No Water, No Warning

Yes, we’re going to talk about West Virginia. For those of you living in caves (No judgement here, I get accused of it often enough) a coal storage facility leaked some noxious chemicals into the drinking water source for at least a 9 county area of West Virginia.  Residents had ZERO warning, and were just told one sunny day that their tap water was now only to be used to flush the toilets.

That’s it; no showering, no cleaning dishes, no drinking, no washing clothing, no watering livestock.  I think it’s probably even questionable if it should be used on vegetables or fruit. Although the timing of this particular event, midwinter, probably lessened the impact of that last one.

Straight out of the gate, one of the prepper-procrastinator methods of water storage went right out the window.  There was no way to fill up bathtubs or other large holding containers to get through the time with no water. If you didn’t have it stored before the chemical spilled, you weren’t going to have it during this crisis.

How would you have done during this? If you had gotten a notice on Thursday about your water being only fit for flushing, how well would you have handled it? Now think about your weekend, what did you do this weekend, and would you have been able to do all of that with your water out?

I’ll start. Thursday I was at work and hubby was at home with the kids, so he would likely have gotten word first, then passed it on to me. I work in the next county upstream from our water source, so it’s possible I could have filled my personal water bottle before coming home, and maybe grabbed a gallon of water and one of juice from the grocery store on my way home.  I only mention juice because we don’t normally  have any in the house, and I can see the kids enjoying some juice treats to mitigate the water rationing.

We have at least 50 bottles of water in the basement, plus 2 gallon jugs. For 4 people, 2 adults/2 kids.  Even 5 days after the spill, nobody is saying when the water will be potable again.  So, just for the sake of this post, let’s assume it will be an even week before the water comes back.  (That assumption in real life though is a tricky one, as it’s key to figuring out how to divide up the water you have.)  In my case that works out to 7 bottles a day for my family. To be used for drinking and basic sanitation.  One of the gallon jugs would probably go sit on the diaper changing table since we  normally use cloth wipes and tap water for cleaning baby’s butt. One gallon would go straight to the kitchen for simple cooking, oatmeal and rice come to mind.

So that’s roughly 24 oz of drinking water per person, per day, for a week.  Any showering or sponge bathing would either have to come out of that, or we’d have to find one of the tanker trucks of water and fill some buckets.  (During the non-freezing parts of the year I have 55 gallons rain water stored for cleaning and such.)  That’s doable I think, the juice and fruit in the house would help. We stayed at home all weekend and cleaned and cooked. Obviously cleaning would have been curtailed.  Cooking could have happened, I roasted veggies, I just couldn’t have cleaned up very well afterwards.

What about you? How would you have fared over the weekend? Sound off in the comments!

– Calamity Jane


26 comments… add one
  • ORRN on LI January 14, 2014, 8:36 am

    In preparing for a hurricane a hand full of years ago I stocked up on some 2gal jugs of Poland Spring h2O. Lucky for us we didn’t need it for that event. Kept it in the basement and about 2 years later needed to open a jug. It tasted HORRIBLE!!! It was in a fairly constant temp range, cool, and out of sunlight. Is this normal or did I do something wrong. Was that too long to keep it? I probably could have kept it for bathing, brushing teeth (spit) . I’m hesitant to throw money away on it again.

    • Calamity Jane January 14, 2014, 9:25 am

      Yea, I think it’s normal. Plastic has it’s advantages, but preserving the taste of water is not one of them. Store some flavor powders, teas, things like that to help mask the taste.

      • r.c. January 15, 2014, 12:12 pm

        You need a Pur pitcher or some kind of filtered pitcher for those types of jugs. The clearer the bottle, the more UV it absorbs, the funkier the flavor. Filters take the funk out. Atleast with 55gal drums, you can add bleach to mitigate the funk, but you still need a filter to drink that water. Otherwise, build a distiller. :D

  • Leon Pantenburg January 14, 2014, 9:34 am

    I’ve got about 100 gallons stored, so my family should have been OK for a week. But as far as I know, none of my neighbors have any water storage. I’d have to make a decision about sharing, based on the projected length of water shortage.


  • Ned Ludd January 14, 2014, 9:52 am

    I have 2 150gallon rain barrels and a homemade ceramic gravity filter for 2 of us and a medium sized dog, with no rain it should be able to get us through a month of careful rationing.

  • R.C. January 14, 2014, 9:54 am


    Right now I have 6 – 5 gallon bottles, plus 2 – 24 packs of bottled water. That, plus the bottles of juice, is all we have on hand for some thing like this.

    We have been working on the logistics of large quantity water storage before this incident happened in WV so it has hit home for me.

    After going through a terrible 3 day no power, heavy rain storm, it dawned on us just how little we have done to prepare (and this isn’t our first rodeo LOL)

    Back to the water issue… sure, we have the means to travel out of the affected region to a “safe area” but what if we couldn’t? We’d be seriously screwed.

    Our 32 gallons+ of water would be used only to cook meals, and NURSE drinks, and for us, since we drink either water, milk, or juice, would be hard. Let’s not even go there on hygiene. :)

    My neighbors have no clue. The previous storm I mentioned I learned just how little any of them have considered to disaster planning. That puts my family in harms way.

    Water is something we just can’t live without. I have been feeling like something/someone is thwaping my head about this saying “Hey pal, get on it, lazy man” lol

  • Diana January 14, 2014, 9:56 am

    Something I haven’t seen addressed re: this issue is whether a good water filter (Sawyer, Berkey, etc.) would make the tap water usable.

    • Calamity Jane January 14, 2014, 10:19 am

      Yea, it’s one of those things where it’s an obscure sort of chemical and testing of water filters probably stays within the bounds of “likely contaminants.” Some of the reports made is sound like the monitoring agencies/water company had to make up testing procedures on the fly for this one because no one had anything that would test for this substance. So I imagine there isn’t anybody with a filter and with the know how to test for the chemical.

    • Jarhead Survivor January 14, 2014, 12:54 pm

      I would NOT trust any of these filters to remove this type of chemical contaminant.

      • j.r. guerra in s. tx. January 15, 2014, 8:07 am

        Me either – chemicals are a complete other animal than virus – bacteria, its part of the water, not something that is piggy backed by it. Not even sure distallation helps very much, though probablyl much safer than the raw.

        I’d be screwed, I don’t keep enough on hand if water pressure is suddenly gone. 20 gallons (I think), 4 5 gallon jerry cans. I have the means to store more, its just so bulky (and heavy) to store and rotating it for taste is a hassle as well.

        Still, given this experience, worth the trouble. Thanks for the article Calamity Jane.

      • lateToTheParty January 15, 2014, 9:17 am

        On something that’s this clear (definitely poisonous) I would distill the water – all but the smallest amount of contaminants would be the results. And if you have time, running it twice would get you very safe water. I’ve heard that pure distilled water is NOT good for you long term – some of the natural minerals we get are only in our water. Anyone confirm or deny this?

        Any ideas on what to do if it is right? A quick thought was to distill it then run it through some fairly clean household soil then filter it. Any others?

        • Ned Ludd January 15, 2014, 3:12 pm

          Distilled water is dangerous for long term consumption because it will deplete your body of precious minerals. You can add a small amount of sea salt to the water in an emergency situation.

        • Anonymous May 6, 2015, 11:09 pm

          I know this reply is very late…but I had to share.
          As someone with some Hazmat training, I had to reply. Distillation would not make the water safe. Many chemicals have a gaseous form that would evaporate and condense along with the water. Thus the distilled water would still contain some form of the chemical. Additionally, the gaseous chemical may be dangerous to breath.
          A simple example of this is chlorine. Above 75°F chlorine forms chlorine gas. This is very bad to breath. Additionally in a closed distillation system, this would likely condense back into the water. Please never assume something is safe. It may cost you your life.

  • sput January 14, 2014, 10:41 am

    One of the thoughts going around other forums is that this may have been a FEMA test/study. I am sure they are studying the case whether or not they caused it to happen. It is good that we are looking at our own preps after this event. My preps are solid for this type of event.

  • Jarhead Survivor January 14, 2014, 12:58 pm

    I have two 55 gallon water barrels I could set out to catch rain if necessary. I also have about 30 gallons in the basement. Maybe enough for a week.

  • Novice January 14, 2014, 1:51 pm

    Getting water has never been an issue for me. Getting rid of it is a bigger problem. We get more than our fair share of rain. Since Thursday we’ve received about 3 inches. Although I already have 10 gallon jugs and a case of bottled water on hand I would capture as much as I could with anything that would hold it during the rain. My biggest issue is that I’m in the lowest house on the street and water continually pours into my sump crock in the basement (it’s flooded a few times). Even during the drought of summer I can still see a trickle of clean water coming in there. With a little filtering and bleaching I don’t anticipate ever running out.

    Ironically the inlet pipe for the municipal water supply froze solid during the big chill last week and we were put on water rations. They said that once the tower was empty that would be it. The pipe was thawed before we ever ran out though.

  • smokechecktim January 14, 2014, 2:01 pm

    ah the advantages of a well. Also in our area you are required, to have a tank or cistern with 5000 gallons for firefighting. we also have a small lake that could be a source if needed so water isn’t a major concern.

  • Babycatcher January 14, 2014, 4:15 pm

    We have a small pond, but someone is building a house on the mountain behind us, and we aren’t sure yet how that will affect our water supply…we have 2 55 gal tanks in the storage area, as well as several jerry cans, and a few Berkeys…

  • warren January 14, 2014, 4:39 pm

    We are living this mess here in Charleston and still do not have water back. We were fortunate to have a good bit f water put aside but so many didn’t. It was chaotic in the stores…people were pretty unkind the first night. Luckily, “they” trucked in lots of bottled water quickly. With our stored water, we avoided the madness. We have been bathing (if you can call it that) from our stored water and done pretty well but it’s no fun having to heat water and conserve. We learned lots about things we need to do better…I think many around here did!

  • Steve suffering in NJ January 14, 2014, 5:15 pm

    Got 2 55 gallon food grade drums in basement. Plus various 2 gallon jugs along with empty 2 liter bottles.

    Rigged up a PVC pipe off my down spout. That feeds through a hole in my foundation (old oil fill pipe) into the 55 gal drum. I can switch it on and off at the down spout. Pretty simple really. This way once I empty the drum I can refill via rain water if necessary. It’s warm enough in the basement to keep it from freezing as well.

    I have a windshield washer pump from a car I’ve been toying with rigging to the one drum. Snake a hose into the bathroom along one of the pipes. Put a simple on/off toggle under the sink and I’d have running water. Haven’t gotten that far just yet….

  • riverrider January 14, 2014, 5:30 pm

    a well and two 550 gallon rainwater tanks out back. however they both froze during the polar chill, rock solid top to bottom. fortunately i planned for it and keep 35 g’s in jugs and 4 plus cases of bottled water inside and toasty. have a hot water shower rigged up and a garden sprayer if that fails. i will never depend on open water. shtf comes, might be bodies floating in it, dead critters, sewage from cities upstream, and likely chemicals leaked and or dumped.

  • Farmer Ken January 14, 2014, 10:52 pm

    I have about 27,000 gallons in the CEEEment pond. Well its not cement but you get the idea, also have milk crates full of gallon jugs. And I just got the materials to make a distiller from my pressure cooker. watched a youtube on it, easy as pi. The spring down the lane behind the barn used to keep 40 cows watered, without a problem so I believe I am all set. Water wise at least.

  • Pineslayer January 14, 2014, 11:25 pm

    We are on a well, a good one, and back-up power to pump it.
    That being said, no system is fail proof. I need to store more, a lot more.
    I have 55g barrels and other larger cisterns, I have no excuse not too except where to store them from freezing.

  • Anonymous January 15, 2014, 4:40 pm

    my 55 gallon rain drum down for the winter. guess I wouldn’t have lasted much more than a week. We would’ve had drinking water for at least that long. sigh.

  • irishdutchuncle January 16, 2014, 3:00 pm

    irishdutch-aunt just asked me about whether our storage jugs are BPA free…
    I’m trying to remember if I treated all of them with bleach when I filled them. (probably a 10 day supply, if usable)
    I worry how it will taste, considering what ORRN experienced.
    (see above)

  • Newg January 17, 2014, 11:04 am

    In house I have bottles of water in the freezer, a case of water in the garage. I also have a deep well outside, and access to a brine creek nearby that I would have to desalinate and filter to make usable. I do have a ceramic filter stored for an emergency, so I think I would be good.


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