WASHINGTON COUNTY – The Washington County Department of Health issued an advisory Monday regarding hazards and risks to water supplies due to storms and flooding.
Heavy rainfall, especially if accompanied by a tidal surge or flooding, can contaminate your water supply. Drinking contaminated water may cause illness. Individuals cannot assume that a water supply in the storm affected area is safe to drink.
A storm can also affect water from public water treatment plants. Even if they are operating, storm damage and flooding can contaminate water lines. Listen for public announcements about the safety of your water supply.
If your private well has been flooded, it may need to be disinfected and tested after floodwaters recede. Questions about testing should be directed to the Florida Department of Health in Washington County (DOH-Washington).
Safe sources of drinking water include bottled, disinfected, or both boiled and cooled water. Here are some general rules on using water for drinking and cooking:
• Do not use contaminated water to wash dishes, brush your teeth, wash and prepare food, or make ice. Use only safe drinking water.
• If you use bottled water, know where it came from. Drink only commercially-available bottled, boiled, or disinfected water until your supply is tested and deemed safe. Otherwise, water should be disinfected or both boiled and cooled before use.
• Boiling water kills harmful bacteria and parasites. Bringing water to a rolling boil for 1 minute will kill infectious organisms (germs).
• Water can be disinfected by adding 8 drops of plain unscented household bleach (4 to 6% strength), which is about 1/8 tsp or a dime sized puddle, per gallon of water. If a higher strength bleach is used (8.25% strength), only add 7 drops of bleach. Mix the solution and let it stand for 30 minutes. If the water is cloudy after 30 minutes, repeat the procedure once. Iodine or other disinfection tablets (available at many sporting goods departments and stores) may also be used.
Containers for water should be rinsed with a bleach solution of one tablespoon of bleach per gallon of water before reusing them. Use water storage tanks and other types of containers with caution. For example, fire truck storage tanks as well as previously used cans or bottles may be contaminated with microbes or chemicals. Do not rely on unverified methods for decontaminating water.
It is important to disinfect both well and plumbing water with unscented household bleach to ensure that all infectious agents (germs) are killed. If you have water treatment devices, remove all membranes, cartridges, and filters; replace with new ones after the disinfection process is completed.
The Department recommends the following steps to disinfect a contaminated well:
• If the water is discolored before adding the bleach, run the water until it is clear for up to 10 minutes. If after a while the water does not clear up, wait until you have clear water before proceeding, as this means your well may still be affected by the flooding.
• Turn off the pump
• Turn off and then drain your hot water heater, as bleach is not effective in water above 105 degrees.
• Remove all membranes, cartridges, and filters. Replace with new ones after the disinfecting process is completed.
• To avoid adding contamination to the well during disinfection, clean the work area around the top of the well. Then remove grease and mineral deposits from accessible parts of the well head and flush the outside surfaces with 1/2 cup of unscented household bleach in 5 gallons of water.
• Disinfect the pump. Remove the cap or the well plug on the rubber seal. There are many types of well caps and plugs. If you have questions, contact a licensed well driller. If you have a jet pump, you may also want to contact a licensed well driller for advice on disinfection procedures.
• Consult the bleach chart and pour the recommended amount of regular unscented bleach (4 to 8.25% strength) solution into the well. Try to coat the sides of the casing as you pour. If you get bleach on the pump or wiring, flush it thoroughly with fresh water to prevent later corrosion.
Well Depth in Feet Well Diameter in Inches
2” 4” 5” 6”
20’ 1 cup 1 cup 1 cup 1 cup
30’ 1 cup 1 cup 1 cup 2 cups
40’ 1 cup 1 cup 2 cups 2 cups
50’ 1 cup 2 cups 2 cups 3 cups
80’ 1 cup 2 cups 1 qt 1 qt
100’ 1 cup 3 cups 1 qt 1.5 qts
150’ 2 cups 1 qt 2 qts 2.5 qts
200’ 3 cups 1.5 qts 2.5 qts 3 qts
Conversions 8 oz = 1 cup /16 oz = 1 pint = 2 cups
24 oz = 3 cups / 32 oz = 1 quart / 48 oz = 1.5 quarts
64 oz = 2 quarts / 80 oz = 2.5 quarts / 96 oz = 3 quarts
• Re-cap or plug the well opening and wait 30 minutes.
• Turn on and, if needed, re-prime the pump. Open all the faucets on the system one at a time. Start with the ones outside to limit the amount of water entering the septic system, especially if the drainfield area is flooded. Allow the water to run until there is a noticeable smell of bleach. You may also want to flush the toilets. If you have outside faucets, you may want to direct the water away from sensitive plants. If you cannot detect a bleach odor, repeat the disinfecting process.
• Turn off all the faucets and allow the bleach to remain in the system for at least eight hours.
• Backwash water softeners, sand filters, and iron removal filters with bleach water.
• Again, open all the faucets and run the water until there is no bleach smell—for up to15 minutes. Again, start with the ones outside, close to the well first. This will limit the amount of both bleach and water from entering and possibly effecting the septic tank and drainfield.
The only way to verify that the water is safe to drink is to have it tested by a certified laboratory. Although chlorine bleach is effective against most microorganisms, it will not remove chemical contamination that may have gotten into your well. If chemical contamination occurred, use commercially produced bottled water until a safe water source is obtained. Contact DOH-Washington for sampling instructions to get your water tested.
DOH-Washington recommends the following precautions to prevent possible illness from flood waters:
• Basic hygiene is critical. Wash your hands with soap and either disinfected or boiled and cooled water, especially before preparing or eating food, after toilet use, after participating in flood cleanup activities, and after handling articles contaminated with flood water or sewage.
• Avoid eating or drinking anything that has been contaminated with flood waters.
• Do not wade through standing water. If you do, wash and put on clean clothes.
• Avoid contact with flood waters, especially if you have open cuts or sores. If you have any open cuts or sores and contact flood waters, wash the area well with soap to control infection. If a wound develops redness, swelling, or drainage, seek immediate medical attention. Residents who sustain lacerations and/or puncture wounds and have not had a tetanus vaccination within the past 5 years require a tetanus booster.
• If sewage backs up into your house, wear rubber boots and waterproof gloves during cleanup. Absorbent household materials, such as wallcoverings, cloth, rugs, and drywall, should be removed and discarded since they cannot be properly disinfected. Hard-surfaced walls and floors, food contact surfaces, such as counter tops, refrigerators, and tables, and areas where children play should be cleaned with soap and water, followed by a disinfecting solution of 1/4 cup of bleach to one gallon of water. All linens and clothing should be cleaned in hot water or dry cleaned, while carpeting should be steam cleaned if not replaced. For larger items, air dry them in the sun, followed by spraying them with a disinfectant.
If your home is served by a septic tank and your plumbing is functioning slowly or sluggishly, you should:
• Conserve water as much as possible; if you use less water, you will increase the chance that there will not be any septic problems. This would include minimizing the use of your washing machine by going to a laundromat or using a portable restroom.
• Do not have the septic tank pumped. Exceptionally high water tables might crush a septic tank that was pumped dry or it could pop out of the ground. If the main problem is high ground water, pumping the tank will not solve that problem.
• If you cannot use your plumbing without creating a sanitary nuisance, such as sewage on top of the ground, consider renting a portable restroom for a temporary period or moving to a new location until conditions improve.
• Do not have the septic tank and drainfield repaired until the ground has dried. Often systems will function properly again when dry conditions return. Any repair must be permitted and inspected by DOH-Washington.
For further information, go to www.FloridaHealth.gov or contact DOH-Washington at 850-638-6240.