Precautionary Boil Water Advisory Information

Precautionary Boil Advisory/Boil Water Notice

What is a Boil Water Advisory? Is it the same as a Boil Water Notice?

A Precautionary Boil Water Advisory (BWA) is a public statement advising customers to boil tap water before consuming it. Precautionary advisories are issued when an event has occurred allowing the possibility for the water distribution system to become contaminated. An advisory does not mean that the water is contaminated, but rather that it could be contaminated: because the water quality is unknown, customers should assume the water is unsafe to drink and take the appropriate precautions. An advisory is different from a Boil Water Notice, which is issued when contamination is confirmed in the water system. During a notice, all customers must boil their water before consuming it or use bottle water.

Under what circumstances will Ottawa County issue a Precautionary Boil Water Advisory or Boil Water Notice?

The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (OEPA), through the State Primary Drinking Water Regulation, regulates water utilities and specifies instances when an advisory or notice must be issued.

A precautionary advisory must be issued in the following instances:

  • If untreated water reaches the distribution system

  • Loss of pressure in the entire distribution system or a significant portion of the system

  • A water main break where dirt and debris have entered the distribution piping

A Boil Water Notice must be issued under the following circumstances:

  • When test samples indicate the presence of total coliform bacteria.

These situations are not the only times when a precautionary advisory or notice should be issued. Specific situations, upon consultation with OEPA, may also require a precautionary advisory or notice.

What are total coliform bacteria?

Total coliform bacteria are a collection of microorganisms that live in large numbers in the intestines of humans and animals, as well as in most soils and surface water. A sub-group of these microorganisms is the fecal coliform bacteria, the most common member being E coli. These bacteria occur naturally in lakes and streams, but if detected in drinking water indicate that the water is contaminated with human or animal waste and therefore may pose a health risk to people who drink it. The water treatment process removes these bacteria from the water, but events such as a water main break or a loss of pressure in the water distribution system may allow these bacteria to enter water lines through cracks in pipes or back-siphoning from a residential plumbing system. Boiling water vigorously for three minutes will kill these bacteria and make water safe to drink.

How will I be notified of a precautionary boil water advisory or boil water notice?

By regulation, Ottawa County must follow certain public notification efforts, which include dissemination through WENS, Email, radio, TV, and door-to-door notification for certain customers and any other means necessary to notify water users.

What should I do during a Precautionary Boil Advisory Water or Boil Water Notice?

You should boil tap water vigorously for at least three minutes prior to using it for drinking or cooking (the minute starts when the water begins to bubble). This includes water used for brushing teeth, making ice, washing raw foods, preparation of drinks, and water for pets. Wait for the water to cool before using it, or store it in the refrigerator in a clean container. Boiling kills harmful bacteria in the water that may cause illness. You should throw away ice made during the time the advisory or notice was issued, as freezing does not kill bacteria.

Do I still need to boil my water if I have a filter system on my faucet or refrigerator?

Most point-of-use (POU) filters are designed to improve the aesthetics of water (improve taste and odor), not remove harmful bacteria. You can learn about the capability of your filter by contacting the manufacturer or NSF International, an independent testing group located in Ann Arbor, Michigan (Ph. 1-800-673-8010). If in doubt, you should boil your water.

Is the water safe for washing dishes, laundry, and bathing?

The water is safe for washing dishes, but you should use hot, soapy water (you may add one tablespoon of bleach per gallon as a precaution) and rinse dishes in boiled water. There are no restrictions on doing laundry. The water is also safe for bathing during an advisory or notice.

Since an advisory is a precautionary measure, will I get sick if I drink the water?

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

Until test results show the water is safe to drink, you should not drink the water without boiling it first. During an advisory, chances are, if you are in good health, you will not get sick from drinking the water; however, young children, some of the elderly, and people with severely compromised immune systems should not drink the water until it is deemed safe to drink. Symptoms of illness caused by bacteria in the water may include diarrhea, cramps, nausea, headaches, or other symptoms. Please note that these symptoms are not caused only by organisms in drinking water. If you experience any of these symptoms and they persist, you may want to seek medical advice.

How long must a Precautionary Boil Water Advisory or Boil Water Notice be in effect?

An advisory or notice will remain in effect until test samples show the water is safe to drink. Testing for bacteria requires 18-24 hours to complete, depending on the type of test used. The samples are incubated to actually grow bacteria, if any are present. As a result, advisories and notices will be in effect for at least 24 hours.

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

Each precautionary boil water advisory or boil water notice is different making it impossible to predict how long it will remain in effect. It will not be lifted until testing shows that the water meets public health standards. Ottawa County will issue a repeal of the advisory or notice once notified by our laboratory that the water is safe to drink. Ottawa County will disseminate information regarding the repeal

After an advisory or notice has been lifted (if contamination of the water system did occur) you should flush household pipes, ice makers, water fountains, etc. prior to using for drinking or cooking. Flushing simply means letting the water run to ensure that no contaminated water remains in your pipes. Follow these guidelines for flushing:

  • Flush building water lines by allowing both the hot and cold water to run for several minutes at each fixture
  • Clean faucets and aerators
  • To flush automatic ice makers, make three batches of ice and discard
  • Dispose of ice cubes made with tap water that had not been boiled during the advisory or notice
  • Run water softeners through a regeneration cycle
  • Run drinking water fountains for one minute
  • Run water coolers with direct water connections for five minutes
  • Replace or clean filters on faucet filtration systems or whole house filters per manufacturers recommendations

For more information about Precautionary Boil Water Advisories or Boil Water Notices, please contact the Ottawa County Sanitary Engineering Department @ 419-734-6725.