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More Important than You Think: Storing water

This past week we learned the Chinese had hacked into a water system in Hawaii and attempted to hack the grid in Texas. No power, no water.

On Saturday November 25, 2023 the Municipal Water Authority of Aliquippa Pennsylvania confirmed one of their booster stations had been hacked by an Iranian-backed cyber group. Matthew Mottes, the chairman of the board of directors for the Municipal Water Authority confirmed the cyber group, known as Cyber Av3ngers, took control of one of the stations.

In January 2021, a hacker attempted to poison a water treatment plant that served parts of the San Francisco Bay Area. The hacker had the username and password for a former employee’s account, a program that lets users remotely control their computers. After logging in, the hacker reportedly deleted programs that the water plant uses to treat drinking water.

In February 2021, an unknown hacker or group of hackers was able to gain access to the operations technology (OT) system of a water treatment plant in Oldsmar, Florida. The attack attempted to poison the water supply by increasing the amount of sodium hydroxide, also known as lye. The attempt was thwarted by an operator who was able to reverse the settings, before the toxic levels of the chemical reached the water.

Water plants in Nevada, Maine, and California were all hit with ransomware in 2021.

The cyberattacks on water treatment plants come amid a broader rise in ransomware attacks targeting public and private organizations across the US. Ransomware attacks employ codes that lock up an organizations’ computer systems until they agree to pay a ransom.

This is not new. In 2007 Iranians hacked into Israel’s water system by hacking the software that runs the pumps after routing through American and European servers to hide the source.

It’s not just terrorism we have to worry about affecting our water supply.

Jackson Mississippi has been dealing with water issues for years. Most of the city’s 150,000 residents were on a boil water notice for months. Many were left without any water at all after a major pump at the city’s main treatment facility was damaged. The water crisis was a result of decades-long neglect, creating a failing water treatment system that had a history of equipment failures.

Baltimore residents were ordered to boil water after E. coli was discovered in several West Baltimore locations, affecting more than 1,500 people.

Elevated levels of lead were detected in the Benton Harbor’s water system. The replacement of lead-tainted service lines became necessary.

Snowmageddon in Texas caused pipes to burst in Houston, Austin, San Antonio and in many locations throughout the state leaving families without water. An apartment building in Austin needed to be demolished due to water damage causing mold.

Water storage is absolutely essential to a good preparedness plan. In an emergency, it may be too late to go to the tap and expect clean water to flow. One gallon per person per day is the minimum you will need to continue living the way in which you are accustomed.  Two gallons is even better and if you have dehydrated or freeze-dried food you should plan on a minimum of two gallons per person. You will need water for drinking, cooking, cleaning, flushing toilets, reconstituting dehydrated and freeze-dried foods, and personal hygiene. When planning your water needs, don’t forget your pets.

Water may be stored in a variety of containers:

  1. Heavy duty plastic containers with a spout or a pump for dispensing water. Water is heavy and you need to consider this when choosing containers. Five gallons of water weighs 42 pounds. Containers should be manageable for one adult to lift or equipped with a pump. Make sure when using plastic containers that they are approved for food use. Chemicals are available to add to storage containers preserving the water for five years.

  2. Bleach bottles – Water may be stored in well-rinsed bleach (hypochlorite) bottles when bleach does not have color safe additives or is scented. Begin by cleaning bottles with hot, soapy water. Completely clean the inside and the outside of the container, including the handle, and lid. Rinse well with plain water. Once you clean and sanitize the container, fill it with water you know is safe and screw the cap on tightly. Since some experts say storing water in bleach containers is fine and others say it is dangerous, I recommend you rotate the water at least once a year and then reserve it for cleaning and flushing toilets.

  3. Single use water bottles– There are two types of bottled water containers. The bottles that can be easily squeezed and collapsed are not safe for long term water storage. They will degrade and leak. Harder plastic bottles may be refilled and used to store water.

  4. Vinegar bottles – These are perfect for water storage and will not degrade and leak. Even after thoroughly washing the water will take on the taste of vinegar making the water good for all uses but if drinking you may need to add a powdered drink mix to cover the taste.

  5. Soda Bottles – Liter soda bottles with screw on lids work well for storing drinking water. Colored bottles are the best as they filter the light. Sanitize by rinsing inside and out with a solution of one-half teaspoon of household bleach per pint of water. Finally, rinse with clean water. Once you clean and sanitize the container, fill it with water you know is safe and screw the cap on tightly. You may want to fill containers with your own tap water. Water in different areas tastes differently and your family will be accustomed to the taste of your own tap. Before using, open the container for several hours. Pour water back and forth between two pitchers to add air back in and improve the taste. If the water appears cloudy, treat or use it for cleaning and bathing but not for drinking. Liter bottles are also great to have on hand to grab quickly if you need to evacuate. They can be carried easily by an adult with the use of a lanyard type bottle carrier.

  6. Mylar water storage bags – These are impermeable to gases and are usually sold in bulk cases for easy stacking. Individual pouches can be purchased for storing in Five Day kits and in your car. These pouches are not rodent proof so check them often and place small pouches in a rodent proof container.

  7. Glass jars – As you empty your canning jars sterilize them, and the bands and lids, and fill with water until you are ready to refill them with the “fruits” of your gardening efforts. Used lids may be used to close your jars. Turn lids upside down so the metal part, not the rubber gasket is touching the glass jar. This will prevent mold from growing. Your canning jars are already taking up space so put them to work! Glass jars should be stored in a dark place and preferably in the original cardboard box. Water can also be canned by processing for 20 minutes in a water bath or steam canner. This is not necessary if water is rotated on a regular basis.

  8. Picnic coolers – Sanitize and fill with water between uses.

  9. The bathtub – If you know a storm is approaching and there is even a remote chance you may be without water, fill your bathtubs and sinks. You should experiment with this before an emergency arises. If your drain does not hold the water well you will want to purchase an inexpensive stopper at the hardware store. We have left our plants in a tub with water, while we left on vacation for a week and the water was still there when we returned home.

  10. Pitchers and pots –Again, when you know a storm is coming, drag out grandma’s silver pitcher, pots, canners and anything else that can hold water. All of these items will hold water that you can safely drink. That is huge! Once items are filled cover with a lid or plastic wrap to prevent dust and ants from getting in.

  11. Swimming pools – Use for cleaning and bathing only.

  12. Hot water heaters – Make sure you turn off the power (or gas) before you attempt to drain. To get a free flow of water from most hot water tanks, open the valve at the top of the tank as well as the faucet at the bottom of the tank. Increase the water flow by turning on any hot water faucet in the house before draining water from the hot water tank.

  13. Water beds – Use water from these for cleaning and bathing only.

  14. Liquids in canned fruits and vegetables are good for cooking. This is one reason we recommend you have canned foods as well as dried foods in your emergency food supply. Peach juice is great for cooking oatmeal. Rice and pasta cook well in the water from canned vegetables.

  15. Melted snow – Be sure the snow is freshly fallen and clean. Never eat snow as it will rapidly lower your body temperature.

  16. Rainwater should be collected away from trees or structures which could contaminate the water. Mylar blankets; new 5-gallon buckets; new unused garbage cans; pots and pans from the cupboard, all work well to collect water. Water collected in new garbage cans should not be used for drinking or cooking.

  17. Fruit juices should be included in every emergency storage plan. They are not only useful for drinking but also adding flavor to foods such as oatmeal. and disguising the taste of medications.

A Few Tips:

  • Do not drink sodas or alcoholic beverages in an emergency. They will greatly increase thirst.

  • Do not store water containers directly on a concrete floor. Chemicals may leach into the bottles; concrete will weaken plastic and cause your bottles to leak.

  • Water should be stored in containers that are filled completely to the top. Mold and bacteria love damp surfaces. You can greatly reduce the likelihood of molds forming by eliminating the air, in other words, by filling the bottle to the top.

  • Water should be stored in a cool, dark location. Heat and light will increase the rate at which plastics decompose.

  • Water should never be stored near chemicals, pesticides, perfumed items, or products which may emit toxic gasses.

  • NEVER store water in plastic or cardboard milk containers. They are too porous, difficult to sanitize, and are easily contaminated. Plastic milk bottles are designed to begin decomposing as soon as they are manufactured.

  • Label all appropriate containers with the words “drinking water” and with the date stored. This will help children know which water is safe if you are not home. It will remind you too. Label others “not for drinking or cooking”.

  • Stored water should be rotated every year. A good time would be a special occasion that falls during the summer months – birthday, anniversary, 4th of July. This water can then be used to water outdoor gardens and trees.

  • Train your family in the safe and responsible use of stored water.

  • Do not use bottled water that has been exposed to flood waters for drinking or cooking.

  • If you don’t have bottled water, you should boil or treat water to make it safe.

  • Water Purification Tablets are iodine based and are specifically made to purify water. They are sold at camping and sporting goods stores, military surplus stores, some large department or drug stores and by companies selling emergency preparedness supplies. Carefully follow directions on the package. Purification tablets are for emergency use only, not everyday use. Unopened tablets have a shelf life of several years. Some kits include an additive to help improve the taste and color created by iodine.

  • If you have a well that has been flooded, the water should be tested and treated after floodwaters recede. If you suspect that your well may be contaminated, contact your local or state health department or agriculture extension agent for specific guidelines.

  • Store all the containers upright in a cool, dark, dry place. Because direct sunlight and heat gradually weaken plastic containers, store them away from heat and light to prevent possible leaking. Water is heavy, so store the containers on a strong shelf or in a cabinet.

  • A freezer is also a good place to store water for a long period. Freeze water in plastic bottles only; glass will break. Fill containers leaving two to three inches of space at the top to prevent bursting as the water expands and freezes. You probably won’t have enough freezer space to store all the water you will need in an emergency but storing at least some is a good idea. If you lose electricity, the frozen water will help keep foods in your freezer frozen longer until power is restored. Foods will stay frozen longer during an outage if the freezer is full so if your freezer is partially empty, fill it with containers of water. A full freezer also uses less electricity. Store water and solve three problems, water storage, preserve foods longer in an outage and reduce power costs.

*(U.S. federal agencies and the Red Cross recommend these steps to disinfect drinking water in an emergency. Remember no home method can guarantee complete safety)

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