The Rural Community Assistance Partnership announced in July 2020 it was sourcing and donating 40,000 N95 masks to frontline water operators in partnership with Xylem Watermark and 120Water, the digital water platform.
In August 2020, Xylem donated an additional 65,000, which RCAP was able to coordinate with 120Water to distribute in response to continued spikes seen in rural communities. By November 2020, 105,000 masks had been distributed to utilities in 46 states, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Eighty-eight percent of the requests from communities came from drinking water or wastewater systems serving populations of 3300 or less. There are approximately 150,000 public water systems across the United States, and 97 percent of them serve communities of 10,000 or less — the majority of which provide services to 3300 or fewer users.
RCAP, Xylem Watermark, and 120Water began this program after seeing the unique challenges rural communities were facing in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. In May 2020, RCAP surveyed rural and tribal water and wastewater systems it was working with to understand the impact of COVID-19 on these small systems. More than 43 percent of systems surveyed said they rely on one-full time operator or less to operate their system. Many systems rely on part-time staff and operators, or volunteers. Respondents expressed concern over the health of their operators in the maintenance of the system. The survey also specifically asked about access to equipment and other services, and access to PPE was identified as the top issue confronting these systems.
“The role of water in community health and resilience has grown during the pandemic,” said Joe Vesey, Xylem’s chief marketing officer and chair of Xylem Watermark. “This PPE initiative is one part of our efforts to support the health and safety of essential water operators as they serve their communities. A safe working environment is fundamental to providing safe water and sanitation to our communities. By combining our efforts with innovative partners like RCAP and 120Water, and with hard-working local utilities, we are one step closer to solving water in our communities.”