Preparing an Emergency Safe Drinking Water Supply Before and After a Storm

Preparing an Emergency Safe Drinking Water Supply Before and After a Storm

Prepare an emergency drinking water supply for your household before a storm hits. Image: UF/IFAS – Tyler Jones.

Hurricane season is just around the corner. During a natural disaster, drinking water supplies can quickly become contaminated. To be prepared, store a safe drinking water supply before a storm arrives. If you are unable to store enough water before a storm, it’s important to know how to make water safe to consume in an emergency.

Before a storm: How much water should be stored?

  • Store enough clean water for everyone in the household to use 1 to 1.5 gallons per day for drinking and personal hygiene (small amounts for things like brushing teeth). Increase this amount if there are children, sick people, and/or nursing mothers in the home.
  • Store a minimum 3-day supply of drinking water. If you have the space for it, consider storing up to a two-week supply.
  • For example, a four-person household requiring 1.5 gallons per person per day for 3 days would need to store: 4 people × 1.5 gallons per person × 3 days = 18 gallons. Don’t forget to include additional water for pets! Store a quart to a gallon per pet per day,depending on their size.
Examples of 3 and 5 gallon food grade jugs for storing water. Image: A. Albertin
What containers can be used to store drinking water?

Store drinking water in thoroughly washed food grade safe containers that are durable and unbreakable such as food grade plastic and enamel-lined metal containers with tight-fitting lids. These materials will not transfer harmful chemicals into the water or food they contain.

Specific examples include containers previously used to store beverages, like 2-liter soft drink bottles, juice bottles or containers made specifically to hold drinking water. Avoid plastic milk jugs if possible because they are difficult to clean. If you are going to purchase a container to store water, make sure it is labeled food-grade or food-safe.

As an extra safety measure, sanitize containers with a solution of 1 teaspoon of non-scented household bleach per quart of water (4 teaspoons per gallon of water). Use bleach that contains 5%–9% sodium hypochlorite. Add the solution to the container, close tightly and shake well. Make sure that the bleach solution touches all the internal surfaces. Let the container sit for 30 seconds and pour the solution out. You can let the container air dry before use or rinse it thoroughly with clean water.

Best practices when storing drinking water
  • Store water away from direct sunlight, in a cool dark place if possible. Heat and light can slowly damage plastic containers and can eventually lead to leaks.
  • Make sure caps or lids are tightly secured.
  • Store smaller containers in a freezer. You can use them to help keep food cool in the refrigerator if the power goes out during a storm.
  • Keep water containers away from where toxic substances (such as gasoline, kerosene, or pesticides) are stored. Vapors from these substances can penetrate plastic.
  • When possible, use water from opened containers in one or two days if they can’t be refrigerated.

More information on preparing an emergency drinking water supply can be found at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and in the EDIS Publication Preparing and Storing an Emergency Safe Drinking Water Supply

After a storm: Ensuring a safe drinking water supply

If a boil water notice has been issued in the area you live or you suspect your water supply may be contaminated, don’t consume it. Do not use it for drinking, preparing baby formula or food, making ice (if you have electricity), washing dishes, or brushing your teeth. Don’t swallow water when bathing. If you have any open cuts or wounds, do not use it for bathing. Instead, use your own clean, stored water supply or use bottled water.  

If you don’t have access to clean water, you can boil, disinfect, and filter your water during an emergency to make it safe to drink.  But, if your water is contaminated by fuel or toxic chemicals, boiling or disinfection won’t make it safe to drink. In these cases, it’s important to call your local health department for guidance and use bottled water instead.

Boiling water is the most effective way to destroy pathogens in water including viruses, bacteria, and parasites such as Cryptosporiduim and Giardia. If the water is cloudy or murky, let it settle and filter it through a clean cloth or coffee filter before boiling.

  • Once water begins boiling, continue to boil it for at least one minute.
  • Let the water cool and transfer it to a clean, food-grade container with a tight lid.
  • You can improve the taste of boiled water by aerating it (transfer water back and forth from one clean container to another) or you can add a pinch of salt for each quart of boiled water.

Disinfecting water will kill most viruses and bacteria, but it’s not as effective in killing parasites (like Giardia and Cryptosporidium) as boiling. Disinfect water by using the following amounts of household chlorine bleach (5%-9% sodium hypochlorite) and water. Do not use ‘splashless’ bleach or scented bleach. If the water is cloudy or murky, filter through a clean cloth or coffee filter before disinfecting. If water remains cloudy, double the amount of recommended chlorine bleach.

Amount of waterAmount of chlorine bleach  (5-9% sodium hypochlorite)
 Clear water   Cloudy water
1 quart2 drops4 drops
1 gallon8 drops16 drops
5 gallons½ teaspoon1 teaspoon

After mixing in the bleach, let the water stand for 30 minutes. If the water is still cloudy after 30 minutes, repeat the chlorination procedure once.

You can also use chlorine dioxide tablets, or iodine tablets to disinfect water. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for disinfection.

Filtering water – According to the CDC, many filtration systems can remove parasites like Giardia and Cryptosporidium if the absolute pore size is 1 micron or smaller. This does not filter out viruses or many bacteria. When choosing a filter, it’s important to carefully read the manufacturer’s instructions to understand what the system is effective against. The CDC recommends adding a disinfectant to the filtered water (chlorine, iodine, or chlorine dioxide tablets) to kill most viruses and bacteria. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for disinfection.

More detailed information about making water safe to drink can be found at the CDC, FEMA and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

UF/IFAS Water School Webinar Series: Managing Stormwater in a Changing FL Panhandle 2023

UF/IFAS Water School Webinar Series: Managing Stormwater in a Changing FL Panhandle 2023

Join us for a two-part webinar series: Managing Stormwater in a Changing FL Panhandle 2023 on May 3 from 8-11 am CST (9-12 pm EST), and May 17 from 8-11 am CST (9-12 pm EST). For those that have attended in previous years, we have a lot of new material to present and discuss.

Please register here: Stormwater Management Eventbrite A detailed agenda can be found on the Eventbrite page.

May 3: Session 1 will focus on Green Stormwater Infrastructure (GSI) and its maintenance, as well as presentations and discussion on the ecological function of GSI+LID (Low impact Development) and the Community Rating System

May 17: Session 2 will focus on implementing GSI+LID at the community level, with presentations and discussion on updates and opportunities for LID+GSI in Rules and Regulations, available funding and educational resources for project implementation and community-based social marketing.

PDHs and CEUs offered:

  • 4 Professional Development Hours (PDH) will be offered through the Florida Board of Professional Engineers. Two PDHs will be offered for Day 1 and two will be offered for Day 2.
  • 4 Continuing Education Units (CEU) will be offered for Pesticide Applicators through FDACS in the following categories: Ornamental & Turf, Private Applicator Ag, Right-of-Way, Aquatic, Natural Areas, Commercial Lawn & Ornamental, Limited Commercial Landscape Maintenance, Limited Lawn & Ornamental and Limited Urban Fertilizer.

The webinar is free for those not seeking PDHs or CEUs. For those seeking PDHs or CEUs, the cost is $50 for Day 1, and $50 for Day 2.

We look forward to your attendance! Feel free to contact Andrea Albertin if you have any questions: or (850) 875-7111

Multi-County Private Well and Water Quality Workshop

Multi-County Private Well and Water Quality Workshop

Private well system in Florida. Image: C. Wofford, UF/IFAS Photography

As a private well owner, you are responsible for ensuring that your water is safe to drink. What do you know about where well water comes from? Do you know how well water can become contaminated? If you want to learn about steps you can take to help ensure your drinking water is safe to consume and about what you can do to help protect groundwater quality, join us at our upcoming workshop. We will cover how private wells and septic systems work, maintenance, protecting drinking water quality, and disaster preparedness for this upcoming hurricane season.

The workshop will be offered on Thursday, April 13, 2023, from 5:00 pm – 7:30 pm at the Jackson County Agriculture Offices, 2741 Penn Ave., Marianna. You can also attend virtually via Zoom. Registration is $5.00 per person. Facilitated water screening for total coliform and E. coli bacteria is available for FREE! Please register using this Eventbrite link, or you can also register by visiting the Jackson County Extension Office, 2741 Penn Avenue, Suite 3, Marianna (850-482-9620). This workshop is being presented by UF/IFAS Extension Bay, Calhoun, Holmes, Jackson, and Washington Counties.

For lead and nitrate testing prices and additional details, visit our Eventbrite page or call the Jackson County Extension Office at 850-482-9620. Pre-registration is encouraged as seating is limited, but as mentioned previously, a virtual option is also available. For persons with disabilities requiring special accommodations, please contact the Extension Office (TDD, via Florida Relay Service, 1-800-955-8771) at least ten working days prior to the class so that proper consideration may be given to the request. UF/IFAS Extension is an Equal Opportunity Institution.   

Private Well and Septic System Webinars and Well Water Screening

Private Well and Septic System Webinars and Well Water Screening

Are you a Florida homeowner connected to a private well and/or septic system? Do you know want to learn more about your water and wastewater management systems at home?

If so, please join the UF/IFAS Central and Northwest Florida water resources regional specialized agents Yilin Zhuang and Andrea Albertin, in our four free private well and septic system webinars in February and March:

  • Thursday, February 9 at 2:00 p.m.: Private Wells 101
  • Thursday, February 16 at 2:00 p.m.: Septic System 101
  • Thursday, February 23 at 2:00 p.m.: Private Well Care Before and After Storms
  • Thursday, March 2 at 2:00 p.m.: Septic System Care Before and After Storms

After completing the webinars, attendees will also receive free mail-in well water screening for total coliform bacteria and E. coli.

To register, please visit our Eventbrite page: These webinars are free, but we ask all attendees to register.

For more information, please contact Dr. Yilin Zhuang at, or Dr. Andrea Albertin at or via telephone: (850) 875-7111.

Private wells: Protect your water quality

Private wells: Protect your water quality

The sanitary well cap (blue metal plate on well casing) and concrete pad on top of a grout seal help protect well water from surface contaminants. The spigot on the well cap is solely for sampliing purposes and is a requirement in this specific area of NE Jackson County. Image: AJ Weiss, FDOH.

Many residents in the Florida Panhandle rely on groundwater from private wells for home consumption. While public water systems are regulated federally to ensure safe drinking water, private wells are not regulated. Well users are responsible for ensuring the safety of their water. 

Recommended practices to protect your well water quality

Basic care at and around your well will reduce the risk of contaminating your well water.

  • Make sure that the well is properly sealed at the surface to keep pollutants from getting directly into your well and groundwater. A sanitary seal or sanitary well cap (which caps the surface end of the well casing) keeps surface water, pathogens, insects and other animals, chemicals, liquid fuels, and debris from getting directly into your well. Grout, which works as a sealant, is used to fill the space between the well casing and the edge of the borehole when a well is drilled. It prevents surface water from flowing down along the outside of the well casing directly to the groundwater being drawn by the well.
  • Keep the area around your well clean and accessible.
  • Make sure there is at least a 75 ft separation distance between your well and your septic system (this is required in Florida).
  • A well shouldn’t be close to (no less than 75 ft) or downhill from an animal enclosure.
  • Don’t store chemicals, fertilizers, or fuel near your well or in a well house.
  • Don’t use a well (residential or agricultural) as a chemical mixing station.

What should you test your well water for and where can you have it tested?

Contact you local county health department office for information on how to test your well water to ensure it is safe to drink. Image: F. Alvarado

At a minimum, the Florida Department of Health (FDOH) recommends testing drinking water annually for bacteria (total coliform bacteria and fecal coliforms, usually E. coli). Other contaminants that they recommend testing for include nitrate, lead, and pH.

Depending on where you live and current or past activities in your area, other contaminants may affect your well water quality. Call your local health department to see what they advise testing for.   It’s also important to reach out to them for testing recommendations when:

  • There is a change in the taste, appearance, or odor of your water
  • There is recurring gastrointestinal illness or other unexplained illness in the household
  • Your well is flooded or damaged
  • You have a spill of oil, liquid fuels, solvents, or other chemicals into or near your well
  • Any time services or repairs are done and the sanitary seal on your well is opened

Many county health departments provide testing for bacterial contamination at a minimum. If they do not offer testing for a particular contaminant, they can help point you to commercial labs in the area for testing. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) also maintains a list of certified water testing labs, which you can search by county. Through good maintenance practices and annual testing, you can help maintain your well water quality.