Safe Drinking Water After an Emergency
Major natural disasters can cause serious structural damage, limiting or disrupting water service to homes and buildings. Cracked water lines can also allow contaminants to enter the water system. It is likely to take at least several days if not longer to restore service to most homes. As such, storing water is key.
Most emergency management offices recommend having enough drinkable water stored for at least 72hrs. This means having at least one gallon per person per day. Storable emergency drinking water comes in many forms. You can find it individual pouches, bottled, or larger gallons, and multi-gallon containers.
If you run out or don’t have enough water stored to last until water service is restored, you’ll want to make sure your drinking source is purified. The two main ways to purify your water is either through heat or chemicals.
Boiling water is the most reliable way to remove contaminants such as pathogens. After straining the water to remove debris and sediment boil the water for at least one minute. Note that boiling water will not remove any chemical contaminants.
The second form of purification is chemical if boiling water is not an option. There are several ways to chemically treat water.
- Unscented liquid household bleach: Add 8 drops of chlorine bleach per gallon of water, or if the water is cloudy add 16 drops. Shake and allow the water to sit for 30 minutes. Water should have a slight chlorine smell afterward.
- Iodine: If you have Iodine in your medicine cabinet you can also use it to treat your water. Add five drops of 2% tincture of iodine to each quart or liter of water that you are disinfecting. If the water is cloudy or colored, add 10 drops of iodine. Stir and let the water stand for at least 30 minutes before use.
- Water disinfection tablets: Potable water tablets usually contain chlorine, iodine, chlorine dioxide, or other disinfecting agents. You’ll find a container of these tablets in each Prepared Cascadia go-bag. Each type of tablet will have its own set of instructions, make sure to read the bottle for the correct usage.
Once you run out of stored water, you’ll have to find alternative sources if the tap is still not running. With all these alternative water sources it is important to filter and decontaminate before drinking.
- The water heater: Water heaters provide one of the largest alternative sources, typically containing 30-80gallons of water. Use the drain outlet to siphon off the water.
- Ice cubes: If you have ice available in your freezer let it thaw out for another water source.
- Canned Veggies: Canned vegetables contain a decent amount of water. The water from the can may be used as an alternative to source as well.
- River or lake water: Here in Portland we are blessed by a number of large bodies of water. Make sure to draw water from flowing water sources, not stagnant. Stagnant water allows for more bacteria growth.
- Toilet tanks: The tank of your toilet may also contain water you can use. Make sure to only use the tank water and NOT the water from the bowl. Do not use the water if it contains chemicals such as disinfectants.
- Pools & Spas: These should only be used as a last resort for drinking water, but are typically considered unsafe.
At the end of the day, it is important to avoid any suspicious water sources. Illness caused by containment water sources can be life-threatening.