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Emergency Water Preparedness

Storing Tap Water for Emergency Use

Des Moines Water Works’ goal is to provide an uninterrupted supply of quality drinking water even in the face of adversity; however, we also advocate preparedness. Water can quickly become a precious resource following many disasters. The following guidelines adapted from can help you be prepared in case of an emergency. 

How Much Water Should I Store for Emergency Use?

It is recommended that you store a three-day supply of water, including at least one gallon of water per person, per day. A normally active person needs at least one-half gallon of water daily just for drinking. Additionally, in determining adequate quantities, take the following into account:

  • Individual needs vary depending on age, physical condition, activity level, and diet.
  • Children, nursing mothers, and ill people need more water.
  • Very hot temperatures can double the amount of water needed.
  • A medical emergency might require additional water.
  • Additional water will be need for household pets.
How Should Tap Water be Stored?
It is recommended you purchase food-grade water storage containers from surplus or camping supplies stores to use for water storage. Before filling with water, thoroughly clean the containers with dish soap and water, and rinse completely so there is no residual soap. Follow directions below on filling the container with water.

If you choose to use recycled storage containers, choose two-liter plastic soft drink bottles – not plastic jugs or cardboard containers that have had milk or fruit juice in them. Milk protein and fruit sugars cannot be adequately removed from these containers and provide an environment for bacterial growth when water is stored in them. Cardboard containers also leak easily and are not designed for long-term storage of liquids. Also, do not use glass containers, because they can break and are heavy.

If storing water in plastic soda bottles, follow these steps: thoroughly clean the bottles with dish soap and water, and rinse completely so there is no residual soap. Sanitize the bottles by adding a solution of one teaspoon of liquid household chlorine bleach such as Clorox® Regular Bleach to the water. Do not use scented, color safe or bleaches with added cleaners. Swish the sanitizing solution in the bottle so that it touches all surfaces. After sanitizing the bottle, thoroughly rinse out the sanitizing solution with clean water.

Filling the Containers with Water

Fill the container to the top with tap water. Des Moines Water Works’ water is treated with chlorine so you do not need to add anything to the water to preserve it. If the water you are using comes from a well or water source that is not treated with chlorine, add two drops of liquid household chlorine bleach such as Clorox® Regular Bleach to the water. Do not use scented, color safe or bleaches with added cleaners. Tightly close the container using the original cap. Be careful not to contaminate the cap by touching the inside of it with your finger. Place a date on the outside of the container so that you know when you filled it. Store the containers in a cool, dark place.

Where Should the Water be Stored?

Water stored for emergency use should be stored in a cool dark place with limited or preferably no exposure to sunlight. You may want to consider storing half of the emergency water in one place and half in another place to guard against all of the water being compromised by the disaster. Containers of water can also be stored in a freezer where the ice will help maintain the temperature of the freezer during power outages and provide emergency water as it melts. If water will be frozen the containers should not be filled completely to allow room for expansion.

How Long Can the Water be Stored?

Water stored in this way will last for many months.  It is recommended that you inspect your stored water supply every three months and that you empty your containers, clean, and refill them approximately every six months. 

Bottled Water
Commercially bottled water can be used for emergency water storage. Keep bottled water in its original container and do not open it until it is needed. Replace bottled water on the expiration or “use by” date.

Plumbing Water
Water stored in your homes’ plumbing can also be used in emergency situations. Water can be retrieved from piping, hot water heaters, and even toilet tanks. To prevent water from draining out of you house during a widespread water outage it may be necessary to close the water inlet valve where the water pipe comes into to house. This valve is typically located near the water meter. Water inlet valves can be difficult to operate and may be rusted open. Check the condition of your water inlet valve and have it repaired if it is not operational.  If your home has more than one level, water can be retrieved from the piping by first closing the water inlet valve, opening a faucet on the highest level of the home to allow air into the piping, and then opening a faucet at the lowest level of the home to drain the water out.

Water can be recovered from the water heater by closing the inlet valve to the water heater, closing or disconnecting any gas or electric supply to the water heater, and then opening the drain valve located near the bottom of the water heater to drain the water out.  If the water in a water heater will be used in emergency situations, the water heater should be drained on a regular basis following the procedures listed above to remove sediment.  This is a good regular maintenance practice even if the water heater will not be used for emergency water. Remember not to turn the gas or electric on to the water heater until normal water service has been restored and the water heater has been refilled. Serious damage to the water heater or fire could result.

Water can also be dipped out of toilet tanks (not the bowl) in emergency situations.  It is recommended that this water be used only for sanitation purposes and not for drinking or cooking.

More information on emergency water storage can be found at
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