Interruption in public water supply

ClareBroommaker's picture

We do keep in our basement a small supply of water for emergency use. We needed it last week. The public water supply was jeopardized when a 30 inch water main broke causing a huge sinkhole under a major street and undermining the nearby sewer as well. Water was still flowing, but a three minute boil was recommended. In the summer heat, I did not want to do that, so we used our basement supply.

Our supply is hodgepodge. I have old bleach bottles, wine bottles, vinegar bottles, a few 2L soda bottles, a purpose-made gerry can, and even some 1L isopropyl alcohol bottles. We still bathed in the public supply water, as I am normally desperate to do so after gardening in the evening. The boil water order was lifted the next day, so we got off easy.

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Blueberry's picture

That is a long time for a boil water notice. A standard boil water notice, simply bring to a boil. A 3 minute boil would be in the event of raw sewage mixing with the drinking water supply. I would not have taken a bath using city water. Might pick up a few water bottles with filters and some extra bleach 2-3gals. Having both city water and sewage sure can be interesting. If this should happen again think bird bath.

About 20 years ago, when we were still living in South Carolina, something in the reservoir broke. The town of York lost all water for a few hours. The city got the water moving again and it was brown sludge.
Every store within miles sold out of bottled water by the end of the day.
It took two weeks for the water to get back to normal.
The city had to order a special part to fix the pump. In the meantime, they flooded the water with chlorine to make it 'safe'.
Maybe it was. It looked like a used toilet bowl and smelled worse. This water could be used to flush toilets, thank God.
Otherwise, we had to use bottled for everything. The water was so discolored it stained clothing and dishes, so it couldn't be used for washing up. Bathing was awful, so most people took their showers at relatives' homes or took sponge baths.

As a result of that experience, I ALWAYS have on hand 20 or 30 gallons of water in the basement. Easiest and cheapest is to buy plastic gallons in the supermarket. I've never had a problem with a container leaking. If you know a water outage is coming, fill up every container and pitcher you own, including ice trays. Those Coleman 5 gallon water dispensers are very, very useful for just such emergencies.
Don't forget, your hot water heater has water in it too. If you ever have to replace your hot water heater, get the BIGGEST one that will fit in the space available. That's more water for an emergency and it keeps its temperature better because of the thermal mass.

ClareBroommaker's picture

How do I get water out of the water heater when we do not want the city water to flow in and replace what I use? Would I have to cut the water valve off before the heater and then take water from the drain valve at the bottom of the tank?

Blueberry's picture

If you are going to drain a water heater for drinking water be sure to turn off the power or gas first. Be sure that the tank is full or water before using as a water heater again or risk damage to the heating elements or other parts. Best set up on a water heater is to have a shutoff value on the cold water and hot water side. To get water out of the tank close both values open drain and also pop open the pressure relief value and you will have water. Best practice on a water heater is to drain a few gallons out of the drain every few months without closing off the values to keep the system clean the boiler scale in a water heater can look gross. Even if the heater is not drain every few months the water is safe to drink once the scale is out of the tank. Alacrates is a plumber sure he can provide more info. Another source of water is the toilet tank NOT BOWL

Alacrates's picture

No that's pretty much what I would do. Only slight difference is that I tend to leave the relief valves alone if they are on older tanks, sometimes if there is scale inside, the valve won't fully close again, and it drips once the water is back on. If I can, I close the valve on the inlet and open a hot water faucet to allow air into the system so the tank can be drained. Flushing the tank periodically is a good idea, surprising how much debris can build up in there, in the city or from a well.

On the water in the toilet tank - the first instructor I had in plumbing school did tell us not to cool our beers in the tank as apparently they have found e-coli existing in the tank as well. I've never heard that elsewhere, and I find it a little hard to believe - how would it get up in there? Maybe bacteria could travel up the moisture on the inside of the toilet, but it seems like a stretch.

Blueberry's picture

That is were you put the whiskey for the building inspector.