Making Water Safe When Disaster Strikes

Posted Monday, June 30, 2014

After an emergency, such as a flood or earthquake, drinking water may not be available or safe to drink from the tap. As a result, customers may have to find a source of safe drinking water or know how to treat their water for use in certain activities, such as drinking, making ice, washing hands, and brushing teeth. Make sure you are prepared with these simple steps.

Before an EMERGENCY

  • Make sure you have a Disaster Supplies Kit. Be sure to include sanitation and hygiene items.
  • Pack the items in easy-to-carry containers. Duffle bags, backpacks, and covered trash receptacles are good candidates for containers.
  • Label the containers clearly.
  • Store the containers and the rest of your kit where they are easily accessible.

Emergency Water Supply

  • Store at least one gallon of water per day for each person and each pet. You should consider storing more water for pregnant women, and for persons who are sick.
  • Store at least a three-day supply of water for each person and each pet (try to store a two-week supply if possible).
  • Observe the expiration date for store-bought water; replace other stored water every six months.
  • Store a bottle of unscented liquid household chlorine bleach to disinfect your water and to use for general cleaning and sanitizing.

Make Water Safe

Water often can be made safe to drink by boiling, adding disinfectants, or filtering. However, water contaminated with fuel or toxic chemicals will not be made safe by boiling or disinfection; use a different water source.

Boiling

If you don’t have safe bottled water, you should boil water to make it safe. Boiling is the surest method to make water safer to drink by killing disease-causing organisms, including viruses, bacteria, and parasites.

If the water is cloudy,

  • Filter it through a clean cloth, paper towel, or coffee filter or allow it to settle.
  • Draw off the clear water.
  • Bring the clear water to a rolling boil for one minute.
  • Let the boiled water cool.
  • Store the boiled water in clean sanitized containers with tight covers.

If the water is clear,

  • Bring the clear water to a rolling boil for one minute.
  • Let the boiled water cool.
  • Store the boiled water in clean sanitized containers with tight covers.

Disinfectants

If you don’t have safe bottled water and if boiling is not possible, you often can make water safer to drink by using a disinfectant such as unscented household chlorine bleach. These can kill most harmful organisms, such as viruses and bacteria, but are not as effective in controlling more resistant organisms such as the parasites Cryptosporidium and Giardia.

To disinfect water,

  • Filter it through a clean cloth, paper towel, or coffee filter or allow it to settle.
  • Draw off the clear water.
  • To use bleach, add 1/8 teaspoon (or 8 drops) of unscented liquid household chlorine (5-6%) bleach for each gallon of clear water (or 2 drops of bleach for each liter or each quart of water).
  • Stir the mixture well.
  • Let it stand for 30 minutes or longer before you use it.
  • Store the disinfected water in clean sanitized containers with tight covers.

Finding Emergency Water Sources

Alternative sources of clean water can be found inside and outside the home. The following are possible sources of water:

Inside the Home …

  • Water from your home’s water heater tank
  • Melted ice cubes 
  • Water from your home’s toilet tank (not from the bowl), if it is clear and has not been chemically treated with toilet cleaners such as those that change the color of the water
  • Liquid from canned fruit and vegetables

Outside the Home …

  • Rainwater
  • Streams, rivers, and other moving bodies of water
  • Ponds and lakes
  • Natural springs

If the disaster is widespread, listen to your radio or television station for instructions from Skagit PUD and local authorities about the safety of the water supply.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention