SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – Utahns are well aware of natural disasters. Most have adopted the “not-if-but-when” philosophy when it comes to scenarios like earthquakes or weather incidents. One of the top priorities in these situations has to be water – how to get it and how to store it.

The best time to consider your water needs is long before disaster strikes and sometimes disaster is not mountains crumbling or snow piling up – it can simply be a failure or damage to the infrastructure.

In August 2011, one such non-doomsday scenario occurred when a contractor on a construction project accidentally dug a 6-inch gash into a heavy steel water line that was directly tied to the 120-inch raw water aqueduct that feeds Utah’s largest water treatment plant. This caused a shutdown, and the plant was no longer producing the 180 million gallons of water that was used by the majority of the Salt Lake Valley.

Emergency protocols were engaged, and neighboring water agencies increased their own treated water production and redirected the additional supply to offset the temporary shortfall which was just barely enough to avert a system-wide shutdown. But it was a close call.

As a result of a simple miscalculation with heavy equipment in just the wrong spot, nearly a quarter of Utah’s population came within hours of being without water. Had the worst-case scenario occurred, grocery stores would have been stripped of bottled water within minutes of a public declaration. A few years ago, an “empty shelves” scenario would have been hard to imagine but in a post-Covid world, we’ve all now experienced it.

“Our public systems can store a day’s worth of treated drinking water for the population,” reports Jeff King, Emergency Manager for the Jordan Valley Water Conservancy District. “If we’re unable to treat and deliver water, for any reason, natural or human-caused, residents need to be prepared to care for their own needs for a minimum of 72 hours.”

So, what are the guidelines for storage what is the best way to store water for your needs and within the parameters of your budget and space constraints? The Jordan Valley Water Conservancy District provides a “good, better, best” approach to water storage.


  • Store a minimum of 1 gallon of water per person (include pets), per day for at least three days to equal a minimum of 72 hours of storage.
  • Store additional water for medical emergencies, warm weather, caring for the sick etc.
  • Regularly rotated cases of bottled water can work for the 72-hour supply as can commercially bottle and sealed gallons of water. Store in a cool, dry place, and do not break the seal.
  • Cases or gallons of bottled water are portable and can go with you in the event of an evacuation, but they are not the best strategy for longer-term storage.


  • Increase total per person and pet water storage to a 14-day supply.
  • Longer-term storage should use containers made of PET or HDPE plastic.
  • PET bottles are labeled with a resin identification code #1 PETE imprinted on or near the side or bottom of the container. HDPE plastic containers will be labeled with a #2.
  • There are no known health issues with plastics with the #1 or #2 label but other types of plastic should be avoided.
  • Do not use milk jugs or reuse containers, such as juice bottles, for water storage.
  • We recommend that the 14-day supply be in containers that can be transported in the event of evacuation, no more than 5-gallons in size.


  • More than 30 days of storage is great! How much more depends on your individual situation but up to several months is great for those who are able to do so.
  • Long-term storage can be 5-gallon jugs or 50-55 gallon drums of PET or HDPE plastic.
  • Containers for long-term storage should be opaque to limit light and thus the potential for microorganisms to grow.
  • Do not fill containers with a garden hose. Use a sterilized, dedicated RV hose for this purpose.
  • Water stored in large containers is best used for non-drinking water needs.

Emergency Considerations:

  • In the event of a natural disaster, such as an earthquake, assume that the public water supply is no longer safe to drink until it is declared safe.
  • After ensuring your family is safe, isolate your home from the public water supply by turning off the main water valve.
  • Water may still be available following a natural disaster or outage but may require treatment at home.
  • Assume a boil order is in effect and boil all water intended for consumption by people or pets.
  • 3-5 minutes of boiling will kill pathogens (bacteria, protozoa, viruses, etc.)
  • A water heater holds 40 or more gallons of water and can be used to supplement needs in an emergency.
  • BeReadyUtah is a fantastic source of information on emergency preparedness for all needs, including water.