COVID-19 monitoring in wastewater

Wastewater treatment plant with Colorado front range in the background

The state is looking to use the latest lab technology to test for COVID-19 virus particles in wastewater. The virus can appear in poop before someone shows any symptoms. People who don’t show symptoms also can shed the virus. Testing wastewater can give health officials early warnings about increases or decreases in COVID-19 cases within a community. With this information, health officials can:

  • Increase resource capacity in the community if there is an increase in cases. 
  • Re-evaluate closure and social distancing measures if there is a decrease in cases.
  • Use information to track virus trends across communities.

Using federal and state funding and in-kind resources, the state is partnering with 17 wastewater utilities, and Colorado State and Metro State universities, to track the COVID-19 virus particles in wastewater. 

Simplified graphic of a community sewage system and the location of where the sample is taken, before the wastewater is treated

Frequently asked questions

We are aware other states, including Massachusetts, Virginia, Arizona, and Utah, are exploring this idea and are in various stages of implementation. Some states and countries in Europe have found wastewater monitoring can possibly provide early warnings of a COVID-19 outbreak or downward trends. 

  • The state is partnering with 17 utilities, which represent 60-65% of Colorado’s population, and Colorado State University, and Metropolitan State University of Denver. The wastewater entities include:
    • City of Aurora Sand Creek Reuse Facility
    • City of Boulder Water Resource Recovery Facility 
    • Boxelder Sanitation District  
    • City and County of Broomfield Wastewater Reclamation Facility
    • City and County of Denver
    • Colorado Springs Utilities Resource Recovery Facilities 
    • Estes Park Sanitation District Wastewater Treatment Facility
    • Upper Thompson Sanitation District Wastewater Treatment Facility
    • City of Ft. Collins Mulberry and Drake Water Reclamation Facility
    • City of Greeley Wastewater Treatment and Reclamation Facility
    • City of Longmont Wastewater Treatment Plant
    • City of Louisville Wastewater Treatment Plant
    • Metro Wastewater Reclamation District 
    • City of Pueblo Water Reclamation Facility
    • Cities of Littleton and Englewood South Platte Renewal Partners
    • South Fort Collins Sanitation District
    • South Adams County Water and Sanitation District

Once we launch the program, we need enough results generated over a period of time, from the same locations, to establish trends. This could take several or more months of weekly sampling.  

With the 17 entities, we are at capacity with both funding and at the labs. The first step is to work with these partners to get lab capacity, protocols, and other infrastructure in place. In the future, we hope to have a platform for more reasonably priced and coordinated testing for other Colorado utilities as well as additional lab capacity.

The $520,000, is comprised of both Federal CARES act and state funding. Participating entities will provide in-kind services.