Is Your Water System Prepared to Respond to an Emergency?


Every water system is required to have an Emergency Response Plan, but the details of the plan are not entirely defined. 

So what makes an effective emergency management plan?

There should be an alert system in place to make sure everyone involved in the Emergency Response Plan is informed of spills and clean-up actions as soon as possible. This is essential in minimizing the contamination of the entire water supply, and keeping consumers safe. It was a delayed notification to the water system that created the situation where some residents were unknowingly using contaminated water. Owners of potential contamination sites should be aware of the importance of immediately informing the authorities and local water supply in the case of a contamination.

It’s important to temporarily discontinue use of the intakes, wells, or springs that could be affected. While developing a water system’s Source Water Protection plan, we create models that can be used in such an event to tell where the contaminant will flow, and which sources the contamination will reach in a given time frame. This model was recently used to help a local water system determine which wells to close when a nearby pipeline broke, contaminating their groundwater supply. Closing any sources that could possibly become contaminated will prevent contamination of the entire system.

A crucial step in the Emergency Response Plan is communication between the water system and its customers.  Because most contamination events are accidents, it is a requirement for a water system to plan ahead in securing a reliable back up water source to use while remedying the contamination. Backup sources can include purchasing bulk water from local suppliers or opening an interconnection line with a neighboring water system.

Action Elements for Emergency Preparedness

  • Identify and understand potential contaminants in the vicinity of your sources.
  • Create an emergency alert system with local emergency responders, neighboring water systems, and your customers.
  • Plan ahead in securing a backup water supply.
  • Determine source impacts and time of travel should a release occur.