Water & Drought

Disaster and Personal Preparedness

When considering how much water to store in the event of an emergency in which supplies are cut off, it is best to keep “the rule of 1” in mind: 1 gallon per 1 person per 1 day. Meaning that if a family of 4 were wanted to have 3 days’ worth of water stored, they would store 12 gallons. In preparation for an emergency, store a minimum of 3 days’ worth of water for your family. If you cannot store that much, then store as much as you can.

Each person needs at least half a gallon of water a day to drink. The other half-gallon is needed for hygiene and food preparation. Do not ration water. Drink what you need and look for more when you can.

There are several ways to collect water for storage. If possible, buy commercial bottled water. If you are preparing your own water containers, purchase water storage containers from camping and surplus stores. If re-using containers, it is best to use 2-liter plastic soda bottles. Do not re-use old milk or fruit juice containers, plastic or cardboard. The residue from the milk or fruit juice allows for bacterial growth. Cardboard containers are not viable for long-term storage. For containers you are preparing for yourself, mark on the cap the date the containers were filled and replace the water inside every 6 months.

In cases of finding water after a disaster has occurred, there are three ways to treat it to make it safe. It is often best to use a combination of methods.

  • The first technique is boiling the water: boil the water for at least a minute and let cool before drinking. This method causes some of the water to evaporate, but helps make the rest cleaner to drink.
  • The second method is chlorination. Use regular, unscented household bleach containing 5.25 to 6% sodium hypochlorite. Add 16 drops of bleach per gallon of water, stir, and let sit for 30 minutes. If the water does not have a slight bleach odor, add another 16 drops and wait 15 minutes. If odor is still not detected, find another source of water.
  • Finally, the last method is distillation. This should be done in conjugation with boiling or chlorination. Boiling water and collecting the condensed water from the vapor. Fill a pot halfway with water and tie a mug to the handle of the pot lid. Place the lid upside on the pot so the handle is facing inward and the mug is hanging down in the pot, without touching the water. Boil the pot for thirty minutes. The water that collects in the mug is distilled and safer to drink.

For further details, consult FEMA’s Guide to Food and Water in an Emergency


Current Infrastructure and Risks

Los Angeles gets its supply of water from three major aqueducts coming from outside the city, all of which cross over the San Andreas and other faults. In terms of distribution, the city of Los Angeles relies on a network of underground pipes that bring water to civilians and businesses alike.

In the event of damage occurring to one or more of the aqueducts (like in the case of a major earthquake), water shortages would quickly ensue until the damage is fixed. However, a critical concern is also the state of the underground pipes that distribute water. Large proportions of these pipes were built in the early twentieth century and were not built to withstand earthquakes or are simply degenerating with age. Pipe leakage and breakage, such as the water line burst under Sunset Blvd. in 2014, are already an issue even without the stress of a disaster. An earthquake or another type of crisis has the potential to devastate underground piping system and create or extend water shortages during a critical time.

A bioterrorist attack targeting the L.A. water supply is unlikely, but possible. With a population of nearly 4 million, it would be extremely difficult to poison the water supply for a variety of reasons. In order to mount an assault, malicious agents would need large amounts of an infectious agent to pour into the citywide water supply. Materials that are highly lethal and therefore require less physical amounts are more difficult to obtain in the levels required. In addition, it is not simply enough to place enough toxins to cause illness or death; there has to be enough to contaminate the entire water supply to achieve an overall harmful dose. However, a significant dose may be enough to result in widespread damage. Finally, water treatment facilities would detect dangerous levels of many toxins and prevent contaminated water from reaching the public. Thus, Los Angeles water security faces a greater threat from aging infrastructure than an act of bioterrorism.



As of January 2015, Governor Brown had declared a State of Emergency due to the California drought entering its 5th consecutive year. Drought conditions can lead to a variety of negative health impacts beyond water shortage. Droughts can result in poorer quality of water and air. The hot and dry climate brought in with a drought combined with Santa Anna winds and/or arson often leads to a surge of forest fires. Inferior air quality caused by forest fires and dry, dusty conditions can cause respiratory infections or result in the worsening of certain respiratory conditions. The warm temperatures could also cause microbes to multiply more rapidly in water, thus putting people in risk of infection, particularly after partaking in recreational activities in water.

Of total California water consumption, 10% goes to cities and communities, 40% goes to agriculture, and 50% goes to the environment (environment referring to water for rivers, estuaries, and wetlands needed for preservation and eventual consumption). There are some simple steps to start conserving water as a private citizen, which you can find on the website of the Los Angeles County Waterworks Districts. These tips range from ways to reduce daily water consumption through simple techniques to structural, long-lasting ways to make your home more sufficient, such as creating drought-resistant yards. Please do not refrain from hygienic activities, such as washing your hands or bathing regularly, to save water. You can save water while also maintaining high sanitary standards.


For further reading:

Emergency Disinfection of Drinking Water

Government Page on California Drought

Los Angeles County Conservation Tips

CDC Drought Page

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