Emergency Water Sources

Do you know where to look for emergency water sources in your home?

Depending on the severity of a disaster, it could take water providers days, weeks, or even longer to restore your water service. As a result, you may need to find alternate water sources that are safe to drink. Fortunately, there are several sources that you can use in and around your home, assuming you can access them. Before getting water from your faucets or water heater, make sure your water source hasn’t been contaminated. Local officials will communicate any contamination issues through local news sources. Oregon’s primary emergency alert station is OPB 91.5 FM.

How to access water from hour home's hot water heater

Your home’s water heater could provide you with 30-80 gallons of water for drinking, cooking, and hygiene. (Note: tankless heaters do not provide this option.) View our how-to video and follow along with the steps outlined below.

  1. Locate your water heater. Typically, water heaters are in the basement or garage of free standing homes, and in closets of apartments and manufactured homes. 
  2. Determine what type of water heater you have. Most water heaters are powered by electricity or natural gas. Natural gas water heaters typically have a vent on the top, a pilot light, and a gas line located at the bottom.
     Diagram showing an electric and a gas water heater
  3. Turn off your water heater’s power source. This step is crucial to ensuring your safety. You may want to keep a flash light, safety goggles, gloves, and a screw driver in a location that is easily accessible. 
    1. Electric water heaters: Shut off your water heater’s power by flipping the correct switch on your electrical panel. (Consider taking the time to identify the correct circuit breaker beforehand.) 
    2. Natural gas water heaters: Locate the on/off switch on the water heater and turn the knob to the pilot setting – do not turn it completely off. 
  4. Turn off your water heater’s water supply. Locate the water shut-off valve (typically located on the top of the water heater) and turn it clockwise until it stops. 
  5. Let air into your water heater. You can do this by opening the relief valve (flip the handle so that it sticks straight up or out) located on the side of the tank or by turning on hot water spigots in the main living area or upstairs in your home. This will help release water from your water heater.
  6. Locate the drain valve at the bottom of your water heater and release water from your tank as needed. Place a container under the drain valve spigot to capture the water and turn the spigot or screw of your water heater’s drain valve to the left. Be careful, because the water may be very hot. Wear gloves and safety glasses for your protection. Turn the spigot or screw to the right to stop the flow of water. Repeat this process as often as you need to until you have drained the tank of water.

How to access water from your home’s water pipes

You may be able to get some water from your home’s water pipes.

After making sure the water source hasn’t been contaminated, first locate and shut off your home’s main water valve - typically, it is in the basement, crawl space under homes, or in the garage. Next, turn on a faucet located at the highest point in your home - this will let air into your plumbing system. Then, use a faucet located at the lowest point in your home as your water source, shutting it on and off as-needed. If you live in a one-story home, you may find that the highest located “faucet” is your showerhead and a hose spigot or your water heater is the lowest.

If you live in an apartment or condo your water valve may be centrally located and not in your living space. The amount of available water will depend on your apartment’s location in the building and how many other people are pulling water from the building’s pipes.

Other possible drinking water sources inside your home

  • Melted ice cubes: Make sure that the ice was made from uncontaminated water or treat the water before consuming it.

  • Commercially bottled beverages such as juice, sodas, or other drinks that you have around the house*: Be aware that caffeinated and alcoholic drinks can cause dehydration, so they are not recommended in large amounts.

  • Canned fruits and vegetables*: Ideally you should look for contents that are packed in water; however, other canned food liquids can be consumed if needed.

* Do not consume any beverages or canned food from containers that have been submerged in floodwaters.

Emergency outdoor water sources

Water quality from any of the following sources could be unsafe to use for a variety of reasons. If you need to find water outside of your home, and use one of these sources, make sure to treat or filter it before drinking, food preparation, or hygiene:

  • Rainwater
  • Streams, rivers & other moving bodies of water
  • Ponds and lakes
  • Natural springs

Do not drink

The following types of water are unsafe to drink, even if you treat or filter it. Starred (*) items may be good sources for sanitation.

  • Water from your toilet bowl or tank, radiators, or water beds* 
  • Water from your pool, hot tub, or other outdoor water source* 
  • Flood water 
  • Water that has floating materials in it or that has an unusual odor or color
  • Water that you know or suspect might be contaminated with fuel, heavy metals, or toxic chemicals