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We’re still a few days away from Hurricane Florence reaching the Carolinas, but many store shelves are already bare.
Grocery stores, gas stations and pharmacies have been overrun with people buying bottled water as they prepare for what the National Hurricane Center is calling an “extremely dangerous major hurricane.”
But while it’s good to prepare, if you are on city water like in Durham and Raleigh, you may be wasting your money because the chances of losing water even if the power goes out is slim.
(At least one CuriousNC reader who is not on well water asked if she will really need all the jugs of water she got from the supermarket.)
Can I drink tap water during a hurricane?
The short answer is yes. Unless your water supplier notifies you, you should be able to drink your water during the storm.
A few skeptical readers have asked whether water could be contaminated by extreme flooding.
It’s highly unlikely that flood water would be able to reach the water treatment plants in major cities. For instance, the two water plants in Raleigh are 150 feet and 50 feet above elevation.
“Not to use a biblical cliche, but if a plant goes under water, people should find a pair of animals and boat,” said Raleigh’s Senior Utilities Analyst Ed Buchan.
Most other water plants in larger cities and towns also have elevated plants, he said. If water was contaminated, a notice would be sent to affected customers.
What if I lose power?
If you get water from say Raleigh, Durham or another local government, you likely won’t have any issues.
“Our water treatment facilities as well as our booster stations — which help maintain water pressure throughout the system — have backup generators, so that we can continue to provide safe drinking water to our customers,” said Kirk Butts, spokesman for Durham Water Management Department.
Butts said even if the power in customers’ homes or businesses go off, they will still have water available for drinking, bathing or flushing the toilet.
If you’re concerned about losing access to water, Buchan suggested filling plastic bags, pots, pans and other containers with water now.
“We always suggest people be prepared,” he said. “Fill it up now and put it in the refrigerator. That’s infinitely less expensive than buying bottled water.”
There may be some isolated issues if heavy winds knock down trees or destroy a water line, but it would affect a small group of people who would be notified by their water supplier.
Raleigh has numerous backup systems and generators to make sure water reaches people if the power goes out.
If Durham floods as a result of Hurricane Florence, it shouldn’t impact the city’s water system, Butts said. If a sinkhole develops, that could break a water main. Water Management employees are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week to respond to breaks. Aging infrastructure is a common reason for water main breaks, and the risk of that stays the same regardless of weather, Butts said.
Orange Water and Sewer Authority, which serves Chapel Hill, Carrboro, the UNC campus and a portion of Orange County, also said it has backup generators and fuel to make sure it can keep delivering water. In an email to customers Tuesday afternoon, OWASA said service should not be interrupted and water could still be consumed during a power outage but urged customers to have a backup supply of water.
Will I be able to flush my toilet if the power goes out?
Again, if you are on city water then you shouldn’t have any problems.
Should I conserve water?
A news release from the city of Raleigh advises residents to conserve water during a power outage. People should avoid running dishwashers, washing clothes and irrigation systems and limit the amount of water used for showering and when flushing the toilet.
What if I live in an apartment?
Some apartments may rely on electricity to pump water up to higher floors. If you’re unsure if you’re impacted, it’s recommended you contact your leasing office or property manager. The same goes for some homes that have water systems that require electricity to pump water from their basements.
What about wells?
If you use a well to get your water, you will likely lose access to water if the power goes out.
“Folks on a private well or community well systems are more at risk of not having water, because they will not have power to pump the water into the house — and can’t flush either,” Butts said.
What about my subdivision’s well?
The two largest providers of water to community wells in the area are Aqua North Carolina and Carolina Water Service. Both are getting generators in place to provide support to wells if power goes out.
Aqua North Carolina provides 300,000 people in North Carolina with water with about 100,000 of those people located in the Triangle. Some of the larger subdivisions will have backup generators on-site and other mobile generators will be moved to wells that lose power, said Amanda Berger, the company’s manager of environmental compliance. She’s encouraging people who have community wells to prepare for the worst and stock up on water now.
The same holds true for Carolina Water Services, said communications coordinator Deborah Clark. The company will work to provide backup generators to well systems that lose power, but is encouraging people to stock up on water now.
What if my well floods?
If your well is in a low-lying area there is a chance it could flood. That could possibly lead to harmful bacteria and other contaminants getting into drinking water. People should not drink water from a contaminated well until after a certified well contractor has looked at it, according to Evan Kane, Wake County’s groundwater manager.
A document outlining what people should do if their well floods is available at www.wakegov.com/water/wells/Pages/well-flooded.aspx. People are encouraged to make sure their wells are properly sealed and secure before the hurricane.
What if I need water, but can’t find any?
If you are on a well or your apartment has told you you’ll have trouble getting water when the power goes out, then you will likely need to stock up on bottled water. If the stores are out and you can’t find any, you can fill up pitchers, pots and reusable water bottles or fill plastic bags with water and store them in the freezer (they will also help keep your food cold in your fridge.)
You can also clean your bathtub and fill it with water to flush the toilet or use as drinking water. Several breweries around the area are also giving out free, filtered to water who ask.
If you receive city water and are debating buying bottled water, follow the above tips and leave the bottled water for other people who will need it.
How much water should I stock up on?
State officials recommend one gallon of water per person per day for three to seven days when preparing for a major storm. Keep in mind that children, older people and those who are ill may need more water than normal.
So what if I lose water? Can I start drinking it when it comes back on?
If you lose water, you should run the cold water in your shower or bathtub for a minute, which helps flush the water line, Butts said. As for main breaks, old pipes are a common reason, but that risk level stays the same regardless of weather. Storms typically don’t increase that risk.