About Safe Drinking Water in an Emergency

Having an ample supply of clean drinking water is a top priority in an emergency. Rhode Island has separate systems for public drinking water and for sewer treatment. However, flooding may contaminate the municipal public drinking water supply and water from private wells. Never assume that water in a hurricane- or flood-affected area is safe to drink.

The Department will issue guidance regarding drinking water safety in the event of emergencies such as hurricanes or floods, and Boil Water Advisories will be posted. Proper emergency disinfection procedures for drinking water include boiling, distillation, and chemical treatment through the use of chlorine bleach or iodine.

What You Should Do

Conserve water

Floods disrupt normal drainage systems in cities and can overwhelm sewer systems. Residents of areas where sewage treatment and pumping plants are not working properly due to flooding should conserve water whenever possible. Limit toilet flushing and showering, and avoid using dishwashers and washing machines. These appliances all drain water into the sewage treatment system. Continual use could cause sewage backup and overflow. Do not drain sump pumps into toilets, tubs, or sinks. Drain them instead into your yard or storm water drains.

There are many hidden sources of clean water to use in an emergency. These include the unused water in your pipes and in your hot water heater, if you have disconnected the gas or electricity. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have guidance on food and water safety after hurricanes and floods.

Do not trust flooded private wells

Private wells that have flooded (wells that have standing water around them) should be considered contaminated. People with flooded wells should take the following precautions:

  • Boil water for one minute before drinking, cooking, and brushing teeth.
  • Get well water tested for coliform bacteria as soon as possible. (more) Lab tests usually take about three days, but it may take longer for you to get the results depending on which lab you use. Continue to boil water until you get your test results back and the water has been deemed safe for consumption.
  • Once flood waters have receded, your well will need to be disinfected with chlorine and tested before you begin drinking it again. (more)