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Snyderville Water District wants to expand wastewater testing beyond COVID-19

Water that has been treated at the Water Reclamation District rushes into East Canyon Creek.
Water Reclamation District
Treated water at the Water Reclamation District rushes into East Canyon Creek.

Local wastewater treatment plants are still measuring COVID-19 levels. They want to test for more viruses.

The Snyderville Basin Water Reclamation District Director Mike Luers said the organization has seen an increase in COVID-19 levels at both its treatment plants. During May, the East Canyon facility dropped down a little bit and the Silver Creek facility saw levels increase.

“This is a trend that we've been seeing pretty much for the last couple of months, where we see a little bit of increase, and it drops back down,” Luers said. “But I think it's a reminder for folks that SARS-CoV-2 virus is still with us.”

Luers said Coalville has low COVID-19 levels and the Wasatch County Health Department is reporting low concentrations for Heber and Midway as well. Further, despite COVID-19 not being as much of a concern these days, Luers said the local water district and other similar entities will continue to test for the virus.

“It's been proven that you can look at wastewater as kind of the canary in the coal mine type situation, where, if you're not looking only for, say, SARS-CoV-2, but you're looking for polio or influenza or resistant bacteria, wastewater is a good place to see what's happening with the general population,” he said.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is currently developing wastewater-based epidemiology projects to expand testing to other viruses. The federal agency recently expanded the Airport Genomic Surveillance Project to test wastewater for new SARS-CoV-2 variations at eight international airports in the U.S. The program is meant to serve as a warning system for other viral outbreaks.

Luers said the CDC tests the total wastewater coming out of the airports, but also tests specific airport wings.

“if a particular terminal, say, serves international travel from Africa or Asia or wherever, and they pick up something, at least, you kind of get an idea of get an idea of where it's coming from,” he said. 

Luers said the United States Agency of International Development is monitoring wastewater in other parts of the world to prevent the spread of zoonotic diseases, which jump from animals to humans like Ebola.

The Salt Lake County Health Department tests wastewater samples from Summit County using funding from the CDC and Luers said he hopes the organization will provide more funding to test for more viruses.