Weather News

Do I need to buy bottled water before Hurricane Dorian arrives?

With Hurricane Dorian about to reach the Carolinas, some store shelves are already empty.

Along with the usual milk and bread, bottled water is often in the shopping carts of people in the path of a hurricane.

While it’s good to prepare, if you are on city water in a place like Raleigh or Durham, you could be wasting your money because the chances of losing water even if the power goes out is low.

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.

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.

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 similar local government, you likely won’t have any issues.

Durham’s water treatment facilities and its booster stations — which help maintain water pressure throughout the system — have backup generators.

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, you could fill plastic bags, pots, pans and other containers with water now.

That’s cheaper than buying bottled water.

There may be some isolated issues if heavy winds knock down trees or destroy a water line, but they 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.

Durham 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.

Orange Water and Sewer Authority, which serves Chapel Hill, Carrboro, the UNC campus and a portion of Orange County, has backup generators and fuel to make sure it can keep delivering 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 during a power outage?

Yes. 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.

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.

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 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, but don’t use it as drinking water.

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 have recommended 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. 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.


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Anna Johnson covers Raleigh and Wake County for the News & Observer. She has previously covered city government, crime and business for newspapers across North Carolina and received many North Carolina Press Association awards, including first place for investigative reporting. She is a 2012 alumna of Elon University.
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Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan covers North Carolina state government and politics at The News & Observer. She previously covered Durham for 13 years, and has received six North Carolina Press Association awards, including a 2018 award for investigative reporting.