Boil advisories and water contamination issues have become an all too common impact of natural disasters, as seen most recently with the Texas winter storm and 2020 hurricane season. Following an emergency event, communities need access to clean water not only for drinking but also for cooking, cleaning, and medical triage. Most emergency water treatment systems are large and expensive tractor-trailer mounted systems. They can be complicated to operate, requiring specialized knowledge, and may not be able to access hard-to-reach areas devastated by disasters. A common solution for communities struggling with access to clean water during an emergency event is to provide bottled water. However, long-term dependence on bottled water creates a large solid waste disposal problem and only exacerbates debris management following a disaster.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) researchers partnered with WaterStep, a nonprofit whose mission is to provide safe water and sanitation to communities, to develop a modular, mobile water treatment system known as Water on Wheels – Emergency Mobile Water Treatment System (also known as the WOW Cart). This partnership was developed through the Federal Technology Transfer Act cooperative research and development agreement (CRADA), which allows the federal government to work directly with private companies. The WOW Cart is an inexpensive and versatile water treatment system about the size of a shopping cart. It is configured with multiple treatment technologies and is equipped with alternative power sources. The system is easy to operate and can be deployed to critical infrastructure ahead of oncoming natural events, such as hospitals, to build resiliency. This presentation will discuss the development of the WOW Cart and how it has been applied in disaster areas, such as 2020 Hurricane Laura in Louisiana and 2017 Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.