A friend in Puerto Rico, Jennifer, tells me that her town has been on a boil notice for 5 1/2 MONTHS following Hurricanes Irma and Maria. Yep, you read that right. Five and a half months. That’s almost 170 days without clean running water. She could probably teach a college course on how to survive a boil notice!
Now, just think what that means to a household like yours:
- The water that comes out of your tap, if it does, isn’t drinkable.
- When someone is thirsty, the only safe water is bottled or has been purified in some way by you.
- A recipe calls for water and, again, you have to be careful to use only what is safe to drink.
- The refrigerator ice maker has to be turned off because tainted water results in tainted ice cubes. If you want ice, you either have to buy it or make it in ice cube trays with purified water.
- Showering and bathing cannot be done in contaminated water, so what do you do, day after day after day?
- Brushing teeth will require bottled or boiled water
- Washing dishes isn’t safe anymore unless you’re certain the water in your dishwasher heats up to at least 170 degrees.
- Is it safe to even do laundry? With certain contaminants, it is not!
- What about water for your pets? Is it safe for them to consume?
- The water filter on your refrigerator or the reverse osmosis system you rely on are not enough to remove most pathogens from water.
Can you imagine this nightmare continuing, week after week? Dirty dishes, laundry, smelly kids, the hassle of having to boil every ounce of water consumed — this would get old in a matter of hours. The only way to survive is to be prepared and know exactly what to do.
In Jennifer’s case, her town had to share a large generator with another town. This generator was all they had to pump large amounts of water through a filtering system. The water had to be shared with every household and then they had to wait until it was their turn for more clean water!
If this sounds crazy to you, well, that’s life following a major natural disaster, but you would be surprised by how often boil orders are issued here in the U.S. and around the world. Just a very quick DuckDuckGo search for “boil notices 2018” turned up over a couple dozen in locations from Florida to Washington. One community has on their website this statement, “Precautionary “Boil Water” notices are issued almost every week, and most of these breaks only affect small isolated areas.”
What is a boil notice?
When a municipal water provider or a health agency detect pathogens in the water, a boil notice will be issued. Those pathogens might include E. coli, Giardia, and Cryptosporidium. Lead in water is another red flag, and a water main break as well as flooding all necessitate a boil notice.
A boil notice can last anywhere from just an hour or two to months, as we’ve seen in Puerto Rico. The best way to find out if a boil notice has been issued for your community is to visit your local municipal water company’s website and find out what their procedure is for issuing and then rescinding the notice. These might be issued via email, text message, the local media and/or the company’s website. The safest and quickest method will be either email or text. Don’t rely on the 6 o’clock news to get this information!
How do you survive a boil notice?
The best way to survive anything at all is to prepare for it. Now that you know a bit about boil notices and why they’re issued, let’s get your own household ready.
You will probably not be told exactly what is in the tainted water, so pay careful attention to exactly what you are told to do and not do with tap water. Some boil notices will specify “do not use for drinking, cooking, or ice making.” Okay, the water cannot be ingested but can be used for laundry and bathing. When a boil notice takes this a bit farther and includes laundry and bathing, you can bet the water is not even safe to touch.
Over the next week, keep a running list of how your household uses water. Does everyone take a shower or bath daily, or more often? Do you need water for how many pets? Is your home regularly filled with additional people — family, friends, or anyone else who you might need to include in your water plans? If your water was too contaminated to even touch, you’ll need a backup plan for doing laundry, cooking, staying hydrated, refilling humidifiers, and providing water for animals.
After 7 days of tracking your water usage, you may be shocked by how much water you use, but at least now you’ll have a starting point for your plan to survive a boil notice.
Your next step is to go through the list and see where you might cut corners and use less water. If everyone bathes daily, that’s a quick way to use hundreds of gallons less each week. Sponge baths, especially when a no-rinse soap is used, is the obvious substitute. No-rinse bathing wipes are a godsend during a time of water scarcity (handy to keep in the car, too).
Since the most important use of water, by far, is to remain hydrated, try to find ways to either eliminate completely or greatly reduce the water needed for all other uses. Stock up on bottled water with the intention of using that water for drinking, brushing teeth, and cooking. Bottled water has an indefinite shelf life if the water comes from a pure source (city water, water that has been boiled then cooled, and/or water treated with bleach) and is stored in a cool and dark location. My personal recommendation for bottled water is Dasani. If you compare the plastic used for Dasani bottles with the bottles of most other brands, you’ll notice a huge difference in quality.
Set household rules for boil notice days
If you have kids or grandkids in the house, your life under a boil notice is going to become far more complicated. Kids are used to water being available anywhere, at any time, for drinking, recreation, water balloons, you name it! Now, in a moment, that water isn’t safe for them to ingest or, possibly, to even touch.
Here are a few easy to remember household rules for boil notice days:
- Only drink water from a bottle.
- Do not use water from any faucet.
- Brush your teeth and wash your face using only bottled water.
- Use hand sanitizer in place of soap and water.
And a few tips for making these days a little easier:
- Use masking or packing tape to wrap around faucets and handles, disabling them. Make sure these are kid-proof!
- Pour bottled water into familiar containers, like pitchers or a countertop water dispenser. If you have kids, this will be an easy way for them to drink safe water from sources they are already familiar with.
- Stock up on those no-rinse bathing wipes.
- Keep bottles of water by each sink in the house
- Store one case of water bottles per day for each day of a possible boil notice. A case of 40 half-liter bottles will provide a little over 5 gallons of water. This is barely enough to provide 1 gallon per person per day, but if you store 7 cases of these, you’ll have the minimum amount of water for 4 people for 7 days.
- When a bottle of bleach is empty, refill it with water for an emergency water source. Be sure to label the bottle as “Drinking Water”.
- Fill an empty container of laundry soap (the large containers with a spigot) with water and use that as a source of water for hand-washing.
- Learn how to use water from your water heater in a dire emergency.
- If necessary, turn off the water coming into your house.
- Have a plan to stay with friends or family outside the boil notice area.
Most people have absolutely no idea what to do in case of a water emergency or how to survive a boil notice. You don’t have to be that person! Check out this class from Preppers University for a complete education in creating your own water survival kit, know exactly how much water to store, watch my 54-minute video lesson, get printables and downloads and be ready for any type of water emergency.