastic a step as asking employees to live at work. The water agency for millions in southern California, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, is scaling back on-site staff and increasing telework capabilities for a portion of its workforce.
In Colorado, two Front Range water providers aren’t to the point of asking workers to house on-site at pumping, treatment or dam sites…
As of now Northern’s operations have continued without interruption, and the agency is preparing for a spring snowmelt runoff likely to ramp up in the next few weeks, Stahla said.
Some water treatment facilities ran with minimal contact among workers even before the threat of coronavirus, said Todd Hartman, a spokesman for Denver Water.
“Water treatment plants readily operate with people spread apart in different sections of the facilities,” Hartman said. “Social distance is also easy to achieve at our dams and reservoirs.”
Some of Denver Water’s critical infrastructure already house year-round caretakers to keep an eye on remote dam operations, Hartman added. That’s also true of the city of Colorado Springs’ Grizzly Reservoir in the mountains outside Aspen.
Editor’s Note: You may sometimes have felt like you “have come down with a virus,” meaning that you became sick from being exposed to something that could have been a virus. In fact, you have a virus – actually, many – all the time. Some viruses cause the common cold, and some are crucial to human survival. New viruses can also emerge, and they typically create illness in humans when they have very recently jumped from another species to humans. As world health leaders try to determine how to respond to the new coronavirus, virus expert Marilyn J. Roossinck answers a few questions.
1. What is a virus?
Defining a virus has been a challenge, because every time we come up with a good definition someone discovers a virus that breaks the rules. Viruses are entities that infect cellular life. They are very diverse. The simplest just have a couple of genes made of RNA or DNA wrapped up in a protein coat. Others have hundreds of genes, more than some bacteria.
All viruses are ultimately parasites. They require a host for replication. They cannot generate their own energy like cells can.
2. Why does a virus make people sick?
When a new human virus disease appears, it is most often because the virus has jumped from a different species into humans. The worst viruses are often the ones that have very recently jumped into the species.
After jumping species, the virus goes through a process of adjustment to its new host. The real challenge, however, is to the host. As it tries to figure out how to adjust to an invasion from something completely new, the immune system overreacts. This is what makes the host sick. It usually isn’t an advantage for the virus to make people sick; it is an accident of the hosts’ immune system overreacting to something it doesn’t recognize.
Viruses that have been in a host for a long time are less likely to cause disease. For example, HIV jumped into humans from wild primates, in whose bodies it wasn’t causing any disease.
3. Why is it so important to know the original source?
If the virus comes from an animal, knowing what that animal is can help break the chain of infection. Knowing the source also helps scientists understand mutations that might have occurred in the virus’ genome. That’s because host-jumping affects the variation in a virus genome. When a virus has been in its host for a long time, the genome is fine-tuned to that host, and mutations are not tolerated.
4. SARS was a formidable foe, and then seemed to disappear. Why?
Measures to contain SARS started early, and they were very successful. The key is to stop the chain of transmission by isolating infected individuals. SARS had a short incubation period; people generally showed symptoms in two to seven days. There were no documented cases of anyone being a source of SARS without showing symptoms.
Stopping the chain of transmission is much more difficult when the incubation time is much longer, or when some people don’t get symptoms at all. This may be the case with the virus causing CoVID-19, so stopping it may take more time.
5. What is the best way to treat viruses?
Viruses don’t respond to antibiotics, and in some cases taking antibiotics can make things worse, because the normal bacteria in the gut are an important part of the immune response. Antiviral drugs can work with some viruses, but the mutation rate of most viruses means that they become resistant to antivirals very quickly.
The best treatment is to give the patient the best tools to allow their own body to fight off the infection. This usually means rest and keeping hydrated. Virus infection can suppress the immune system, so patients should be monitored for secondary infections that might require other treatments. Prevention is important. Sick people need to be isolated, and healthy people need to take precautions.
Most respiratory viruses are not transmitted just by breathing them in from sick people, but by getting them on your hands from tiny droplets that sick people distribute by coughing or sneezing, and then touching your face. Good hand-washing is important!
FromThe High Country News [March 24, 2020] (Craig Childs):
People have been trying to get outdoors during this COVID-19 pandemic, and I don’t blame them. Without fresh air to breathe, clear sunlight or mist on our eyelids, I don’t think we can remain sane. And we need a sane population. Especially now.
All over the country, beaches and parks are closed, warning tape is wrapped around playgrounds. People are trying to get out, but not finding any place to go to. Central Park remains open, and New York City has been asked by its mayor to close certain streets to vehicles so people can get out and walk. In the San Francisco Bay area, where shelter-in-place orders are in effect, residents are still being told that parks are open and to go enjoy them — with certain caveats: The restrooms aren’t open, and neither are the trashcans, and don’t hike in groups.
In the West, we’ve got plenty of space. But are we supposed to be using it? We’re hearing different messages. There’s been a pushback against recreating on public lands, mostly from gateway communities receiving visitors they don’t want, even as people are being encouraged to enjoy parks and open spaces where they can keep a safe distance from others. Most national parks remain open, and entry fees have been waived.
So which is it? Stay indoors, or go outside? If you go out for a walk, you might hear someone shouting at you from a window, “What don’t you understand about just stay home?”
Moab was overwhelmed by tourists — a madhouse, I’m told, which is significant when you hear it from a Moab local. Last week, it became too much, and all tourist services were closed down. Mayor Emily Niehaus announced, “Moab is asking people to please stay in their home community.” The Southeast Utah Health Department halted visitor recreation, restaurants were closed or limited to curbside, camping and hotels across multiple counties were closed to non-locals, and visitors centers have shut down. Everybody, go home. Is home restricted to the indoors, or does it include the spaces around you?
I believe in the right to be outside, but at this moment it shouldn’t be exercised through visitor centers and bottlenecks. Forget the parks; seek out the spaces in between, the backyards and alleys. It’s a great time to explore an irrigation ditch or the woods at the edge of town — to see what’s around you. Be as local as you can. If you’re heading to Red Mountain Pass to ski between Silverton and Ouray, Colorado, and you have out-of-county plates, the San Juan County Sheriff’s Office will place a yellow slip on your windshield reading, “San Juan County Colorado is enacting a LOCALS ONLY order until further notice due to the COVID-19 Virus crisis.” Further down the slip, it notes, “Failure to comply with this order will result in charges with the potential of 1 year in prison, and a $1,000 fine.”
In southwest Colorado, as in much of the West, we’re fortunate to live in a nest of public lands with few trails or kiosks, mostly dirt roads with random pullouts — the spaces managed by the Bureau of Land Management. When I hear “shelter in place,” I think of this place. How far does that legally, ethically extend?
A couple of days ago, my gal and I met up with two friends, another couple sheltering at home, and drove separately to a rock scarp near where we live. We kept 6 feet or more between us at all times, handing nothing back and forth without an antibacterial wipe. The air we breathed was cavernous, a sandstone canyon without a trail or a sign, a place where you’d rarely see footprints. For half a day, we scrambled over boulders and took pictures of rock and sky. I took more caution than I normally would, limiting the risk, because you don’t want to take any resources from rescue workers who already have tough jobs to do. On our hike, we recounted the weeks since we’d seen each other last, catching up on the stories under the vault of the sky. This, I believe, is sanity. As far as I’ve heard, what we did is neither illegal or unhealthy. Perhaps it’s not unethical, either.
I realize not everybody can do this; the out-of-doors comes in degrees. Sometimes just standing on a sidewalk and staring into the sky makes a world of difference.
Currently, federal land agencies, including the National Park Service, defer to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for social-distancing guidelines. But for those wondering about going out farther than their own back-forty, Colorado Parks and Wildlife put out simple guidelines reflecting outdoor recommendations from groups and agencies around the West.
In a nutshell:
If you are sick, stay home.
Keep a social distance from others.
Avoid high-risk or remote activities.
Announce your presence to others.
Avoid times and places of high use.
Practice good hand hygiene.
Be kind. Say hi.
A key bullet point is “stay regional.” How big is a region? Where do you usually travel for groceries? In some of these big Western counties, a hundred miles or more can be your region. In Denver, I figure this means your city and the land immediately around it; Front Range residents are advised to avoid traveling to the high country or to small mountain communities closed to visitors. In the Pacific Northwest, permits are still being given for the Pacific Crest Trail. Online battles are raging between those leaving the trail — who are being called “quitters” — and those staying on it, who are being accused of selfishly making coronavirus and its host of difficulties worse.
In other words, there’s no official definition. One good answer came from a friend in Trinidad, Colorado: “If someone gets to a spot and there are a bunch of people there, you should immediately go somewhere else.”
I was probably one of the last groups to leave the southeast Utah backcountry late last week. I came out with participants in a wilderness archaeology program. We traveled through the town of Bluff to see what was happening, and we found a pandemic in progress: People were telling us to go home, to stay put in Utah, to go back to the wilderness where we’d been living happily for the last five days. Airplanes were still flying, so civilization was still intact. But answers were hard to find. We all headed back home, which sent us in every direction but kept us out of the hair of the locals, which seems to be the major issue. Small gateway communities do not need the strain on their groceries, gas or medical services.
If you’re looking for justification to take a trip to the backcountry, leaving your area to go through someone else’s, this isn’t it. Stay in your home terrain. If where you live has backcountry wrapped around it, or a trail that’s open and uncrowded, or just some woods to walk through, I consider that an extension of home. It may not be true for most of us, but many live out here on the margins. And all of us, I hope, can reach the outdoors in some form, because sanity is also necessary for health.
Craig Childs writes about adventure, wilderness, and science. Craig’s newest book, Atlas of a Lost World: Travels in Ice Age America, explores the arrivals of humans into a new hemisphere during the late Pleistocene. Craig teaches writing at the University of Alaska and in the Mountainview MFA program at Southern New Hampshire University and lives off the grid in western Colorado. Email High Country News at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Become a certified Bicycle-Friendly Driver with Bicycle Colorado and help make Colorado’s roads safer for everyone!
About this Event
After certifying 1,700 Bicycle-Friendly Drivers in 2019, Bicycle Colorado is excited to continue to support drivers through our first virtual course. We will cover laws and safe practices for both road users, how to navigate on-street bicycle infrastructure and how to avoid common crashes between drivers and bicyclists. At the end of the webinar, we will complete an exam and passing participants will receive a certificate to demonstrate their new knowledge.
Through evaluations, all ages and levels of drivers (and bicyclists!) have shared that they benefited from the course and that content should be mandatory for everyone on our roads.
This is a free course funded by New Belgium Brewing. Thank you to those who still choose to donate to support Bicycle Colorado’s work creating safer streets!
Registrants will receive an email by Friday morning with a participation link and details.
Contact Education and Safety Director Mo McCanna with questions at email@example.com.
Click here to read the current assessment. Click here to go to the NIDIS website hosted by the Colorado Climate Center. Here’s the summary:
Summary: March 24, 2020
Much of the Intermountain West experienced an active storm pattern last week, with widespread areas receiving between half an inch and inch of moisture. Month-to-date, the majority of the region has received at least an inch of moisture, with some higher elevations seeing over 2 inches. Some areas of Wyoming, southeast CO, and spots in western Utah have been a bit drier for the month. For most of the Intermountain West, temperatures have been above average since the beginning of March.
Snowpack throughout the Upper Colorado River Basin is in good condition. The northern basins have reached their seasonal average peaks. Typical snowpack peak time is the first to second week of April, so these basins could be well above peak by the time melting starts. While the Gunnison and San Juan basins were struggling, last week they both received a healthy boost in snowpack and are now near their current average, with a better chance of an average peak.
The outlook calls for more moisture in the next 7 days over the northern mountains of Utah and Colorado and into Wyoming. Arizona and New Mexico will not receive much in the next week. Other areas of concern, such as southeast CO and the Four Corners will also not see much action. With warm, dry, and windy conditions expected over the plains of eastern CO and NM, expect red flag warning days and fire danger to be higher.