What to Do When You Can’t Drink the Water

Many disasters and emergencies cause drinking water outages or possible contamination.

Natural disasters like hurricanes, earthquakes or tornados often cause water pipes to break. Forces of nature can rip the pipes right out of the ground or topple water towers. The water may be off during and after a disaster for days or weeks. Even construction work can leave you with no water coming out of the tap.

Broken water mains leave opportunities for contaminants to enter the water. Though uncommon, tampering, treatment plant problems, or cross connections between drinking water and contaminated sources can also pollute your drinking water.

Pay Attention to Water Notices

Your water provider will notify you if there’s a potential problem with the water. It’s very important to follow instructions on the notice. After tests show the water is safe, you’ll get a notice that you can drink and use the water once again.

Types of notices include:

Precautionary Boil Water Notice –  this is the most common notification, and should be delivered any time the water system loses most of its pressure. Pressure loss occurs during a large water main break, or an outage caused by construction, or a natural disaster. It means, while there is no evidence of water contamination, you should boil your water until the utility runs tests to verify the water is safe to drink.

Do Not Drink the Water Notice – If an unknown contaminant has been introduced into the water, your utility provider may tell you not to drink the water. Don’t try to treat the water yourself by boiling or any other means. Do not use the water for drinking, preparing food, brushing your teeth or making ice.

Do Not Use the Water – An even more dire circumstance, where the water may be contaminated with something that could be harmful to handle. Avoid all contact with the water.

Prepare for Water Outages and Contamination

Water should be at the top of your priority list when making your emergency plans.

Your survival kit should always include plenty of bottled water—at least one gallon per person per day for at least three days. Consider your pets also. More is better if you have room for storage, especially if you live in a hot climate.

If you’re under a Boil Water Notice, but can’t boil the water because of a power outage, you can use chemicals for disinfection. Keep a gallon of non-scented chlorine bleach in your kit. Use 8 drops per gallon (about 1/8 teaspoon) to disinfect the water.

You can also use tincture of iodine from your first aid kit to disinfect water at 5 drops per quart of water.

Or you may wish to purchase commercially available chlorine or iodine tablets to keep in your survival kit.