Potential Risks to Water Supply due to Storms

Hurricanes, especially if accompanied by a tidal surge or flooding, can contaminate the public water supply. Drinking contaminated water may cause illness. Individuals cannot assume that the water in a hurricane-affected area is safe to drink.

In an area hit by a hurricane, water treatment plants may not be operating. Even if they are, storm damage and flooding may contaminate water lines. Listen for public announcements about the safety of the municipal water supply.

If your private well has been flooded, it needs to be tested and disinfected after the storm passes and floodwaters recede. Questions about testing may be directed to your local health district. Find your closest health department office at www.vdh.virginia.gov/health-department-locator/.

Water for Drinking and Cooking

Safe drinking water includes bottled, boiled or treated water. The following are guidelines to ensure your post-storm water supply is safe for use.

Do not use contaminated water to wash dishes, brush your teeth, wash and prepare food or make ice.

Drink only bottled, boiled or treated water until your supply is tested and deemed safe.

Boiling water kills harmful bacteria and parasites. Bringing water to a rolling boil for one minute will kill infectious organisms (germs).

Water may be treated with chlorine by mixing eight drops (1/8 teaspoon; about the size of a dime) of ordinary household bleach (free of fragrances and additives) per gallon of water. Mix the solution thoroughly, and let stand for about 30 minutes. However, this treatment will not kill parasitic organisms that may have entered a flooded well. Iodine tablets available at sporting goods stores may also be used.

Containers for water should be rinsed with a bleach solution before reusing them (one tablespoon bleach per gallon of water). Use water storage tanks and other types of containers with caution. For example, fire truck storage tanks as well as previously used cans or bottles may be contaminated with microbes or chemicals. Do not rely on untested devices for decontaminating water.

Water Supply

Private Well Safety (See www.vdh.virginia.gov/environmental-health/onsite-sewage-water-services-updated/before-and-after-the-storm-private-wells-and-onsite-sewage-systems/)

People who rely on private wells for their water should consider their well contaminated if it was submerged or they believe it is possible the well became submerged during the hurricane. 

If the well was flooded and underwater, do not turn on the pump until you are sure the electrical system is completely dried out. Once you are sure the electrical system is safe, follow the disinfection procedure here: https://www.wellwater.bse.vt.edu/files/SHOCK442-663_PDF.pdf

The water should not be consumed until bacteriological testing indicates the well is not contaminated. Two satisfactory bacteriological tests performed on samples taken at least 24 hours apart will indicate your water supply has been properly disinfected. A list of labs certified to test drinking water are available through the Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services at https://dgs.virginia.gov/division-of-consolidated-laboratory-services/certification-accreditation/find-a-lab/.

If you are unsure if the well was flooded, assume that it was and use another water source until the water supply is disinfected.

For more information about how to protect yourself and your family before, during and after natural disasters, visit www.vdh.virginia.gov or the Virginia Department of Emergency Management’s website at www.vaemergency.gov.