Latest News

Buying bottled water? Filling the tub? For many that’s not necessary.

We’re still a few days away from Hurricane Florence reaching the Carolinas, but many store shelves are already bare.

Grocery stores, gas stations and pharmacies have been overrun with people buying bottled water as they prepare for what the National Hurricane Center is calling an “extremely dangerous major hurricane.”

But while it’s good to prepare, if you are on city water like in Durham and Raleigh, you may be wasting your money because the chances of losing water even if the power goes out is slim. Can I drink tap water during a hurricane?The short answer is yes. Unless your water supplier notifies you, you should be able to drink your water during the storm. What if I lose power?

If you get water from say Raleigh, Durham or another local government, you likely won’t have any issues.

“Our water treatment facilities as well as our booster stations — which help maintain water pressure throughout the system — have backup generators, so that we can continue to provide safe drinking water to our customers,” said Kirk Butts, spokesperson for Durham Water Management Department.

Butts said even if the power in customers’ homes or businesses go off, they will still have water available for drinking, bathing or flushing the toilet.

If you’re concerned about losing access to water, Raleigh’s Senior Utilities Analyst Ed Buchan suggested filling plastic bags, pots, pans and other containers with water now.

“We always suggest people be prepared,” he said. “Fill it up now and put it in the refrigerator. That’s infinitely less expensive than buying bottled water.”

There may be some isolated issues if heavy winds knock down trees or destroy a water line, but it would affect a small group of people who would be notified by their water supplier.

Raleigh has numerous backup systems and generators to make sure water reaches people if the power goes out.

If Durham floods as a result of Hurricane Florence, excessive flooding shouldn’t impact the city’s water system, he said. If a sinkhole develops, that could break a water main. Water Management employees are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week to respond to water main breaks. Aging infrastructure is a common reason for water main breaks, and the risk of that stays the same regardless of weather, Butts said.

Orange Water and Sewer Authority, which serves Chapel Hill, Carrboro, the UNC campus and a portion of Orange County, also said it has backup generators and fuel to make sure it can keep delivering water. Will I be able to flush my toilet if the power goes out?Again, if you are on city water then you shouldn’t have any problems. What if I live in an apartment? Some apartments may rely on electricity to pump water up to higher floors. If you’re unsure if you’re impacted, it’s recommended you contact your leasing office or property manager. The same goes for some homes that have water systems that require electricity to pump water from their basements. What about wells?If you use a well to get your water, you will likely lose access to water if the power goes out.

“Folks on a private well or community well system are more at risk of not having water, because they will not have power to pump the water into the house — and can’t flush either,” said Kirk Butts, spokesman for the Durham Water Management Department.What if I need water, but can’t find any? If you are on a well or your apartment has told you you’ll have trouble getting water when the power goes out, then you will likely need to stock up on bottled water. If the stores are out and you can’t find any, you can fill up pitchers, pots and reusable water bottles or fill plastic bags water and store them in the freezer (they will also help keep your food cold in your fridge.)

You can also clean your bathtub and fill it with water to flush the toilet or use as drinking water.

If you receive city water and are debating buying bottled water, follow the above tips and leave the bottled water for other people who will need it. How much water should I stock up on? State officials recommend one gallon of water per person per day for three to seven days when preparing for a major storm. Keep in mind that children, older people and those who are ill may need more water than normal. So what if I lose water? Can I start drinking it when it comes back on?If you lose water, you should run the cold water in your shower or bathtub for a minute, which helps flush the water line, Butts said. As for main breaks, old pipes are a common reason, but that risk level stays the same regardless of weather. Storms typically don’t increase that risk.

Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan: 919-419-6563, @dawnbvaughan