If you were following national news over the weekend, you may have seen stories on the contamination of city water in Toledo, Ohio. While Lexington-Fayette County’s water supply isn’t susceptible to the kind of toxic algae bloom that affected Toledo, other sources of contamination – including industrial accidents, water main breaks, or major water system maintenance – can place parts of our community under “boil water” or “do not use water” advisories. Here’s what you can do before, during, and after such a situation:
Your household emergency supplies should always include water. Store at least one gallon per person per day, with a three-day minimum supply. Children, nursing mothers, and ill household members may need more. Someone who’s active in a hot climate (for example, making home repairs and clearing debris after a disaster) may need two to three gallons per day. Also, don’t forget water for your pets.
The best source of stored water is commercially bottled water. Store it in a cool, dark place (but not where it will freeze during winter) and observe the expiration or “best by” date.
You also can store your own bottled water with empty two-liter cola bottles, though this requires careful preparation. For instructions, see the ready.gov website.
In addition to storing bottled water, make sure every member of your household knows where to find your home’s water shut-off valve and how to use it. Make sure the valve closes completely – older hardware can become rusted shut or clogged with sediment.
If directed to do so, turn off your home’s water at the shut-off valve.
Determine whether you can still use city water for purposes other than consumption (e.g., flushing the toilet).
If you run low on stored water, remember that your home probably has a reservoir of 30-70 gallons of water: your water heater. Before accessing this water, turn off the water heater’s electricity or gas supply! Once you’ve rendered it safe, you can drain its water through the drain valve at the bottom of the tank. Most water heaters have a shut-off valve at the top, so if your water supply is good for “flushing” but not drinking, you can isolate the hot water from the rest of the house system for drinkable water.
Monitor local media and Kentucky-American Water’s website for updates on the situation. In a situation that affects a large portion of the community, we’ll also publish updates on this blog and our Twitter (@LexKYEM) and Facebook (LexingtonKYEM) accounts.
If the emergency is extended or affects a particularly large area, DEM’s partner agencies may set up distribution points for bottled water. These locations will be announced on local media.
Once conditions return to normal, replace any stored water you used so you’ll be ready for the next time.
After the water advisory is lifted, you may need to flush your home’s water lines to remove any residual contamination. If this is necessary, authorities will direct you to do so. To flush the lines, run your taps for 10-15 minutes, then replace any home water filters on those lines (for example, the filter in your refrigerator’s cold water dispenser).
For more information on water-related emergencies, check out Ready.gov’s pages on water, safely shutting off utilities, and emergency water treatment. Also, download a copy of the American Red Cross’ guide to emergency food and water supplies (16-page PDF document).