Public Water Supply

Problems and Solutions | References | Emergency Water Purification | Other Issues | Forum

People need to drink at least one-half gallon (1–2 liters) of water per day (ref). Dehydration due to lack of water can result in death within 3 days (ref), or earlier if there’s fever and hence need of more water intake. In a pandemic context, water is needed to wash hands frequently. Failure to properly purify water can result in a variety of diseases including dysentery, which may be especially dangerous for children. Thus, having access to appropriate quantities of clean water is essential.

Problems and Solutions

Problem 1
Approximately 94,000 people work in water and wastewater treatment plants in the United States (ref). During a pandemic, it is expected that a third of these workers will be seriously ill at the same time. In some places it will be less than a third, and in other places it will be more, always for a limited time (perhaps one or more weeks).


  • Cross-train other employees at the plant to perform essential functions.
  • Stockpile personal protective equipment, such as N95 masks and gloves, to help prevent infection of essential workers.
  • Consider moving water plant employees to the first tier for vaccine, when it becomes available.

Problem 2
Electricity is essential for operating pumps that move water and to work the feeder systems to add chemicals for purification. During a pandemic, the electrical supply to water treatment plants may be interrupted. This would stop the flow of clean water to homes and businesses.


  • Purchase back-up generators.
  • Make providing electricity to water treatment plants a top priority in the event of shortages.

Problem 3
Transport of supplies of chemicals used to treat water may be disrupted.


  • Stockpile chemical supplies at the water treatment plants.
  • Groundwater may be safe to drink even without chemical treatment. Since lack of access to water will result in death in a very short time, it is preferable to pump untreated water to homes rather than to stop pumping it if chemicals are not available. Legislation may need to be introduced to permit this during an emergency. If possible, it would be beneficial to warn the public when untreated water is being pumped (possibly adding harmless color and telling the public in advance?). Water could be purified in homes using emergency water purification methods.


  • American Water Works Association
    • Questions to ask Your Local Utility
  • National Rural Water Association
  • Wikipedia article on Water Purification
  • Water Treatment Steps
    From the East Bay Muncipal Utility District, California

Emergency Water Purification Methods

  • Emergency Disinfection of Drinking Water.
    Information from EPA | CDC | FEMA
  • SODIS - Solar Water Disinfection
    a simple and cheap method improves the microbiological quality of drinking water, using solar UV-A radiation and temperature to inactivate pathogens causing diarrhea.
  • Water Safety Precautions for Transient Public Water Systems
    (Churches, Restaurants etc. with their own water system)
    Word document from the North Carolina Department of the Environment

Other Issues


Discuss this page and make suggestions for corrections and additions at this Forum thread?.

Page last modified on April 03, 2006, at 10:31 AM by Lauralou