When the gale-force winds begin to blow, rains become torrential, and water levels start to rise, it can only mean one thing — tropical storms and hurricane season are upon us. This foul weather can create all sorts of problems, from power outages, spoiled food and medicine, downed trees and limbs, and possible house damage. Unfortunately, it can also affect our drinking water safety by contaminating local water supplies.
How Storms Contaminate Water Supplies
Municipal and private well-water sources can quickly become contaminated in the aftermath of a hurricane or tropical storm. Worse, these effects can linger for years, causing health issues that are not easily reversed and can even lead to death.
This can all happen relatively quickly. When intense storms hit a vulnerable area, the water surge can cause a drastic increase in contamination levels. Rising waters and floods can make wastewater treatment plants, hazardous waste sites, sewers, agricultural lands, and animal feeding operations overflow, carrying pollutants into waterways and contaminating the water supplies with sewage, chemicals, heavy metals, and pathogenic microorganisms.
If a storm is especially powerful, municipal water treatment facilities may cease to run at their regular capacity. And even if they do continue to operate as usual, storm damage and flooding can still taint water lines.
Utilize your local news and social media resources for announcements about the safety of your public water supply. After a major storm, local water treatment plants will be working overtime to handle the amount of contamination coming in.
If you use water from a well, it is recommended that you have the water tested and the well disinfected after a major storm. Just be sure to wait until the bad weather passes and flood levels disperse and return to normal. If you have questions about your well water and testing, contact your local or state health department.
Keeping an Emergency Water Supply
Access to clean water is essential. Our bodies need water to survive, and during a crisis, the lack of a safe water source can quickly spiral into a dangerous problem.
So, how much water should you have on hand in case of an emergency? The Red Cross and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend a minimum of one gallon per day for each family member, storing at least a 3-day supply. If you have the space, then store more. You might also need water for cooking and hygiene. To avoid possible contamination, keep any bottled, store-bought water in a dark, dry place.
How to Prepare Water for Drinking or Cooking
Sometimes after a tropical storm or hurricane, a “Boil Water Advisory” will go into effect. Using bottled water from a reliable source is ideal but is not always accessible or practical.
Here are some general rules concerning water usage after a storm:
- Do not consume any water that isn’t bottled, boiled, or treated.
- Don’t use contaminated water to brush your teeth, wash dishes or food, make ice, or cook.
- If you are boiling your water, the CDC recommends bringing it to a rolling boil for at least one minute to kill bacteria, parasites, and infectious germs.
- If boiling water is not an option, you can treat your water with iodine tablets or with chlorine. If you are using chlorine, mix ⅛ teaspoon of unscented household bleach for each gallon of water. (For your safety when using this method, it’s vital that you only use regular, unscented chlorine bleach products that are marked on the label as being suitable for disinfection and sanitization.) After mixing the solution thoroughly, let stand for approximately 30 minutes. If you are planning on storing your chlorine-treated water, use a container that has a cap or cover to prevent contamination.
- Before using any containers to store your treated water, they should all be rinsed with a bleach solution to ensure you are not contaminating your treated water.
- After the boil water advisory is lifted, you should flush any plumbing and appliances in your home that are connected to your waterline. This includes refrigerators, washing machines, and dishwashers. Run an empty load of laundry or dishes, and flush sinks, hoses, and refrigerator dispensers by running all cold-water faucets for at least five minutes.
How to Disinfect a Well Water System
As with municipal water treatment plants, sewage systems are heavily impacted when there is a storm surge. The potential for overgrowth of bacteria is even higher in private well systems. And unfortunately, most well water systems are interconnected. So even if your well is not directly contaminated, if neighboring wells were, the contaminants can make their way into your supply.
If you suspect you have a contaminated well, contact your local or state health department or agricultural extension agent for specific information on inspecting and disinfecting your well. If possible, use a certified water well professional to clean the pump, flush the system, and disinfect the well.
Disinfecting your own contaminated well can be a risky prospect and isn’t recommended. If you do not have access to certified professionals, proceed cautiously. Because electrical shock can occur, you should not attempt to repair the well system yourself unless you have experience with this type of work.
If you do have experience with well systems, there are steps you can take to ensure a well is back to safe standards. With a well water system, it is essential to disinfect both the well and the plumbing with 4-6% unscented chlorine household bleach. The following are the recommended steps to disinfecting effectively:
- Turn on the water and run it until it is clear for at least 10 minutes.
- Chlorine is ineffective in water above 105℉, so turn off and drain your water heater.
- Turn off the electricity to the well area and inspect all electric connections for moisture and breaks in the insulation. Connections must be dry and unbroken.
- To avoid any contamination during the disinfection process, clean around the top of the well and remove grease and mineral deposits from the wellhead. Make a solution by mixing five gallons of water with ½ cup of laundry bleach and wipe down and flush all the outside surfaces.
- Turn off the well pump and remove the cap or the plug on the rubber seal.
- Take one gallon of unscented household bleach and, using a funnel, add it to the well. If chlorine gets on the pump or any wiring, flush it thoroughly with clean water to prevent decay.
- Plug or re-cap the well opening and wait 30 minutes.
- Turn on and re-prime the pump if needed.
- One by one, turn on all the faucets and allow the water to run until there is a noticeable chlorine smell. If you do not detect a chlorine odor, re-chlorinate the well.
- Turn off the faucets and allow the chlorine to remain in the plumbing system for at least eight hours before opening them back up. Run the water until the chlorine smell has dissipated. This usually takes at least 15-20 minutes.
- If you also have a water filtration system, remove and replace all membranes, cartridges, and filters after completing the chlorination process.
- Before deeming the water safe for drinking and cooking, test it for potential contaminants to ensure proper disinfection. Although chlorine bleach will kill off microorganisms, it is not effective against chemical contamination.
The Science of Water
Installing a whole house filtration system in your home can help ease your worries about drinking water safety, even after a storm. At The Science of Water, we utilize innovative NASA technology with Puronics water treatment and filtration systems, ensuring the cleanest, purest water for you and your family.
Visit our website to set up a free water test, and we will work with you to determine which of our products are best for you and your home. Contact us online or call us at (352) 745-7070 or (904) 580-0000 to get started on the journey to clean water today!
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