What Happens if the Water Stops?

by Aaron Grossman

The most important goal of CERT (Community Emergency Respose Team) here in Old Mountain View is to get people to prepare in advance for a regional disaster. While it could be from terrorism or an industrial accident, the most likely scenario is a major earthquake, and we’re due for one soon.

Preparation includes setting aside food, water, warm clothes, and any special medication or supplies that your family members will need. Water may not be a problem if the new Mountain View emergency reservoir holds up, the pumping system still works, and there are no water line breaks leading to your home. If any of that fails, you’ll need drinking water first. One gallon per person per day is suggested, although you can get away with less if not exerting yourself.

What we tend to forget and just take for granted is the role water plays in removing personal waste pee and poop, to be polite. Public and private sanitation, and the good health that results from that, depends on running water to carry away our waste. If that stops, the risk of disease jumps way up if people do not properly dispose of their waste.

If the water stops, there is one flush left per toilet, assuming the sewer lines still work. Then what? You probably do not have enough spare water to keep flushing the toilet, but heavy duty garbage bags are a good solution. Tuck one into each toilet while the toilet is still clean for a safe and sanitary way to collect and hold waste until proper collection can be arranged. It’s probably best to use these bags for solid waste only, and to pee in a shallow hole in the back yard if possible.

There are also recreational camping toilets you can buy, ranging from deluxe flushing models with storage tanks to simple toilet seats on folding legs with a set of matching sanitary bags. I bought two simple camping portajohns at Mountain View Surplus for $10 each. They fold flat and take up very little space in the garage, and are ready when needed.

Try to minimize other waste such as food leftovers. Use planning to avoid creating much waste  or make it a treat for the local cats and dogs. Don’t leave it out unprotected or raccoons will be visiting.

There are good online resources available on disaster preparation and camping supplies  check them out. Just don’t wait until after a disaster hits to try to get ready for it.

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