Flooding From Storms Leads to Water Supply Contaminations

Earlier this month, the U.S. was hit with two major storm systems that cost lives and caused considerable property damage.

In drought-stricken California, heavy rains over a period of several days caused flooding and power outages over several regions. And at higher elevations, snowfall was heavy at times. The result was flooding that forced evacuations in Monterey County on the central coast.

At about the same time, a storm system featuring dozens of reported tornadoes across 19 counties in Alabama and Georgia killed at least nine people and injured others. In both states, tens of thousands of homes and businesses lost electrical power and numerous structures were destroyed.

Those horrible results are things we can see with the naked eye. Disturbing images of flattened homes and grief-filled residents become etched in our minds. What we can’t see but is just as real is the contamination of drinking water that inevitably follows flooding.

Kentucky Sees Water Service Connection Problems

These latest storms are hardly unusual. Especially as our weather continues to become more extreme. Last summer, floodwaters during and following a storm resulted in the deaths of at least 37 people in eastern Kentucky.

As nearly always happens, water contamination was next. Floodwaters carry sewage and other pollutants. And then contaminated water invariably finds its way into drinking water supplies.

Approximately 13,500 water service connections in Kentucky were still without water days after the flooding. Another 41,000 service connections had boil advisories. 

Even after being reconnected to the local water system, some residents said they were hesitant to use the water for anything other than washing, due to its murky appearance.

Extensive Flooding From Hurricane Ian

Still fresh in our minds from just a few months ago is the incredible damage done by Hurricane Ian. It made landfall in southwest Florida as a powerful Category 4 storm with sustained winds of 155 miles per hour and gusts of 215 mph.

It then moved northeast across the state as a tropical storm, regained strength as a Category 1 hurricane, and ravaged South Carolina.

The storm ended up killing more than 150 people, including well over 100 in Florida, five in North Carolina, and one in Virginia. It also caused billions of dollars’ worth of damage to homes, businesses, and property. Water contaminations followed.

Ian ended up becoming the deadliest hurricane in Florida since the state’s 1935 Labor Day hurricane.

Both Public & Private Systems Are Vulnerable 

Heavy rainfall alone can contaminate a city’s water supply. And when it’s accompanied by a tidal surge or flooding, contamination is even more likely. Sometimes pumps lose electric power during violent storms, disrupting water service. 

Water treatment plants are often negatively affected by extreme storms, including tornadoes and hurricanes. And even when they continue to operate properly, storm damage or flooding can contaminate water lines. Residents are often asked to limit nonessential use of water.

Public water systems are not the only ones affected by extreme flooding. Private wells and springs also fall victim. After rainfall hits the ground, it comes into contact with animal waste and bacteria. 

And when rains become too heavy and long lasting, bacteria, sewage and other industrial waste and chemicals also seep into water sources or leaky pipes. The large amounts of water also make it more difficult for water treatment devices to treat water efficiently and effectively.

First Line of Defense Is Boiling and Bleach

Regardless of where they get their water, residents should not use water suspected of being contaminated for anything. Including brushing teeth, washing dishes or clothes, or preparing food. And certainly not for drinking. 

Boiling your water is a good way to get rid of harmful bacteria and parasites. But it won’t eliminate heavy metals that may have seeped into your water.

When boiling water is not possible, use household bleach. Add eight drops of plain, unscented bleach per gallon of water. Mix the solution and let it stand for 30 minutes. If the water is still cloudy, repeat the procedure.

If the chlorine taste is too strong, pour the water from one clean container into another and let it stand for a few hours before using. 

Flooding Can Occur Anytime and Anywhere ‚Äď Be Ready

Nearly all of us could experience flooding resulting in water contamination at any time.

The keys for preparation are to have plenty of clean drinking water stored up for an emergency, and have a way to filter and purify water we may have to drink that comes from potentially contaminated sources.

Those who have to evacuate their homes in anticipation of a big storm should turn off the emergency water shut-off valve. This will minimize damage to the home’s interior should a pipe burst.

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