Don’t drink that water!


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Drop of water from faucet

Stop! Don’t drink that water!

No matter where you live, you could experience a WATER EMERGENCY any day of the week. Why, in just the last couple of weeks, for example . . .

Boil water alerts have happened in Richmond, KY, in Detroit, MI and in Cocoa, FL. Where I live in Southern California, water main breaks took place in Reseda, Gardena and right on Wilshire Blvd in Los Angeles.

These are not your extraordinary natural disasters.

We have all been sensitized to the need for clean water in a wide-spread emergency. We watched as the people of Beaumont, TX struggled without their water system for 10 days after it was flooded. And we are still watching the people in Puerto Rico for whom water of any quality is nearly impossible to get.

We understand what happened in these places, devastated by historic floods and storms.

Today we are taking a look at local problems.

Rather than a huge catastrophe, it’s more likely that we’ll need to be ready for a localized water problem.

Most of these local problems stem from two things:

  1. A water main break, a repair, or regular maintenance that shuts the system down
  2. An electrical power outage to a water plant or facility

Whenever the water pressure in the system drops, no matter from whatever cause, the water can be contaminated – mostly with dirt and/or bacteria.

What are the signs of danger?

You don’t need to wait for an official news announcement. Sometimes, accidents happen and you will know before the authorities do.

= Your water pressure drops suddenly.

If you notice an unannounced and dramatic drop in water pressure, we recommend you instantly turn off your water to protect the water already in your home’s system. You can always turn it on again later.

= Your water turns murky.

You may see unusual foreign matter in your water. That murkiness is called “turbidity.”  Don’t drink this water – and start thinking about a way to filter it to remove the junk. (More below . . .)

= Your water contains bacteria, parasites, etc.

Unfortunately, your water could contain all kinds of dangerous microorganisms and still look clear and clean. (My son came down with giardia when he got water in his mouth from a high mountain stream. He wasn’t even drinking it – but the resulting diarrhea put him into the hospital for 6 days!)

When water comes through a properly-operating system, these contaminants are removed. If the system fails, so does any guarantee of cleanliness.

That’s when you could get a Boil Water Alert.

If there’s a possibility that your water system has failed or your supply is contaminated, you could get a Boil Water Alert. Officially announced or not, you have several options.

Option One. Switch immediately to bottled/stored water that you know is clean. Use it for drinking, cooking, and washing. This is an emergency; that’s why you have emergency supplies! (If you haven’t put together supplies in advance, and you have to head to the store to buy them, you may be shocked to discover high prices, or worse, empty shelves.)

Option Two. Boil your drinking water until you know your water is safe. Bring water to a rolling boil, boil for one minute, then let cool down. Use this boiled water for drinking, brushing your teeth, preparing food, etc. Do NOT use your dishwasher, ice that was recently made, etc.

Option Three. Disinfect your water if you can’t boil it. One alternative is to add 1/8 teaspoon of regular, unscented household chlorine bleach to a gallon of water. Mix and let stand for 30 minutes before you use it. If you need to, strain cloudy water through a cloth or filter paper before you disinfect it.

You can also disinfect water with water purification tablets. Easy to carry and manage, they are designed to be used in bottles and canteens; just make sure they dissolve completely! (Keep reading for more on water purification.)

How long will you need to boil, disinfect, etc.?

The methods listed above will work well for a day-long water outage, or a week-end camping trip. However, depending on them for days or even weeks at a time will be trying, at best.

If you receive a Boil Water Alert, you can assume it will last for at least 3 days. It takes 48 hours for water quality test results to come back!

If the emergency is much bigger or more serious, you need to have plans for the long term. As you know, it’s recommended that you plan for a gallon of water a day for each person in your family. A family of four, for 3 days, needs 12 gallons. If the emergency lasts 10 days (which is what I think you should plan for), you’ll need 40 gallons. That is a lot!

Now, first off, I would assess my water supplies. Some of your water supplies may be of better quality than others. I’d plan to use “pure” water for drinking and cooking, but would consider using a lesser quality water – like from the rain barrel — for washing my feet. (Obviously, water that you know is contaminated with toxins or dangerous chemicals should not be used at all.)

Maybe your family of 4 doesn’t really need 40 gallons of pure drinkable water. But it still needs that much total water.

How to manage your need for gallons and gallons of water?

Here are a number of suggestions for sources of emergency water. I hope these are all familiar to you! But the question is, have you taken action to be sure they are available for your family right now????

Purchase and store bottled water.

You will be tempted to rinse plastic bottles that you’ve emptied of juice, milk, or whatever, and use them to store water.

Don’t.

You will find it nearly impossible to get these containers clean – and thus, the water you store in them will be suspect. Other options may cost more, but you won’t have to worry about ADDING to the emergency with tainted water!

Case of tottled waterOne-time use plastic bottles of water are cheap, readily available, and easy to move, stash around the house, etc. You can keep regular cheap bottles for 6 months; after that, replace with new ones. (Reusing a plastic water bottle isn’t recommended. The cap collects bacteria from your mouth . . .) Square plastic bottles may be a bit sturdier, and are a lot easier to pack/stack.

A 24-bottle case of bottled water is about 3.2 gallons and weighs about 30 pounds. In my neighborhood I can find them on sale for less than $5. A dozen cases would just about meet your 4-person family needs.

Don’t stack these plastic-wrapped cases too high, because they will collapse and break.

Note: Half gallons of water a lot more convenient and efficient, if you can get them.

P.S. If you click on THIS image, you’ll go nowhere. I think you’ll do better to shop locally and bring home cases of water yourself!

Stack water using interlocking water bricks.

 

Having had thin plastic bottles break in my storage shed, I strongly recommend water bricks! (That’s why I’ve included a BIG picture here!) Yes, they are an investment, but are so much more reliable and far more efficient for storage!  They are of heavy plastic and designed to interlock and stack like Legos. (The manufacturer suggests stacking them no more than 4 ft. high.) Each regular brick holds 3.5 gallons, and weighs just over 30 pounds when filled. You can fill with clean water from the tap, seal, and store for several years. Or, add water preserver for more peace of mind.

You can even add a spigot to your order of bricks to make them easier to use.

A dozen or so bricks would work for our example 4-person family for 10 days. Click on the image to get price and details from Amazon.

Store water in a 55 gallon barrel

I’m referring here to barrels that are made specifically for this purpose. (Our neighborhood emergency team was able to make a great group purchase one year. Haven’t found anything like it since!)

You’ll need a spigot and a pump to get the water out of the barrel. And naturally, you won’t be able to move this water supply, since a full barrel weighs over 400 lbs. Find a good spot, place the barrel on a wood platform — a couple of level boards will do — so it doesn’t touch the cement floor, fill it carefully so as not to introduce any dirt, seal closed, and put a cover over it to keep it clean. Refresh your water once a year for best results.

One barrel could serve the needs of a 4-person family for 10 days.

The barrel shown here comes as a kit, complete with a bung wrench (to turn the plugs), a hand-pump, and water preservative. Click on the image to get more info.

Fill the bathtub if you have time!

Now, I wouldn’t necessarily suggest that you DRINK the water you’ve run into your bathtub. After all, just how clean would it be if an emergency were called suddenly? Still, consider buying a bathtub liner designed for this purpose. Open it into the tub, fill from the faucet. Some models have a top to keep the water as clean as possible..

Your bathtub could easily turn out to hold 40 gallons, and maybe even twice that much.

The WaterBob kit shown is designed to hold 100 gallons, and includes a cover and simple pump for conveniently getting just some water out. Click on the image to get all the details of the kit.

Scoop out of the swimming pool? Maybe not.

The water in your pool MIGHT be drinkable if you put some in a glass jar for several hours and let the sun evaporate the chlorine. Still, the chemicals in the water, not to mention ordinary dirt from leaves and dust AND whatever your humans leave behind . . . make this a bad choice for drinking and cooking.

If the electricity is out, then the cleanliness of the pool will deteriorate even more quickly because the pool pump and filters will stop working. Again, filter and clean it as best you can, and then use for purposes other than cooking and drinking.

Turn to collected rainwater, streams and other open sources of water.

Now we’re back to the problem of contamination. The only way you can safely drink even from a clear mountain stream is using a filter. The single-person LifeStraw is the standard – it will filter 1,000 gallons of water before needing to be replaced. You can get the LifeStraw many places for around $20. Naturally, get one for each person.

Not every family member will want to or even be able to use the LifeStraw, and it  won’t put water into a pot for cooking.
In this case, you’ll need a gravity-fed filtration system like the Katadyn or the LifeStraw family-size version. These hanging bags can filter several gallons of water in an hour. The image shows the LIfeStraw model, which filters 9-12 liters/hour. Click on the image to find out more.

With a filter system like this you’ll easily reclaim the 4 gallons a day you need to keep your family going for an extended period.

Purification tablets are a convenient back-up.

Water-borne diseases are the dangerous aftermath of many natural disasters, when people bathe, drink or eat food that has been exposed to infected water. Children are particularly susceptible to the bacteria and protozoa in unclean and unsafe water.

Fortunately, it is easy to add water purification tablets or liquid to your emergency supplies list. Potable Aqua, shown, is a well-respected brand.

At home after the boil-water notice has been lifted?

It will take some flushing to be sure your home systems are clean and ready to go back to work. Some recommendations:

• Flush hot water faucets for 15 minutes, and cold water for 5.
• Change your refrigerator water filter and any other water filters.
• Empty ice cubes, run through a cycle and discard those cubes, too.
• Run your dishwasher empty for a cycle. Then rewash everything that came into contact with water just before the boil-water notice.
• Discard and clean containers, then refill any water used in humidifiers, CPAP machines, electric toothbrushes, etc.

Be ready for a short-term or a long-term outage, and you’ll sail through. If you’re NOT prepared, or your neighbors aren’t prepared, something simple could turn into a real emergency, or even a disaster.

Take action today to store emergency water. It’s easy when everything is operating as it should. When the system is broken, it may be too late.

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S. I didn’t account for the water that pets may need.  Be sure to build that into your plan!

 

 

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