HELENA – With localized flooding already underway this spring in Montana, the Departments of Environmental Quality, Natural Resources & Conservation and Public Health & Human Services offer several tips for protecting human health and the environment in a flood event.
Protect your water quality. If flood water overtops a water well, spring, or cistern, it can contaminate those drinking water sources. It is up to the owner to make sure the water is safe. Bacteria, viruses, or other pathogenic organisms are often present in surface water and pose the greatest threat if consumed. After flooding, you should have the well disinfected and tested to make sure it’s safe.
Don’t use water from a flooded well or cistern for drinking, cooking, bathing or other household uses until you’ve talked with proper health authorities. Be prepared if your well or cistern should become contaminated. Prior to a flood, store plenty of bottled water or fill a bathtub or a cistern out of the possible flood area with safe drinking water for a family or business. If flooded, your well or cistern will need proper disinfection and flushing prior to use.
Manage your septic system. If your home or area around your home has been flooded, your septic tank may fill with water and could cause sewage to back up. The safe disposal of wastewater is essential to protect human health. Ensure children and pets are kept away from sewage or wastewater affected areas.
If you suspect your wastewater system has been physically damaged by flooding, contact your county health department and a licensed septic system installer or a licensed plumber to have it assessed. Do not use or flush your toilet, take a shower, use sinks, wash clothing or put any water down any drain until you know that the septic tank and associated sewer pipes are intact; otherwise, wastewater could flow back up into the house through the toilet, shower, bathroom, kitchen and laundry drains.
Secure your storage tanks. Anchor above-ground fuel, propane, or other types of storage tanks to the ground or a solid foundation. If there is time before flooding, move chemicals or hazardous materials above flood level to lessen the chance of spill or contamination. Turn off power to underground fuel storage tank systems and take a product inventory and water level readings to help account for possible product loss. Secure all openings and make sure caps and other components are in good condition.
Protect your health. If clean potable water isn’t available, water used for drinking, cooking, or washing should be treated in one of two ways: 1) boil it for five minutes and then store in a clean container, or 2) mix five drops of household chlorine bleach into every quart and let stand at least five minutes (preferably 30 minutes to an hour) before using. If the water is cloudy with suspended sediment, use a bit more chlorine bleach and mix well to better reach the pathogens hiding on or within the particles. Over-the-counter water filtration devices are available and useful to treat water from a source that you suspect may have been affected by flooding.
Discard food that has been exposed to floodwaters. Sealed metal cans and sealed packages with intact protective outer coverings may be salvaged, but must be carefully cleaned and disinfected before opening. Discard refrigerated and frozen food if the power has been out and the food has been warmed to above 41 degrees Fahrenheit.
Launder flooded clothing and bedding using a disinfectant such as bleach and a strong detergent. You should discard mattresses and stuffed toys that have been soaked, as these are extremely difficult to get clean enough to safely keep and use. Steam-clean or replace all carpeting and rugs that have been soaked. Wear protective clothing such as rubber boots and gloves while cleaning up debris and scrubbing flood damaged interiors and furniture.
Purchase flood insurance: Flood insurance is important financial protection for homeowners, business owners, or renters because it allows them to recover from a flood event faster and more fully. Flood insurance can assist with damage caused by surface waters from any source, as long as the damage affects at least two properties or at least two acres of land. It may also be used to help cover the cost of some preventive measures taken before a flood. Talk to your insurance agent today about purchasing flood insurance; most people do not realize that flood damage is not covered under standard homeowners or renters insurance.
For more information about flood insurance in Montana, visit the Commissioner of Securities and Insurance website at www.csimt.gov/your-insurance/flood or call (406) 444-2040.
For current information on flooding in Montana, visit:
The Food and Consumer Safety Section of DPHHS can be reached at (406) 444-2837, or the DEQ Public Water Supply Bureau at (406) 444-4400.
The Montana Office of Disaster and Emergency Services can be reached at 406-324-4777.