Weather Alert

Here’s what you need to know if you don’t have access to clean water or are concerned about burst pipes

Nao Ohdrea pours water into a container at Meanwhile Brewery in Austin on Feb. 18, 2021. Several breweries were offering free water to residents without running water. Many Texas residents are still without power and many don't have clean drinking water or working water at all. Credit: Sergio Flores for The Texas Tribune

The Texas Tribune

Nearly half the state of Texas is facing disruptions to its water supply, ranging from having no running water at all to being forced to boil water before consuming it.

In some buildings, water has been shut off to prevent frozen pipes from bursting and flooding buildings, the latest challenge that has reared its head since the storm first hit. People have been forced to adapt, melting snow to flush toilets and boiling it to drink. Here’s a list of ways to deal with a disrupted water supply until things return to normal.

If you don’t have any running water:

Drinking water: Check with neighbors, relatives or friends with running water who are able to travel and share. Federal and state officials are working to make water bottles available across Texas, so check your local news for locations providing free water. Melting snow for drinking water should be a last resort, as boiling snow does not get rid of all pathogens, according to the CDC.

LIST: Where to get free bottled water in Houston and Galveston today, via KHOU

LIST: Here are the North Texas cities where you can get water for free, via The Dallas Morning News

LIST: Where to get free water at Texas stores and businesses, via Austin360

Using the bathroom: Toilets don’t require running water or pressure to function. You can manually fill the toilet tank with water to flush. Because it’s being flushed down, the type of water doesn’t matter, according to Benjamin Franklin Plumbing. You can use melted snow or water from nearby creeks or even a pool.

Bathing, brushing teeth, washing hands: Bottled water can be used for any of these, but it is most important to conserve for hand-washing after using the bathroom and touching garbage, as hand sanitizers do not eliminate all types of germs and are not effective when hands are visibly dirty, according to the CDC.

If there are problems with your pipes:

Many Texans have seen their pipes freeze, but damage might not become evident until they begin to thaw. Any leaks, stains, or discoloration on walls and ceilings could indicate burst or leaking pipes. Other less obvious signs include a higher than normal water bill, unexpectedly low water pressure and, sometimes, discoloration in water, according to plumbers.

If a pipe has bursted, the first and most important thing to do is shut off your water. This will prevent further flooding. Also, shut off electricity in the part of your home impacted. Take pictures and videos of the damage to have proof for insurance, and work to try and remove standing water with towels, mops or even through turning a fan on.

Most people will need to call a plumber, but double check that the plumber is licensed, which you can do here.

If you’re under a boil water notice:

Water used for brushing teeth, preparing and cooking food — including washing produce — feeding babies with formula and giving water to pets needs to be boiled or come from water bottles. Let water boil for two minutes and allow it cool before using it. Unboiled water is safe for showering and bathing as long as it doesn’t go into your mouth, but for children and babies, it may be safer to do a sponge bath with boiled water to ensure they don’t accidentally swallow untreated water, according to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

Laundry can proceed as normal and dishwashers that reach 150 degrees are safe, but to wash dishes by hand with untreated water, you also need to use bleach, according to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

As power outages decrease, more people will be able to boil water. However, if you don’t have access to power, regular, unscented household bleach can disinfect water in emergency situations, but this needs to be done with caution and precision, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Use a clean dropper from your medicine cabinet or emergency supply kit and use the table below as a guide to decide the amount of bleach you should add to the water, and double the amount of bleach if the water is cloudy, colored or very cold. Stir and wait to use for at least 30 minutes. The water should have a slight chlorine odor, but if the chlorine taste is too strong, pour the water from one clean container to another and let it stand for a few hours before use.

For a quart/liter, add 2 drops for either 6% or 8.25% bleach.

For a gallon, add 8 drops of 6% bleach or 6 drops of 8.25% bleach.

For two gallons, add 16 drops (1/4 tsp) of 6% bleach or 12 drops (1/8 teaspoon) of 8.25% bleach.

For four gallons, add 1/3 teaspoon of 6% bleach or 1/4 teaspoon of 8.25% bleach.

For 8 gallons, add 2/3 teaspoon of 6% bleach or 1/2 teaspoon of 8.25% bleach.

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