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During an Emergency

There are different types of water emergencies that require you to take steps to protect yourself, your loved ones, and your property. Below, you'll find instructions to help you deal with some emergency situations.



To report a water emergency, such as a water main break or a sewer backup, contact the Service Authority at (703) 335-7982.



For local information about a water emergency, or an emergency that may affect your water supply, visit the official emergency information page on your local government's Web site:

 

Protect Yourself Against Contaminated Drinking Water

Pay attention to your local officials and media outlets to know when it is safe to drink tap water.



Avoid direct contact with water bodies until local officials say that it is safe. If wastewater treatment plants have not maintained continuous operation, there may have been untreated wastewater discharged to local waterways.



Make Water Safe

Water often can be made safe to drink by boiling, adding disinfectants, or filtering.

IMPORTANT: Water contaminated with fuel or toxic chemicals will not be made safe by boiling or disinfection. Use a different source of water if you know or suspect that water might be contaminated with fuel or toxic chemicals.



Boiling

If you don't have safe bottled water, you should boil water to make it safe. Boiling is the surest method to make water safer to drink by killing disease-causing organisms, including viruses, bacteria, and parasites.



You can improve the flat taste of boiled water by pouring it from one container to another and then allowing it to stand for a few hours, OR by adding a pinch of salt for each quart or liter of boiled water.



If the water is cloudy,
  • Filter it through a clean cloth, paper towel, or coffee filter OR allow it to settle.
  • Draw off the clear water.
  • Bring the clear water to a rolling boil for one minute (at elevations above 6,500 feet, boil for three minutes).
  • Let the boiled water cool.
  • Store the boiled water in clean sanitized containers with tight covers.


If the water is clear,
  • Bring the clear water to a rolling boil for one minute (at elevations above 6,500 feet, boil for three minutes).
  • Let the boiled water cool.
  • Store the boiled water in clean sanitized containers with tight covers.



Disinfectants

If you don't have safe bottled water and if boiling is not possible, you often can make water safer to drink by using a disinfectant such as unscented household chlorine bleach or iodine. These can kill most harmful organisms, such as viruses and bacteria, but are not as effective in controlling more resistant organisms such as the parasites Cryptosporidium and Giardia.



To disinfect water, 
  • Filter it through a clean cloth, paper towel, or coffee filter OR allow it to settle.
  • Draw off the clear water.
  • To use bleach, add 1/8 teaspoon (or 8 drops; about 0.625 milliliters) of unscented liquid household chlorine (5-6%) bleach for each gallon of clear water (or 2 drops of bleach for each liter or each quart of water).
  1. Stir the mixture well.
  2. Let it stand for 30 minutes or longer before you use it.
  3. Store the disinfected water in clean sanitized containers with tight covers.
  • To use iodine, follow the manufacturer's instructions.

Chlorine dioxide tablets are another disinfectant that now is available in some outdoor stores. This disinfectant has proven to be effective against pathogens, including Cryptosporidium, if the manufacturer's instructions are followed.

 

Filters

Many portable water filters can remove disease-causing parasites such as Cryptosporidium and Giardia from drinking water. If you are choosing a portable water filter, try to pick one that has a filter pore size small enough to remove both bacteria and parasites. Most portable water filters do not remove viruses.

Carefully read and follow the manufacturer's instructions for the water filter you intend to use. After filtering, add a disinfectant such as iodine, chlorine, or chlorine dioxide to the filtered water to kill any viruses and remaining bacteria. For more information about water filters, see the Water Treatment Resources section.

Source: CDC

If your water has been declared unsafe to drink, avoid drinking from the tap until the Service Authority announces that the water is safe again.

 

Protecting Drinking Water and Pipes for Well Owners

If your electricity goes off because of an emergency and you rely on an electric pump to get water from a well:

  • Follow the directions here to keep your pipes from freezing, if the weather is extremely cold.
  • If you need to drain the pump system, save water from the pipes and store it in clean, closed containers. Do not drink water from the heating system.Then, use stored water until the power comes back on.



How to Prepare Your House If You Are Told to Evacuate

  • Shut off water, gas, and electricity. Contact your landlord, superintendent, local power and gas company, and the Service Authority if you need instructions.
  • Drain all pipes and water storage tanks. Flush toilets and drain them.
  • Take bottled water with you. Each person will need a gallon of water each day.
  • Have a plan to evacuate any pets safely, and make sure they have enough water and food.



Be Safe at Home after a Natural Disaster

After a storm or flood, follow these instructions:

  • Don't drink from the tap until the Service Authority announces that it is safe to do so.
  • Flush out house water lines to make sure the water is safe and clean. Contact the Service Authority at (703) 335-7982 for instructions.
  • Check utility lines and report any damage to your local power company.
  • Avoid using any food or water that has come in contact with untreated water (such as flood water).
  • Check sewage lines to see that they're intact before flushing toilets. Contact the Service Authority at (703) 335-7982 for instructions on how to do this.



Scheduled Water Outages

Sometimes, the Service Authority must do repair work on a water main, or turn off the water flow for another reason. If your water will be turned off for planned repairs or construction, you will be:

  • Notified about the day and hours that water will not be available
  • Asked to turn off your water heater during those hours. (Please take time to learn how to turn off your water heater, in case you are asked to do so.)

 

Household Water Usage



Preparing and Cooking Food
  • Use boiled water to wash all fruits and vegetables.
  • Bring water to a rolling boil for 1 minute before adding food.
  • Use boiled water when preparing drinks, such as coffee, tea, and lemonade


Feeding Infants
  • Breastfeeding is best. Continue to breastfeed. If breastfeeding is not an option:
  • Use ready-to-use formula, if possible.
  • Prepare powdered or concentrated formula with bottled water. Use boiled water if you do not have bottled water. Disinfect water for formula if you cannot boil your water (see above for directions on how to use bleach to disinfect water).
  • Wash and sterilize bottles and nipples before use.
  • If you cannot sterilize bottles, try to use single-serve, ready-to-feed bottles.


Ice
  • Do not use ice from ice trays, ice dispensers, or ice makers.
  • Throw out all ice made with tap water.
  • Make new ice with boiled or bottled water.


Bathing and Showering
  • Be careful not to swallow any water when bathing or showering.
  • Use caution when bathing infants and young children. Consider giving them a sponge bath to reduce the chance of them swallowing water.

 

Brushing teeth

Brush teeth with boiled or bottled water.

 

Washing dishes
  • Dishwashers are safe to use if the water reaches a temperature of at least 160°F or if the dishwasher has a sanitizing cycle.
  • To wash dishes by hand:
  • Wash and rinse the dishes as you normally would using hot water.
  • In a separate basin, add 1 teaspoon of unscented household bleach for each gallon of warm water.
  • Soak the rinsed dishes in the water for at least one minute.
  • Let the dishes air dry completely.

 

Laundry

It is safe to do laundry using regular methods.

 

Pets

Pets can get some of the same diseases as people. It is a advisable to give them boiled water.

 

Where can I get more information?

Emergency Dispatch: (703) 335-7982

 

Additional Resources

Personal Water Use

Hygiene and Sanitation

A Guide to Water Filters

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