If you live in a community and use or drink city water, most likely you've heard of boil orders, advisories, notices or something similar. Even though it might sound self-explanatory, it's important to learn the why and the what to do when it happens.
How did the idea begin?
When John Snow, an English physician and leader in the development of anesthesia and medical hygiene, recommended in the mid-1800s that water be "filtered and boiled before it is used," it was one of the most practical applications of the germ theory of disease in public health. This was the precursor to the modern boil water advisories we see today, and they're still happening – even with the advancement of science and disease control.
Why did we get this order?
A boil order can also be called a boil water advisory, boil water notice, boil water warning, boil water order or water boil order. Whatever it's called in your neck of the woods, if your local health officials issue one, you should use bottled water or boil tap water before using or drinking. The order means your community's water has, or could have, biological pathogens or germs that can make you sick. When a boil order is issued, it is usually as a precaution so consumers, especially the elderly, young children and those with weak immune systems are protected from potential drinking water contaminants. It is typically issued after an unexpected condition has led to biological contamination in the public water system.
Typically, our drinking water distribution system in America is pressurized and treated in various ways to ensure all have enough high-quality water in their homes and can safely use the drinking water supply regardless of their elevation or distance. When the order is given, it can sometimes be because of disinfection loss, low pressure in the distribution system water quality issues or a combination. This can often result in additional problems, like treatment disruptions, water line breaks, floods and power outages. System failure or in many cases, when a water main breaks, customers may not notice any changes to water pressure. Water operators continue to provide pressure to the water system while repairing a ruptured water main. If a large break occurs and operators cannot isolate the broken water main, the water pressure may start to drop, and a system-wide boil order may be issued.
Whenever the notification comes from local health officials, the reason for the order will be included. Questions or concerns about the boil order should be addressed by the local health department or municipality issuing the order. They will also lay out the next steps.
Pets can also get sick from some of the same germs or spread germs to people. Give pets bottled water or if bottled water is not available, they should be given boiled water as instructed. During this time, tap water for household plants and gardens can be used.
A Do Not Drink water advisory, is when your community's water is, or could be, contaminated with harmful chemicals and toxins, and when boiling water will not make it safe.
A Do Not Use water advisory, is when your community's water is, or could be, contaminated with germs, harmful chemicals, toxins or radioactive materials. Under this advisory, any contact, even with the skin, lungs or eyes, can be dangerous. Do not drink or use tap water from the affected system for any purpose if the advisory is in effect, including for bathing. These types of advisories are rare.
If you're experiencing a boil order more often, it could be a sign that it's time for an infrastructure upgrade. Fehr Graham can help walk municipalities through the process from start to finish. From finding funding sources to overhauling entire water and wastewater systems, we've helped countless communities feel confident when it comes to water storage, treatment and supply systems.
Fehr Graham offers premier engineering, environmental and funding solutions services to ensure your community meets municipal water effluent standards. Contact us to learn more about our services, or give us a call at 815.235.7643.