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Water Emergencies

What is a Water Emergency?

A water emergency is any event that disrupts the normal supply of clean water to your home. Water emergencies can be caused by natural disasters or other emergencies that affect the water system:

  • Hurricanes
  • Floods
  • Tornadoes
  • Forest/brush fires
  • Droughts
  • Earthquakes
  • Chemical spills
  • Broken water main
  • Power outage
  • Failure of storage tanks or other equipment
  • Contamination of water

Consult the following web sites for additional information about water emergencies:

Be Prepared
BEFORE a water emergency occurs, learn how to:

Shut off the main water valve.
Look for the main valve where the water supply enters your house (usually in the basement). Mark the shut-off valve with fluorescent paint or tape so you can find it in the dark. Drain all water from the system, including your hot water heater, if you must evacuate the home due to the weather being very cold.

Store water.
Use clean, unbreakable containers and disinfect the water before filling them. Store enough water for several days (3-5), with one gallon of water per person per day.

Disinfect water.
One way to disinfect water is to boil it for 1-3 minutes (keep it at a full, rolling boil for at least 1 minute). Water disinfecting tablets or liquid chlorine bleach also work well. Generally, for each gallon of water, use 8-10 drops of liquid chlorine bleach. Mix the water thoroughly and let it stand for 30 minutes. These methods of disinfecting water are not effective if the water has been chemically polluted.

Prevent frozen pipes.
Wrap pipes in insulation made for water pipes. If the weather is going to be extremely cold, allow water to drip slightly from a faucet. Drain water from swimming pool and sprinkler supply lines. Remove, drain and store outdoor hoses. Close inside valves that supply outdoor hose bibs; open the outside hose bibs and keep them open to allow any water left in the line to expand. Know where water pipes are located, especially in unheated areas, and take steps to insulate and warm these areas. Keep garage doors closed if there are water supply lines in the garage. Open kitchen/bathroom cabinet doors to allow warmer air to circulate around plumbing. Leave the thermostat in your home set to a temperature no lower than 55 degree F all the time.

Prepare for a flood.
Make sure all family members have a check-in contact person to phone and a meeting place outside the neighborhood. Show each responsible family member how to turn off the electricity at the main breaker or switch. Prepare and maintain emergency kits for your home and car.

DURING a water emergency:

Freezing pipes – Keep a faucet open.
As you treat the frozen pipe and the frozen area begins to melt, water will begin to flow through the frozen area. Running water through the pipe will help melt more ice in the pipe. Apply heat to the section of pipe using an electric heating pat wrapped around the pipe, an electric hair dryer, portable space heater (kept away from flammable materials) or wrap pipes with towels soaked in hot water. Do NOT use a blowtorch, kerosene or propane heater, charcoal stove or other open flame. Apply heat until full water pressure is restored. If you are unable to locate the frozen area or if the frozen area is not accessible, call a licensed plumber. Check all other faucets in your home to find out if you have additional frozen pipes. Consult the Red Cross web site for more information about frozen pipes.

Contaminated water
Use your emergency water supplies and avoid drinking from the tap until advised by the water utility that it is safe to do so. Consult the Red Cross web site for additional information about treating contaminated water.

Repair work on a water main
If your water will be turned off temporarily and the work is planned, you will receive notification about the day and hours. You may be asked to turn off your water heater during those hours.

If a drought is not severe, you may be asked to voluntarily limit water use. Keep outdoor watering to a minimum—preserving water for humans and pets is vital. Double-check for leaks in faucets, toilets, hoses, etc., and repair them. Avoid washing cars, bicycles, lawn furniture, etc. Severe droughts may call for rationing and more severe restrictions. The City’s outdoor watering restrictions are in place to moderate outdoor water use during peak periods. For more information, see the City’s watering restrictions or contact the Public Works field office at 377-4405.

Contact family members to ensure their safety and whereabouts. Move emergency supply items and valuables to the highest inside part of your house. Locate and move pets to safety. Turn off the electricity at the breaker before water enters your home. If you did not get the electricity off before water entered your home, do not turn it off—get out of the water. Make sure you have an adequate water supply for drinking. If you have time and can do so safely, move vehicles to higher ground. The safest option may be to stay put, but if you must evacuate to a safe location or shelter, take your emergency supply kit and notify family members where to meet. Don’t drive through flooded streets—water is often deeper than it appears (most flood-related deaths result from people attempting to drive through moving water. Don’t try to swim or wade to safety—wait for the water to recede or for a rescue. Consult the Flood Safety web site for additional information.

updated Mar 23, 2018