How to Avoid Contaminated Water After a Natural Disaster

contaminated water

This year has wreaked havoc on the southern states due to all of the hurricanes and tropical storms. After the storms have passed and everyone emerges to see the damage done, they are often taken aback by the tasks of cleanup and rebuilding. While people come together and get to work, there are things that can often go unnoticed in the workload of helping the community get back on its feet. One of the factors that can often get overlooked is the availability of clean and uncontaminated water.

The threat to a clean water supply is a major concern for communities hit by a natural disaster. Accidentally consuming contaminated water can lead to serious health problems, like reproductive issues as well as gastrointestinal illness, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). If a community is struck with the issue of contaminated water, these contaminates can sometimes cause diseases to spread in the community, such as cholera, hepatitis, and dysentery. These diseases tend to hit children and the elderly especially hard, so it is important to make sure you take the proper steps as a citizen and as a community to ensure that everyone is safe from contaminated water.

What Causes Water Contamination?

There are several things that can cause water sources to become contaminated:

  • A broken pipe by a washout or uprooted tree can lead to a sewage spill or low water pressure. This puts the utilities at risk for contamination.
  • Having a lack of water pressure in the water system can also increase the likelihood of dirty storm water leaking into the water lines.

How Do You Know the Water is Contaminated?

There are a few ways to know if a water source is contaminated and not safe for use:

  • You should first assume after a natural disaster that any water coming out of your faucet is potentially contaminated.
  • The water can appear dark and cloudy.
  • The water can have an odd smell.
  • You can purchase a water testing kit or call in a professional to test your water for you (though they are likely to be very busy at this time!)

What Steps Can Be Taken to Ensure Clean Water?

The first thing you should do if you know a natural disaster is headed your way is to start storing water in coolers, your freezer, and any other clean container you can find that holds water. FEMA recommends that you have on hand 3 days worth of water per person and to store it in a cool, dry place. The average person needs 3/4 of a gallon of liquid per day for consumption. However, stored water is recommended not only for drinking but for person hygiene as well, so take that into consideration when determining amounts. If you are someone who lives in a hot climate, FEMA also recommends that you double your bottled water supply.

If you find yourself without a dedicated water source, there are some other options to consider around the house. FEMA considers the use of melted ice cubes, liquid from canned fruits and vegetables, as well as water drained from pipes or a water heater to be safe water sources.

Using Water After the Disaster

Should you need to use the water from your faucet or well after a natural disaster, there are several things you can do to make sure it is clear of contaminates and safe to use.

  1. You can boil the water for one minute, allow it to cool, and then store it in a clean container.
  2. Adding 8 drops of liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of clear water or 16 drops per gallon of cloudy water will disinfect the water of contaminates. Only use clear, unscented bleach, and allow the liquid to stand for several hours before use.
  3. You can also add water purification tablets and let the water stand for a full 30 minutes before you use it.
  4. To distill water, fill a pot half full with water and tie a cup to the handle on the pot’s lid so that the cup is right side up when the lid is on the pot. Boil the water for 20 minutes. During this boil, any water that drips from the lid into the cup is distilled and safe to use.

Regardless of these steps, it is advised that people should avoid all contact with the water supply if there is a Do Not Use notice, because at this point, boiling the water may not destroy all contaminates. If you want a more in-depth look at certain disinfection methods, check out Advanced Water Solutions’ blog here.

Natural Disaster Water Statistics

Over the years, people have seen just what a hurricane or tropical storm can do to a community’s local water supply and the people who live there. Here are some statistics from previous hurricane disasters across the world:

  • According to the EPA, there were more than 690 drinking water and waste utilities across a total of 11 states and Washington DC that were impacted after Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
  • The months following Hurricane Matthew in Haiti, there was and outbreak of cholera for thousands of people due to lack of clean drinking water or the resources to get access to it.

These numbers are staggering and just go to show how important it is to stock up on clean water while you can, and have enough on hand should you need it after a disaster.

The bottom line is: if you are in the path of a hurricane or tropical storm or live in an area where natural disasters like this commonly occur, it is in your best interest to be well stocked on bottled water or coolers of water. Make sure you are prepared using the steps above in the days after a disaster to get clean water, and always follow the guidelines set up when using water from your faucet. It is better to be safe than sorry when it comes to contaminated water.