Questions and Answers about Boil Water Advisories

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What is a Boil Water Advisory?

A Boil Water Advisory is a public health recommendation from OWASA advising customers to boil their tap water before using it. This is in response to an event that could have allowed contaminants to enter the water distribution system. Because the water quality is unknown, customers should assume the water is unsafe to drink and take the appropriate precautions.

When does OWASA issue a Boil Water Advisory?

Typically, we issue a Boil Water Advisory after a water main break repair, small or widespread loss of pressure in our water system, or a natural disaster.

In some cases, our crews can repair a water main while maintaining adequate pressure to prevent contamination from entering the water distribution system. (When we do a repair in this way, no Boil Water Advisory is needed.)

When we issue a Boil Water Advisory, we notify only the customers affected. If the risk of contamination is widespread, OWASA will arrange publicity in the news media, put information on our website, etc. to inform the public.

How long will a Boil Water Advisory be in effect?

An advisory will remain in effect until bacteriological test samples show the water is safe to drink. Bacteriological testing typically takes 24 to 28 hours to complete.

What should I do during a Boil Water Advisory?

Boil tap water before using it for drinking, making ice, washing dishes, brushing teeth or preparing food. Bring tap water to a rolling boil for at least 1 minute and let it cool.

Should I use my coffee maker, water or ice dispenser when a boil water advisory is in effect?

During an advisory, do not use water from any appliance connected to your water lines. This includes water and ice dispensers in your refrigerator/freezer. Use boiled or bottled water to make coffee and ice.

How should I wash dishes during a Boil Water Advisory?

Household dishwashers are generally safe to use if the water reaches a final rinse temperature of at least 150oF or if the dishwasher has a sanitizing cycle.

To wash dishes by hand:

  • Use boiled water; or
  • Wash and rinse dishes as normal. Then in a separate basin, add 1 teaspoon of unscented household bleach for each gallon of warm water. Soak dishes in basin for a least 1 minute. Let dishes air dry completely.

Should I bathe or shower during a Boil Water Advisory?

It is safe to bath or shower, but be careful not to swallow any water. Use caution when bathing babies and young children. Consider giving them a sponge bath to reduce the chance of them swallowing water.

Can I wash my hands during a boil water advisory?

Yes, vigorous handwashing with soap and your tap water is safe for basic personal hygiene. However, if you are washing your hands to prepare food, you should use boiled (then cooled) water, disinfected or bottled water with handwashing soap.

What if I drank some of the water before I found out about the advisory?

This advisory was issued as a precaution, so your risk of getting sick is very low. However, if you begin to have a fever, diarrhea, or nausea you should seek medical attention.

How will I know when the advisory or notice has been lifted?

OWASA will rescind the Boil Water Advisory when the results from the testing have been confirmed that the water is safe to drink. You will receive your notification the same way you were informed of the advisory (door hanger/packet or media/radio). You can also contact the Water Treatment Laboratory Staff at (919) 537-4228 or wtplaboratory@owasa.org.

Is a Boil Water ADVISORY the same as a Boil Water NOTICE?

We issue a Boil Water Advisory when water contamination is possible. In an advisory, we recommend that affected customers boil OWASA water before consumption or use bottled water.

We issue a Boil Water Notice when contamination is confirmed in the water system. During a notice, affected customers must boil their water before consumption or use bottled water.

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