Friday, March 27, 2009
Water supplies in a disaster: Quenching your thirst when things are the worst
This past weekend, countries and people around the globe celebrated World Water Day, drawing attention to this crucial, lifesaving resource. Here in America, most of us take it for granted that we'll have clean, instant access to water anytime we turn on a tap. But in the event of an emergency, water supplies can be in short supply — no matter where you live.
During a disaster, water lines can be damaged or blocked, shutting off the flow to our taps. Even if water lines keep operating, winds and floodwaters can drop chemicals and debris into water supplies and contaminate them, making them undrinkable. Think about the flooding of New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina, for example. The Environmental Protection Agency had to test and disinfect the water before it was declared safe, which took time. Until the water was drinkable, people had to find other sources of water, which is where planning comes in.
The best way to prepare yourself for a disaster is to include bottled water in your emergency stockpile. Experts recommend that Americans have at least a three-day supply of water stored at all times, with one gallon of water per person, per day. While relief agencies often help people following a disaster, it can be awhile until they reach your area — if at all — so it's best to have your own supplies.
If you run out of bottled water before it's safe to drink from the tap, you can use bleach as a disinfectant. When disinfecting clear water, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends mixing one-eighth of a teaspoon of bleach per gallon of water and letting it sit for 30 minutes before using. If the water is cloudy, use one-quarter of a teaspoon of bleach, says CDC. But be very careful to follow the guidelines on the types and amounts of bleach that you use. People who get their water from a well should contact their local water company before using it following a disaster.
Even minor floods and hurricanes can contaminate drinking water, as can unexpected environmental disasters such as a chemical spill. So it's best to stay prepared. Take a tip from those around the world who are working to make water accessible to all by taking some time to think about your personal water supply.
Photo by Jocelyn Augustino, courtesy FEMA. A Federal Emergency Management Agency team walks through neighborhoods in Sabine Pass, Texas, that were flooded by Hurricane Ike in September.