Can You Tell One Water Advisory From Another?

We've probably all received a water advisory at one time or another. That's when your local municipality tells you that your tap water may be contaminated and drinking it could make you sick. 

There are several different types of water advisories, some more serious than others. Some will merely tell you to boil your water before consuming it. Others say don't drink it even if you boil it first. And some tell you not to use it at all until further notice. 

There are also a variety of reasons why this could occur. Including extreme weather or a natural disaster. Or perhaps a burst water pipe or a problem at a water treatment center.

Today I want to make sure you know exactly what these different water advisories mean and how you should respond to them.

A variety of causes 

First, let's take a quick look at those causes I mentioned. Extreme weather or a natural disaster can contaminate water by stirring up soil and adding bacteria and other pollutants to the water supply. These pollutants can include animal feces.

When water pipes burst, elements outside the pipes can enter the water and compromise its safety. You'll be at the mercy of local authorities responsible for repairing the damage and you'll probably have to boil your water for a while.

Water treatment facilities generally do a good job of keeping harmful chemicals out of the supply. But like everything else, they are vulnerable to decay and other issues. 

Frequent testing is done at these facilities, so if the water becomes contaminated, hopefully authorities will alert you promptly and tell you to boil the water coming from your faucets until they end the alert.

Stronger water advisories 

The "Do Not Drink" advisory is less common than the boil advisory, but it can happen. This advisory is issued if local officials believe that boiling water will not be sufficient for getting rid of your water's pollutants. Such as when harmful chemicals or toxins enter it.

You may be able to use your water for some tasks. But definitely don't use it for drinking, cooking, washing fruits and vegetables, preparing food, brushing your teeth, making ice, or mixing baby formula. And don't give it to your pets to drink.

A stronger advisory is "Do Not Use." In addition to not drinking, cleaning, or bathing with it, you should also avoid any contact with your skin, lungs, and eyes. In other words, don't turn your faucets on until local authorities give you the green light.

This situation could come about when the water supply has been contaminated with germs, harmful chemicals, toxins, or even radioactive materials. Thankfully, these types of advisories are very rare.

How to boil your water 

OK, let's return to the most common water advisory – boiling your water – to make sure we know exactly how to deal with it.

First, fill a pot with water from the faucet. If it looks clear, proceed. If not, you may choose to run it through a coffee filter to remove particles or sediment.

Next, bring the water to a rolling boil and hold it there for at least one minute at elevations below 6,500 feet. If you're at a higher elevation, boil it for at least three minutes. 

Finally, let it cool on the burner or a counter before drinking or storing it. Wait until it reaches room temperature or lower before consuming it or using it to brush your teeth.

And by the way, don't drink any water from an appliance that's connected to your water line, such as your refrigerator, without going through that same boiling process. 

Tips for handling a boil advisory

Now let's look at some things you can safely do during a boil order (but not during a "Do Not Use" order).

In a majority of cases, it's fine to wash your hands during a boil order. But remember what we were repeatedly told during the early days of Covid.

Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, including between your fingers. Then rinse them well. If soap is not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

Bathing and showering is OK during a boil advisory, but be very careful not to swallow any of the water while showering.

It's fine to wash your clothes normally during a boil advisory, but be more careful when washing your dishes. In fact, I'd recommend having disposable plates, bowls, cups, and utensils available for this situation.

If you do use your dishwasher, make sure it has a sanitizing cycle and a final rinse temperature of at least 150 degrees Fahrenheit. If you wash and rinse dishes by hand, follow that activity by soaking them for at least one minute in a separate basin containing one teaspoon of unscented household liquid bleach for each gallon of water. Then let those dishes air dry completely. 

For general cleaning, use only bottled water or water you've disinfected with bleach. And as a reminder, don't give your pets tap water without boiling it first. Your tap water should be fine for watering your garden or household plants. 

4Patriots Sun Kettle

If you're familiar with the 4Patriots Sun Kettle, you may have only thought of it as an outdoor water heater for coffee, food, and cleaning. 

But if your home water supply is contaminated, the Sun Kettle could come in very handy at home once you've heated the water with the free power of the sun. Especially if a power outage accompanies the boil advisory.

The Sun Kettle works quickly and quietly, and needs no cords, batteries, or flames. Its parabolic mirrors trap the rays of the sun, which are then focused on the tempered-glass tube. It will get your water boiling in just minutes.

And that will provide you with water for drinking or warm food to eat. You can prepare coffee, prep a warm washcloth, and administer first aid. And it will keep liquid hot for hours.

Here's how to add yours to your survival stockpile…

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