Prepare in a Year: March – Water Storage

Clean water is essential for life, both for hydration and to prevent the spread of disease. Healthcare providers who assisted with disaster efforts in Puerto Rico treated multiple conditions related to contaminated water, including vomiting, diarrhea, pink eye and leptospirosis. Clean water storage is a top priority in disaster preparedness. This month West Pierce CERT will assist residents in learning about water storage preparation.

Each person in a household requires one gallon of water per day for drinking and sanitation. FEMA recommends storing enough water for each member of a household for two weeks. While specialized barrels to store large amounts of water and tools to maintain water purity are available for purchase, it is not the only method in which you can store water.

Water can be stored in screw-top plastic bottles, such as a two-liter soda bottle, which are less likely to break or leak. Look for the triangular recycling symbol with a number “1”, as those are the best for water storage. Plastic milk and juice containers are not recommended, asthey are difficult to sanitize and their 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 a 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. Once the bottled water has been opened, there is the potential for bacteria and algae to develop.

Using water of questionable purity
It may be necessary to use water of questionable purity. This includes rainwater, water from streams, rivers, creeks, ponds, lakes, and potentially flood water. These sources of water can contain various contaminates that could cause illness. Before using water from these sources, it will be necessary to sanitize this water.

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
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.

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:

1.    Determine whether it is an electric or gas-powered water heater. This will determine how to turn off the source that makes the water hot. If it is electric, turn off the circuit breaker for the water heater. If it is gas, close the gas valve.

2.    Turn off the water intake valve.

3.    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.

4.    Turn on a hot water faucet in the house to let air into the system.

5.    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.

6.    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. Learn how at: https://www.mil.wa.gov/uploads/pdf/Publications/secure%20water%20heatreer.pdf

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 in the lines. 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 toilet cleansers have not been placed in them.

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.
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