Water Quality Advisories & Notices

What is a Precautionary Boiled Water Advisory?

A precautionary boil water advisory is a statement issued by the water system advising customers to boil tap water before consumption.  Advisories are issued when an event has occurred allowing for the possibility for the water distribution system to become contaminated.  An advisory does not mean that the water is contaminated, but rather it could be contaminated; because the water quality is unknown.  Until sample results are known, customers should assume the water is unsafe to drink and take the appropriate precautions.

When LAWCO makes routine repairs, we typically tag customer’s doors with a precautionary Boil Water Advisory (BWA) with the following information:  The water in your area was off today to allow us to make a necessary repair to our waterlines serving your area.  We used proper disinfection methods during these repairs.  We flushed and rinsed the affected lines after completing the repair.  We confirmed the presence of a proper chlorine residual before returning the area to service.  We then obtained representative samples of our water in the affected area for immediate laboratory analysis to assure that NO bacterial presence has been introduced into the system during these repairs.  Because laboratory tests require time to complete and the system needed to be returned to service before test results could be obtained, we are issuing a precautionary “boil water advisory” during this interim period until laboratory tests can be completed and confirm that your water meets all purity and safety standards.  We suggest that for the next 48 hours you boil your water before consumption, after which time the boil water advisory will be automatically rescinded.  IF AFTER TESTING WE DETERMINE THAT THE BOIL WATER ADVISORY NEEDS TO BE EXTENDED, YOU WILL BE NOTIFIED.  If you receive no additional notice you will know that the “boil water advisory” has been rescinded.

What is a Boil Water Notice?

A boil water notice is a statement issued by the water system advising customers that they MUST boil their water before consuming it or use bottled water.

What is the Correct Method to Boil Water for Consumption?

It is recommended that all consumers disinfect their water before consuming it (including fountain drinks), making ice, brushing teeth, or using it for food preparation or rinsing of foods by the following means:

Boil water for one (1) full minute in a clean container.  The one minute starts after the water has been brought to a rolling boil.  (The flat taste can be eliminated by shaking the water in a clean bottle, pouring it from one clean container to another, or by adding a small pinch of salt to each quart of water that is boiled.)

What is a Do Not Use Notice?

A do not use notice is a statement issued by the water system advising customers that water should not be used for human consumption, washing or bathing, to water plants or animals, laundry, cleaning, etc. until further notice.  Boiling water during a Do Not Use Notice will not make the water safe for consumption.  During a Do Not Use Notice, do not use the water for any reason.

Water Quality Advisories & Notices – Questions & Answers (Q&A) 

Typically a boil water event lasts for 24 – 48 hours, but this could be longer and the need to boil water may last for several days or more.  How long depends on the conditions that caused the need to boil, how quickly the conditions can be corrected, and how long it takes for laboratory results to confirm that your water is safe to drink.

Bring water to a FULL ROLLING BOIL for 1 MINUTE, then allow the water to COOL BEFORE USE.  Because water may take 30 minutes to cool, plan ahead.  Make up a batch of boiled water in advance so you will not be tempted to use it hot and risk scalds or burns.  Bottled water may be used for drinking, cooking, washing and brushing teeth.

No.  Any water used for food preparation or cooking needs to be from an acceptable alternate source or boiled first.

It is more protective to boil the water first, to prevent the potential for inadequate heating.  The cooking process should bring the water to a FULL ROLLING BOIL for at least 1 MINUTE before adding the food item (for example, pasta).  If the water will be at a slight boil for a long time, then this will also be protective.  For example, you may be cooking beans or boiling chicken for 10-20 minutes.

Fruits, vegetables, and any other foods that will not be cooked should be washed and rinsed with boiled (and then cooled) water or water from an acceptable alternate source.  Similarly, ice should be made with either boiled water or water from an acceptable alternate source.

No, not without precautions!!  Any water used for baby food, formula, or making beverages must be boiled (and then cooled) or be from an acceptable alternate source.

Hand-washed dishes:  

No!  Use boiled (the cooled) water, water from an alternate source, or after washing with dish detergent rinse for a minute in a dilute bleach (1 tablespoon of unscented bleach per gallon of water).  Allow dishes, cutlery, cups, etc. to completely air dry before use.

Home dishwasher:

Yes, if the hot wash is at least 170 degrees F and includes a full dry cycle.  However, most home dishwashers do not reach this temperature.  If you are uncertain of the temperature of your dishwasher, rinse in dilute bleach and completely air dry as described for hand-washed dishes.

Commercial dishwasher:  

Yes, if it is a NSF listed washer and manufactured and operated with a heat sanitizing rinse set at 170 degrees F that lasts for at least 30 seconds.  Additional information on commercial dishwashers can be found in the fact sheets for food service establishments.

No!  Any water you ingest or place in your mouth should be disinfected by boiling (and then cooled) or come from an alternate source.  Bottled water is excellent for brushing your teeth.

Yes, unless a “Do Not Use” notification has been issued, it is safe to wash clothes in tap water as long as the clothes are completely dry before being worn.  However, increased turbidity that sometimes occurs during a boil water event may discolor clothing, especially whites.

Unless a “Do Not Use” notification has been issued, your water may be used by healthy individuals for showering, bathing, shaving, and washing as long as care is taken not to swallow or ingest the water and avoid shaving nicks.

To minimize the chance of infections, people with open wounds, cuts, blisters or recent surgical wounds and people who are immunocompromised or suffer from chronic illness should use boiled water (then cooled) or water from an alternate source.  Children and disabled individuals should be supervised to ensure water is not ingested.  Sponge bathing is advisable, and bathing time should be minimized to further reduce the potential for ingestion.

Generally, vigorous hand washing with soap and your tap water is safe for personal hygiene.  If you are washing your hands to prepare food, you should use boiled (then cooled) water, bottled water, or water from another acceptable source for hand washing.

If a “Do Not Use” notification has been issued (as example, when sewerage or chemical contamination is present), your water should not be used for any purposes, including personal hygiene.  Only water from an acceptable alternate source should be used instead.

To be certain, give them water that has been boiled then cooled or water from an acceptable alternate source.  Many pets regularly drink some pretty bad water, but pets come in a wide variety with variable resistances to pathogens.  Many pets are vulnerable to the same diseases that humans can get from contaminated water and can spread these diseases into the environment or pass them on to their owners.  More specific information may be available from your veterinarian, based on the actual animal and conditions for the boil water notice.

Acceptable alternate sources for drinking water may include:

  • Bottled water
  • Water from another public water supply (one that is not under a boil water advisory)
  • Water from a water tanker or “buffalo” that is provided by emergency response agencies or your water utility.

It is safe to use bottled water.  Such water may be used for drinking, cooking, and washing with no further treatment.  Bottled water may be preferable when boiling is not possible or is inconvenient.  It is always a good idea for consumers to keep an emergency supply of bottled water on hand for just such a use.

Many manufacturers advise a two-year period for taste, but bottled water can be used indefinitely if stored properly.  The International Bottled Water Association advises consumers to store bottled water at room temperature (or cooler), out of direct sunlight and away from solvents and chemicals such as gasoline, paint thinners and dry cleaning chemicals.

Flush household pipes/faucets first:  To flush your plumbing, run all your cold water faucets on full for at least 5 minutes each.  If you service connection is long or complex (like in an apartment building) consider flushing for a longer period.  Your building superintendent or landlord should be able to advise you on longer flushing times.

Automatic ice makers:  Dump existing ice and flush the water feed lines by making and discarding three batches of ice cubes.  Wipe down the ice bin with a disinfectant.  If your water feed line to the machine is longer than 20 feet, increase to five batches.

Hot water heaters, water coolers, in line filters, and other appliances with direct water connections or water tanks:  Run enough water to completely replace at least one full volume of all lines and tanks.  If your filters are near the end of their life, replace them.

Water softeners:  Run through a regeneration cycle.

Reverse Osmosis (RO) units:  Replace pre-filters, check owner’s manual.

Replace other water filters, as they are disposable and may be contaminated.  This applies especially to carbon filters and others that are near the end of their life.

No!  The Department of Health does not encourage residents to rely on home treatment units.  It is recommended that you use boiled (then cooled) water or an alternate source such as bottled water.  Most in-home treatment devices are not designed to remove pathogens, and should not be relied upon to protect you during a boil water event.  Even treatment units that are designed to remove pathogens may not do so all the time unless they have been properly maintained.  Common home treatment devices that have limited or no ability to remove pathogens include: carbon filters; water softeners and other ion exchange units; sediment filters; chlorine removers; and aerators. If you have any questions about your in-home treatment system, please refer to your owner’s manual or the manufacturer for more information.

Most of these units are not capable of removing pathogens, including viruses, bacteria, and protozoa.  The few that are designed to do so, may still require disinfection to address viruses and must be diligently maintained to assure effective treatment.  If you are at all uncertain of the capabilities of your reverse osmosis unit, do not rely on it to remove potentially harmful pathogens.  Instead, you should use boiled (then cooled) water or an alternate source such as bottled water.

Boiling and bottled water are the most reliable means to ensure safe potable water during a boil water event and should always be your first choices.  However, in extended emergencies, potable water that needs no further treatment may be supplied by your local emergency agency from a tanker truck or a water trailer called a water “buffalo”.

There are also disinfection methods using ordinary household chemicals that homeowners can use if needed.  These can be found in several publications, including the State Department of Health pamphlet “Don’t be Left in the Dark”, also available through your local Health Department.

CAUTION – Chemical disinfection is limited in effectiveness and is not appropriate for very turbid (muddy) water, or where raw sewerage or other fecal matter may be present.  In this case only use an alternate source of water.

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