Supplementing Your Private Drinking Water Supply

By Sharon Skipton, Extension Water Quality Educator

As drought conditions persist, private drinking water wells may be stressed. If your private drinking water well fails to provide an adequate drinking water supply, you might consider bottling and hauling water from a near-by public water supply. You might draw water from a water vending machine, a friend's home, a public facility, etc.

Water vending machines are systems plumbed into the public water supply where customers fill their own containers with treated water. Since the water for vending machines comes from an approved public water supply, the assumption is that the water meets EPA drinking water standards. The vending machine normally provides treatment above that done by the municipality, such as reverse osmosis treatment.

Many types of containers are available for water storage, including those made of glass and plastic. Glass provides an effective container for water storage but is easily broken and heavier than plastic. Glass containers manufactured and advertised for food storage will be safe.

Plastic containers manufactured and used for food or beverage storage or which are advertised as food-quality containers will be safe. Plastic jugs with tight fitting, secure lids that have contained juice, punch, or other edible substances are safe for emergency water storage. However, these containers can degrade over time and should not be used repeatedly. Avoid using plastic milk containers if possible, as fat traces may remain. If used, wash thoroughly, giving special attention to hard-to-reach areas such as handles. New containers can be purchased in most housewares and sporting goods departments, as well as at some water vending locations. New containers should be labeled for storage of food or beverages. Some containers deemed safe for water storage may affect the taste of stored water.

Wash the containers and lids thoroughly with hot tap water and dish detergent. Rinse thoroughly with hot tap water, or wash in a dishwasher.

While the water from a public water supply should be free of disease causing organisms, bacteria can be inadvertently introduced into the water during the collection and storage process. In addition, inadequate cleaning and disinfection of a water vending machine could result in bacterial contamination. Treating the water with a chemical disinfectant will inactivate organisms that might be present in the storage containers, or that might be introduced as the water is collected.

Some, but not all, public water supplies are disinfected with chlorine or chloramines. These water supplies may contain enough residual disinfectant to deactivate pathogens that might be introduced during the water storage process, making additional treatment prior to storage unnecessary. For water supplies that are not disinfected with chlorine or chloramines, or for an additional safety margin, follow the directions below.

To treat unchlorinated or unchloraminated potable water for storage, use liquid household chlorine bleach that contains 4 to 6 percent sodium hypochlorite. Bleach that contains fragrances, soaps, surfactants, or other additives and should not be used for drinking water disinfection. Use the freshest container of liquid chlorine bleach available, preferably not more than three months old. Add six drops of bleach per gallon of water using a clean uncontaminated medicine dropper.

Stir the water, cover, and allow it to stand for 30 minutes. You should be able to smell chlorine after the 30-minute waiting period. If you cannot, add another dose and let the water stand covered another 15 minutes. Cap containers. Store the containers in the refrigerator or in a cool dry place away from direct sunlight.

Information adapted from the University of Nebraska - Lincoln Extension NebGuide "Drinking Water: Storing An Emergency Supply."