Emergency Drinking Water & Well Disinfection

Wells that have been flooded may be contaminated with pathogenic organisms (bacteria, viruses, etc.). Bacterial testing of drinking water must be done at a laboratory. Testing information can be found at the Yakima Health District.

A minimum of 1 gallon of water per person per day is needed for drinking, cooking and washing.

Emergency Sources of Water
In the home:
  • Melt ice cubes.
  • Use water from the toilet tank (not the bowl) and water pipes.
  • Hot water tank:
    • Turn off the power that heats it, and let the tank cool. Then place a container underneath and open the drain valve at the bottom of the tank. Don't turn the tank on again until water services are restored.
  • Any vegetables, fruit, pop or juice contain water. Your body doesn't care where the liquid comes from.
  • Swimming pool water may be used for bathing and flushing toilets.
  • Water beds:
    • Avoid water from water beds as a source for drinking water. Pesticides are in the plastic casing of the bed and chemicals have probably been added to the water to prevent the growth of algae, fungi, and bacteria. The water is safe only for hand-washing and laundering.
Outside the home (can be used after it is purified):
  • Coiled garden hoses
  • Lakes
  • Rain water
  • River
  • Spring water
  • Streams
Water that is clear and pure in appearance can be highly contaminated with organisms that can make you sick. Under emergency or disaster conditions, all water sources should be treated as though unsafe.

Purifying Water
Boiling and chemical sterilization are 2 ways to purify water.

Straining Water
Strain water containing sediment or floating material through a cloth or paper filter before beginning the purification process.

Heat Sterilization
Boiling water is the preferred method of purification because disease-causing- microorganisms cannot survive the intense heat. Bring water to a rolling boil for 1 minute. Pour the water back and forth from 1 clean container to another to improve the taste. Adding a pinch of salt could also help.

Chemical Sterilization
In some situations, boiling may not be an option. The alternative is to treat the water chemically. Plain household chlorine bleach (5.25%) may be used. Be sure the label states that hypochlorite is the only active ingredient. Bleach containing soap or fragrances is not acceptable.

With an eye dropper, add 16 drops of bleach per gallon of water, stir and let stand. After 30 minutes the water should taste and smell slightly of chlorine. At this time it can be used. If the taste and smell (and appearance in the case of cloudy water) has not changed, add another dose of 16 drops of bleach and let stand. If after 30 minutes the water does not have a chlorine smell, do not use it.

Store the water in a clean and sanitary glass or plastic container. Plastic containers are good because they are lightweight and unbreakable. Metal containers should be considered as a last resort because they may corrode and give water an unpleasant taste.

Food Safety in a Power Outage

Use food that spoils rapidly first. Most food borne diseases are caused by bacteria in raw or undercooked foods of animal origin such as meat, milk, eggs, fish or shellfish. Proper storage and cooking of these foods can help prevent illness. Keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed to conserve cold air or keep cold food cold with ice, dry ice or snow. A full freezer can keep foods frozen for about 48 hours if the door is kept closed.

It is most important to keep meat, seafood and dairy products cold. If food is cold to touch, it is probably safe to keep, use or refreeze. Discard food you would normally refrigerate if it is not cold to the touch, or if it shows obvious signs of spoilage. If in doubt, throw it out!