This q&a originally appeared in the November 2019 issue of Water Quality Products magazine as "Hurricane Season."
In July, Hurricane Barry marked the start of the Atlantic hurricane season when it made landfall on the Gulf Coast, and in August, Hurricane Dorian—the most powerful hurricane of the season as of press time—hit the Bahamas and North Carolina. In the wake of devastating storms such as these, water quality contamination can become a concern. WQP Associate Editor Sara Myers spoke with James Peterson, product manager for Crystal IS, on impacts that recent hurricanes can have on water quality and health risks associated.
Sara Myers: What are some of the long-term impacts that a natural disaster like Hurricane Barry can have on water quality?
James Peterson: The most damage that can occur is to water infrastructure and treatment systems. The damage can be anything that gets remediated in a day or two or to extend the damage like an entire treatment facility being knocked down. This is what can stretch the window of how long the water advisory or a boil advisory is out. Some storms can cause damage to part of the infrastructure that may not get noticed immediately. This can lead to higher occurrences of failures inside the infrastructure after these storms.
Myers: What health risks are associated with hurricane-related flooding and what solutions can help mitigate risks?
Peterson: During a hurricane event or a flooding event overall, especially if a water system becomes inundated, the moment when water systems do reach that, and water advisories or boil advisories come out, the contamination should certainly be seen and municipal water should not be touched. This is essential because water floods can make their way into the system.
These health risks start to evolve, and water can no longer be treated as safe, even when storms subside, waters go away, treatment systems come back online, and advisories get lifted. There are many parts of building infrastructure and plumbing in homes, faucets, exteriors and purification systems that may still harbor parts of that contamination, especially microbial contamination, which can continue growing. Those areas now pose risks of causing microbial contamination that will last much longer than that municipality will provide a boil water advisory warning for.
Myers: Can you talk about what happens to drinking water systems during floods?
Peterson: After a disaster, floodwaters, often ridden with contaminants, can submerge water infrastructure and parts of building plumbing. While this equipment can ideally be contained in a closed system, small leaks are inevitable, particularly with aging infrastructure, combined with the fresh damage caused by the storm. These imperfections enable contaminated floodwaters to enter the water supply, ultimately putting people who rely on these systems for clean drinking water at a heightened health risk.
Myers: How can residents prepare for flood events to help prevent water quality from being impacted?
Peterson: Home preparedness begins with having a safe source of water stored during an event like this. Bottled water should be kept in an area where it is most likely to avoid floodwater and damage. That is largely the primary source people should rely on for drinking water during and right after an immediate event.
For preparedness in home water systems, residents should disconnect water purification equipment, water softeners, close ballots and ensure that those systems are isolated. This can help assure that contaminated water from the utility will not be entering. That will help prevent the entrance of bacteria, which may then sit and stagnate either over a period of non-use or when the homeowner may be away from their home after an event. Any infrastructure in-home plumbing may want to consider purification systems for drinking water that can address microorganisms. Ultraviolet is one of the ones we have looked at here to be able to really reduce the risk of contamination that may not have been fully addressed.