Managing Water Supplies

Water is critical for survival and is the most essential need in times of disaster or emergency.  Often you will not have time to obtain enough usable water during an emergency unless you plan ahead.  Plan to have about one gallon of potable water per person per day for drinking, cooking, and personal hygiene.  You may need more for medical emergencies.

The average person should drink around two quarts of water or other liquids per day, but many people will need more based on age, physical activity or condition, and time of year.  Under no circumstances should a person drink less than one quart of liquid each day.  It is better to drink water that is available, in the hope of finding more, than to deprive people of water by rationing it.  If stored water supplies are limited, try other sources, such as ice cubes, milk, soft drinks, and juices.  Also, water in hot water tanks and the flush tanks (not the bowls) of home toilets can be drunk in an emergency.

Never drink water that may be contaminated unless you have purified it.  If purification is not possible, put off drinking suspicious water as long as possible without becoming dehydrated.

If water pipes are damaged or if advised by local authorities, turn off the main water valves in your home.  This will prevent water from draining away in case the water main breaks.  The pipes will still be full of water when the main valve is closed, so to use this water, turn on the faucet at the highest point in your house (which lets air into the system).  Then draw water, as needed, from the lowest point in your house, either a faucet or the hot water tank.  For more information on emergency procedures, please call the Florence County Emergency Preparedness Department at 843-665-7255.

Water Purification

When forced to drink water of uncertain purity, use these methods of purification before using the water for drinking, food preparation, or hygiene.  In addition to having a bad odor and taste, contaminated water can contain microorganisms that cause diseases such as dysentery, cholera, typhoid and hepatitis and chemicals that are fatal when swallowed.

Before purifying, let any suspended particles settle to the bottom or strain them through layers of clean cloth.  The following are four purification methods.  The first three – boiling, chlorination, and purification tablets – will kill microbes but will not remove other contaminants such as heavy metals, salts, other chemicals, and radioactive fallout.  The final method – distillation – will remove microbes as well as other contaminants, including radioactive fallout.

Boiling is the safest method of purifying water.  Bring water to a rolling boil for 10 minutes, keeping in mind that some water will evaporate.  Let the water cool before drinking.  Boiled water will taste better if you put oxygen back into it by pouring it back and forth between two containers.  This technique will also improve the taste of stored water.

Chlorination uses liquid chlorine bleach to kill microorganisms.  Add two drops of liquid bleach containing 5.25% sodium hypochlorite and no soap for each quart of water (four drops if the water is cloudy).  Stir and let stand for 30 minutes.  If the water does not taste and smell of chlorine at that point, add another dose and let stand another 15 minutes.

Purification tablets release chlorine or iodine.  They are inexpensive and available at most sporting goods stores and some drugstores.  Follow the package directions.  Usually one tablet is enough for one quart of water.  Double the dose for cloudy water.

Distillation involves boiling water and then collecting the vapor that condenses back to water.  Fill a pot halfway with water.  Tie a cup to the handle on the pot's lid so that the cup will hang right side up when the lid is upside-down (make sure the cup is not dangling into the water).  Boil the water for 20 minutes.  The water that drips from the lid into the cup is distilled.

There are many ways to purify water.  None is perfect.  Often the best solution is a combination of methods.  For more information on water purification or other emergency procedures, please call the Florence County Emergency Preparedness Department at 843-665-7255.