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Close to Home: Essential, reliable, clean — even during pandemics

An old friend called me a couple of days ago. In these days of virtual socializing, I thought he was just phoning to check in. Actually, he was reaching out as an employee of a senior residential home, wanting to know if our drinking water is safe. As the general manager of Sonoma Water, this was the easiest question I've been asked during the past month. Yes, I told him, our drinking water is absolutely safe.

Unfortunately, my buddy isn't the only person who is questioning the safety and reliability of our community drinking water. We've all seen the photos of empty store shelves and of shopping carts weighed down by cases of bottled water. While we recommend that people follow disaster preparedness guidelines and always have an emergency supply of water available, there is no need to drink bottled water during this pandemic.

Sonoma Water, which supplies water to cities, towns and water districts that serve more than 600,000 people in Sonoma and Marin counties, wants to make it abundantly clear that our water is safe, reliable, clean and a lot less expensive than bottled water.

The water supplied by Sonoma Water is pumped from collector wells near the Russian River through 80 to 100 feet of sand and gravel where it is naturally filtered. As required by state law, chlorine is added to kill any lingering pathogens - including the coronavirus. Sonoma Water and the communities we serve test our drinking water regularly to ensure disinfection standards required by the state are met.

Not only are the systems in place to protect our water supply, but we also have the right people on the job. Water operators go through rigorous certification and training programs to ensure our water is safe and available, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They've kept our taps flowing during droughts, floods, and fires - and they will do so through this pandemic.

Here at Sonoma Water and at many of the cities and water districts we serve, most staff are telecommuting while those key workers who must physically be on the job site are practicing social distancing. We've also developed protocols and backup plans in case water operators become ill.

Still concerned? The Environmental Protection Agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization and nonprofit organizations such as the Association of California Water Agencies agree that municipal drinking water is safe. As I told my friend: There are a lot of things that people need to worry about right now, but turning on your tap is not one of them.

Grant Davis is general manager of Sonoma Water, which delivers water to cities and water districts in Sonoma and Marin counties.

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