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Prepare in a Year: Water

posted Mar 16, 2021, 2:35 PM by Ramona Wheeler   [ updated Mar 16, 2021, 2:41 PM ]
Clean water is essential for life, both for hydration and to prevent the spread of disease. To help combat potential healthcare emergencies when water becomes a precious commodity, clean water storage is a top priority in disaster preparedness.

Each person in a household requires approximately one gallon of water per day for drinking and sanitation, and FEMA recommends you store enough water at least two weeks. Water can be stored in specialized barrels, as well as in screw-top plastic bottles, such as sanitized two-liter soda bottles that are less likely to break or leak. However, please be aware that plastic milk and juice containers are not recommended, as the plastic can become fragile and brittle over time.

To sanitize a two-liter soda bottle, rinse it out with one teaspoon on non-chlorine bleach and one quart of water. Then fill the bottle with clean water and screw the lid on tightly. Label the bottle “drinking water,” put the date on it and store it in a cool, dark place. Empty, sanitize, and refill the bottle every six months to ensure the water remains clean. Bottled water may also be purchased and used for storage. While the FDA does not require expiration dates to be printed on bottled water, it is recommended it be consumed within a two-year period.

Hidden Sources of Water in Your Home
Turning off the main water valve does two things: 
  • It prevents contaminated water from entering the lines in a home; and, 
  • It keeps gravity from draining water out of the home’s lines if there is a break in an outside pipe. 
To turn off the water, locate the main shut-off valve and turn the knob or handle clockwise until it is completely closed. A wrench may be needed to do this. Some older homes may also have a shut-off inside, located in the basement or garage.

Water heaters can provide several gallons of drinking water can be obtained by following these steps:
Determine whether it is an electric or gas-powered water heater. If it is electric, turn off the circuit breaker for the water heater. If it is gas, close the gas valve.
  1. Turn off the water intake valve.
  2. Attach a short hose to the valve at the bottom of the tank to assist with draining. A three-foot length garden hose or washing machine supple hose can be used.
  3. Turn on a hot water faucet in the house to let air into the system.
  4. Drain water from the hot water heater. Hearing a sucking sound in the pipes is likely to occur. Sediment will also likely be in the water that is drained. Use the methods described earlier to clear the water of sediments after allowing them to settle to the bottom of the water.
  5. Refill the tank before turning the electricity or gas back on. REMEMBER, a professional MUST turn the gas back on after it has been turned it off for safety reasons.
Tip: Protect this water source by securing your water heater to the wall studs.

Water standing in the pipes of a house is also available for use. To collect this water, turn on a faucet at the highest level of the home to allow air into the lines, and a small amount of water will trickle out. Water can then be collected from a faucet at the lowest level of the home. Water can also be obtained by melting ice cubes, from canned fruit and vegetable liquids, and from toilet tanks, as long as the tank is free of mold and toilet cleansers have not been placed in it.

Using Water of Questionable Purity
It may be necessary to use water of questionable purity, such as rainwater or water from streams, rivers, creeks, ponds, lakes, and potentially flood water. These sources of water can contain various contaminates that could cause illness, so it will be necessary to sanitize the water prior to use.

The first step in sanitizing water will be to filter out as many solids as possible. This can be done using coffee filters, several layers of paper towels, or a clean cloth. Portable water filters can also be used. If purchasing a portable water filter, choose one with a filter pore size small enough to remove both bacteria and parasites. Most portable water filters do not remove viruses. Carefully read and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for the water filter intended to be used.

Sanitizing Water by Boiling
After filtering the water, bring water to a rolling boil for one minute and allow it to cool naturally. Boiling water is the surest method to kill many disease-causing organisms, including viruses, bacteria and parasites.

Sanitizing Water by Using Bleach
The only thing that should be used to purify water is liquid household bleach containing 6 percent sodium hypochlorite (no thickeners, soaps or scents). For each gallon of filtered water, add eight drops of unscented chlorine bleach and allow it to stand for 30 minutes. If the faint scent of bleach is present after 30 minutes, the water is good to use. If bleach is not detected, add eight more drops of bleach and let it stand for another 15-30 minutes. If a faint scent of bleach is still not detected, the water cannot be used for drinking.

Remember, boiling water and using bleach will kill most viruses and bacteria but it will not remove metals, salts or chemicals, so the water may still have a funny taste. The taste may be improved by pouring it from one container to another and allowing it to stand for a few hours or by adding a pinch of salt for each quart of water. Also, plan for how to boil water if there were no power.

Unsafe Water Sources
Sources that should never be used for drinking water:
  • Radiators
  • Toilet bowls
  • Hot water boilers (part of a home heating and not drinking water system)
  • Water beds (fungicides are added to the water and chemicals in the vinyl case make the water unsafe for use)
  • Swimming pools or spas (due to the chemicals added)
  • Any water that has an unusual odor or color, or that you know or suspect might be contaminated with fuel or toxic chemicals. Water contaminated with fuel or toxic chemicals CANNOT be made safe for drinking by boiling or disinfection.

Throughout this year, we will continue to provide resources to help get you better prepared for emergencies! To learn more about water storage and other essential ways to prepare for an emergency Washington Emergency Management Division offers this free guide:
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