By Aqua's Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Rick Fox
National Preparedness Month may now be over, but hurricane season is not. As we have unfortunately seen over the past month, all it takes is one storm to cause immeasurable damage to our communities. While Aqua does everything in its power to prevent the loss of service during a storm, heavy rains may cause groundwater wells and treatment plants to flood, and pressure losses from broken water lines and power outages can increase the risk of water contamination.
Customers can take important steps to prepare in advance of devastating weather events and other natural disasters. In recognition of National Preparedness Month, Aqua joined with the Department of Homeland Security’s Ready Campaign to provide important water tips to prepare for such an emergency.
Determine water needs.The Ready Campaign recommends storing at least one gallon of water per person for three days, for drinking and sanitation. Keep in mind the following:
- The average person needs about three quarters of a gallon of fluid daily from water and other beverages.
- Children, nursing mothers and anyone who is ill may need additional water.
- For those living in a warm weather climate, more water may be necessary; in hot temperatures, water needs can double.
Store water in advance. Water is a valuable resource and will be needed for multiple uses if an emergency situation occurs. Customers can also prepare their own containers of water for use during an outage ahead of time, using the following tips:
- Thoroughly clean the bottles with dishwashing soap and water, and rinse completely so there is no residual soap.
- Fill the bottle to the top with regular tap water. If the water you are using comes from a well or water source not treated with chlorine, add two drops of non-scented liquid household chlorine bleach to the water. A slight chlorine odor should be noticeable in the water.
- Tightly close the container using the original cap; do not contaminate the cap by touching the inside of it with your finger. Place the date on the container, as water must be replaced every six months. Store in a cool, dark place.
Shut off water connection to home. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, cracked water lines may pollute the water supply to houses. Prior to evacuation or if there are reports of broken water or sewage lines, water connections to homes should be shut off until your water utility says it is safe for drinking. Shutting off the valve may help to reduce or prevent water contamination and provide an extra source of water in an emergency situation by providing access to water that was already in the pipes. Follow these tips to shut off water to a home:
- Well before inclement weather arrives, take the time to locate the shut-off valve for the water line that enters the house. Label this valve with a tag for easy identification during an emergency and make sure all household members know where it is located.
- Make sure this valve can be completely shut off. The valve may be rusted open or it may only partially close. If so, replace it.
- To use the water in your pipes after shutting off the valve, let air into the plumbing by turning on the faucet in your home at the highest level. A small amount of water will trickle out. Then obtain water from the lowest faucet in the home.
Properly disinfect water. Customers can also ensure water is properly treated before drinking it by doing the following:
- Boiling is the safest method of disinfecting water. In a large pot or kettle, bring water to a rolling boil for one full minute, keeping in mind that some water will evaporate. Let the water cool before drinking. Oxygen can be added back into the water by pouring it back and forth between two clean containers. This will improve the taste of stored water.
- Chlorination can also be used to treat water. To disinfect water, use regular household liquid bleach that contains 5.25 to 6.0 percent sodium hypochlorite, and do not use bleaches that are scented, color safe, or have added cleaners. Add 16 drops (1/8 teaspoon) of bleach per gallon of water, stir and let stand for 30 minutes. If the water doesn’t have a slight bleach odor to it, repeat the dosage and let stand for 15 more minutes. If it still does not smell of chlorine, discard it and find another source of water.
- Distillation can remove germs that resist boiling and chlorination treatment methods. To distill water, fill a pot half way with water and tie a cup to the handle so that the cup is inside of the pot’s lid, facing upward when the lid is on the pot. Boil the water for 20 minutes –the water that drips into the cup is distilled.
Stay alert. After a storm, Aqua will alert customers if they are under a precautionary boil water advisory. Methods of communication may include phone, text, email, door hangers, signage, radio, newspapers and/or television news broadcasts. Aqua will also provide an update when boil advisories are lifted. Customers can also check the status of a precautionary boil water advisory, outages and other alerts anytime by visiting AquaAmerica.com or by calling Aqua customer service toll-free at 877.987.2782.
Dealing with a natural disaster is never an easy task, as the nature of emergencies can be so unpredictable. Ensuring enough access to clean, drinkable water during an emergency should be a key element to any preparation plan.