Orange County Utilities COVID-19 Wastewater Sampling Program

The Story Our Wastewater Tells

We can learn a lot by studying our community's wastewater. It's like taking a public health snapshot without having to test individuals. Wastewater sampling shows what infectious diseases, including different variants, are present and spreading in the community. Over 870,000 people in Orange County Utilities service areas generate a total of over 62 million gallons of wastewater each day. Samples collected at our four regional water reclamation facilities are sent to external labs for testing.

The service area for each regional water reclamation facility is shown on the map below. Scroll down to see sampling results for different infectious diseases in each service area.

Water sampling image

Frequently Asked Questions

Why does Orange County test our wastewater?
There are many valuable reasons to conduct wastewater sampling:
  • It provides early detection of increasing cases of infectious diseases. This information can be used to prepare health care providers and hospital systems for an increase in visits and hospitalizations.
  • It can detect infection in a community whether people have symptoms or not, and it does not rely on people having access to health care, visiting a doctor, or taking a test to detect the illness.
  • It is fast and efficient.
  • It can be used to track emerging health threats and variants.
How are viruses detected in wastewater?

People with certain infections, such as COVID-19, can shed pieces of the virus or bacteria when they use the bathroom, shower, wash hands, or launder clothing, even if they don’t have symptoms. These pieces of the virus or bacteria travel from the toilet, sink, shower, or other drain through the sewer system. Before this wastewater is treated, Utilities staff collects samples to send out for lab testing. Laboratories test the samples to detect and report on the different types of infections circulating in the community.

What does Orange County do with this data?

Sampling results are published on this page and immediately shared with public health officials. Public health officials use the wastewater data to better understand disease trends in communities and prepare to take action to address increasing cases of infectious disease.