Impact of floods on public water supply, sanitation

There is an old saying that goes “there is nothing new under the sun” – and this certainly applies to the negative effects that flooding caused by extreme weather conditions can have on access to water. clean and sanitary.

Almost a century ago, President Calvin Coolidge and then Commerce Secretary Herbert Hoover faced one of the greatest challenges of their political careers. They were tasked with leading relief efforts for the Great Mississippi Flood that killed nearly 500 Americans and caused more than $ 5 billion in damage.

Fast forward to 2021, the Biden administration, local governments, as well as environmental and water professionals face a similar challenge from Hurricane Ida. With tragic timing, Category 4 Hurricane Ida engulfed Mississippi and Louisiana on the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. This recent hurricane was so powerful that it moved up from the southern region. , triggering flash floods in the northeast region. The storm also cut off access to electricity and drinking water for local residents. Social media posts have gone viral online and have shown just how devastating the damage is and how quickly the situation can turn deadly.

These incidents must be recognized as evidence of an alarming trend and a call to action to correct the nation’s flood response efforts. Loss of life, disruption of social services, and long-term emotional challenges are just some of the negative ramifications flooding can have on a community. To quantify the problem, the US Congressional Budget Office recently reported that the US economy was losing $ 54 billion a year due to hurricanes and storm-related flooding. About $ 17 billion of that falls on the backs of ordinary taxpayers.

For these reasons, a unified approach between the private and public sectors is needed to better equip first responders and consumers to prepare for floods. The public should also be educated on how to avoid inadvertent exposure to dangerous toxins through their water supply.

Flooding can produce a number of harmful effects, including:

  • Contamination of the water supply
    Excess flood water can contaminate private drinking water sources, such as wells and springs, when rainfall contacts the ground and comes in contact with things like animal waste. This increases the amount of bacteria, sewage, and other industrial wastes and chemicals that enter the water source or leaky pipes. Additionally, excess water makes it more difficult for water treatment devices to treat water effectively and efficiently. If there is contamination at any stage of the water flow process, it puts consumers at risk of exposure to dangerous toxins which could lead to serious damage such as wound infections, skin rashes, gastrointestinal illnesses and tetanus. In extreme cases, death can occur.
  • Disturbance of drinking water and cooking water
    In the event that they only have access to contaminated water, consumers cannot cook or clean their homes indefinitely until a water professional certifies their water is safe. Depending on the severity of the flood and storm, this can take days, weeks, months, and in some cases, even years. Without access to clean drinking water and cooking water, consumers end up becoming dependent on bottled water, the price of which is likely to increase dramatically during such a period. In poor and impoverished communities, this reality is even more damaging as they may not have the economic means to “fill up” with bottled water compared to their more affluent peers. In addition, in the event of a flood, outlets are often inaccessible and / or also lack water supply.

How to prepare and respond

Here are some recommendations that providers could follow to improve public understanding of flood best practices:

  • Communicate water quality to consumers
    The Environmental Protection Agency’s consumer confidence rule requires public water providers to provide water quality reports to consumers on an annual basis. Water professionals should start conversations about this report, so consumers know what to do in the event of a service disruption. For those who depend on private water sources, they should also be encouraged to have their water tested annually or after any flooding.
  • Educate consumers about the dangers of flood water
    As tempting as it may be, it is recommended that you avoid drinking, entering or swimming in flood waters due to the various contaminants in the water, as well as the risk of electrocution. There has been a slight increase in viral social media content popularizing this trend, so government officials should reiterate the ramifications of this activity on public health as it can lead to serious illness.
  • Prepare emergency kits
    Local governments can help educate the public on the best way to prepare for flooding. This could include storing a certain amount of bottled water in an emergency and best practices for rationing during extended periods of service disruption. Additionally, for those who may be in financial difficulty, local governments could identify and publicize places where free bottled water will be available following a flood.
  • Look for certified water filters
    For those who wish to filter or otherwise treat their water, it is recommended to focus on third party certified water treatment systems. Third-party certification bodies, including NSF and others, ensure that the treatment systems are safe to use with potable water, that they are structurally sound and that they do not leak, and most importantly, that they treat water efficiently according to the manufacturer’s claims. Be sure to specifically verify which contaminants any system is certified to reduce by reviewing product documentation or certification listings. Also note that many third party certified treatment systems are certified for use only with potable water supplies, so these systems are not suitable for use in flood water treatment.

A unified approach is needed between the public and private sectors to ensure that consumers know how flooding can impact their water supply. Local governments can make this information public, and by interacting directly with consumers, water professionals also have the opportunity to serve as public health ambassadors.

About the Author: Rick Andrew is Director of Global Business Development for Water Systems at NSF International. Rick has 30 years of experience in the preservation and maintenance of drinking water and is responsible for NSF’s global sales and structuring of water-related programs.

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