People often neglect to consider the security of their water supply prior to a hurricane, there are many other pressing needs for preparation, namely protection of property. Because this week is National Hurricane Preparedness Week I wanted to discuss how hurricanes can disrupt water systems and water supplies. Water security is essential when talking about hurricanes. Actions taken before the hurricane, during and after the hurricane all play a significant part in maintaining your access to clean, safe drinking water.
First a note on evacuations. I’m not going to tell people to stay or go when it comes to evacuating. Make that decision for yourself.
What can be done before a hurricane hits? If you are on a well, make sure your well is sealed properly. This is normal well maintenance. Your annual maintenance and inspections are your first defense against well contamination. With a hurricane the main culprit is the rain and the storm surge. Surface water contamination with bacteria, chemicals and salt can make your well very unfit to drink. Prevention through proper maintenance is the best barrier against contamination. If you are on a municipal water system, shut off the water to your house before you evacuate. This will prevent leaks and the subsequent damage from the water entering your house. It will obviously not protect you from rain/wind/flood/storm surge damage. Also, it is a good idea to temporarily cap the connection from your house to the sewer or septic system, this will prevent overloaded waste systems back flowing into your house. These precautions need to be done whether you bug out or not. This is the time to store water. When the water coming into your house is clean and drinkable. Store as much as you can, it could be the difference between life and death.
During the hurricane, if you don’t evacuate to a safe area, you need a backup supply of water. There will almost definitely be service disruptions to the water supply. Even if you are on a well, the well pump is probably electric. And if your well becomes contaminated from the storm surge, then some stored water is necessary for your survival. This water reserve needs to be stored in a place that is unlikely to become flooded or exposed to the wind/rain and sun/heat. Keeping your supply of water clean and safe is essential, read here for how to keep your backup water supply safe. One thing to think about is the term “backup supply”, if you are using your backup supply, then it should be treated as/thought of as your supply, not your backup. Next, USE LESS WATER, your supply will last much longer, and you might have to deal with a long delay before services return.
After the hurricane, hopefully services will return to normal and you will have your normal supply of water. This is the best case scenario. Worst case scenario, there are still rampant disruptions and you are still dependent on your dwindling reserve of stored water. Having a backup source comes in handy here. A source is not your stored water, it is something replenish-able easily, by you. What if you can’t get to a store to buy more bottled water? You could drink from your rain barrel, or your pool, but please read those two linked articles to learn what needs to be done to treat them first. If there is river, pond, or other surface water source nearby this can also be a viable source. I have written A LOT of articles on water treatment (too many to link here), read them, they will help you set up your backup supply so you are ready to go when you need it. All environmental sources of water need some form of treatment, especially surface water, and especially during emergencies and natural disasters, hurricanes are no exceptions. There will be chemicals, salt water and sewage in all the places affected by the storm if there isn’t assume that there is, you won’t know for sure without lab tests, so assume the water is contaminated. Treat the water, then disinfect the water, before drinking anything. If you don’t have the means to treat of disinfect, try and build a solar water distiller, it might keep you alive when you really need it.
As with all my emergency water advice, always drink the safest water available to you. That will keep you healthiest longest. Pathogenic disease always spreads after a disaster, you can avoid getting sick by preparing in advance. Clean drinking water will mean less illness from waterborne diseases. Prepare now and stay healthy at a time when you can’t really afford to get sick.