Flood Preparation and Response
See active weather advisories, watches, and warnings from the National Weather Service.
The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (ADEC) provides the following information and contacts that property owners may find helpful in assessing their property before and after a flood.
As an initial precaution, ADEC advises that water used for drinking, cooking, hand washing, or dish washing, should first be boiled for at least 2 minutes or received from a safe source (i.e., bottled water, municipal truck-fill, etc.).
- Detached or Unfastened sanitary seal or well cap
- Mud, silt or large debris in and around your well
- Rubber gaskets in the sanitary seal on the top of the well casing;
- Exposed or damaged wiring and conduits that supply power to your well;
- Pressure tanks; or storage tanks, vents, and overflow pipes located within the flooded area.
If your well was damaged, there is a potential that your drinking water system became contaminated with bacteria and/or other chemicals like petroleum products from fuel spills in nearby areas. These forms of contamination may constitute a hazard to public health. ADEC recommends that homeowners carefully check their water systems for damage and any nearby sources of contamination.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets drinking water standards and has determined that the presence of total coliform bacteria indicates a possible health concern. Total coliforms are generally not harmful themselves. The presence of these bacteria in drinking water generally indicates that the water may be contaminated with other bacteria, viruses, or protozoa that can cause diseases. Symptoms may include diarrhea, cramps, nausea, jaundice, and associated headaches and fatigue. These symptoms, however, are not just associated with disease-causing organisms in drinking water, they may be caused by a number of factors other than your drinking water.
Bacterial contamination can enter a well from inadequate pressure in the water lines resulting in backflow contamination from faucets, cracked well casings, waterline leakage, or infiltration of surface water into the well. As an initial precaution, ADEC advises that water used for drinking, cooking, hand washing, or dish washing, should first be boiled for at least 2 minutes.
If you detect a fuel spill near your well, contact your local ADEC office to report the spill. You may want to have your well water tested to see if it may be contaminated with petroleum products that could pose a health risk to you and your family. For specific testing of your well water, ADEC recommends that you talk with an independent, state-certified laboratory about the problem you suspect and their recommendation for sampling analysis.
Note: Chlorine disinfection will not eliminate fuel contamination in your well water.
Food Safety and Sanitation
- Keep unscented liquid household bleach on hand.
- Store a supply of food, water, and medication on shelves that will be safely out of the way in case of flooding. This should include a few days’ worth of ready-to-eat foods that do not require cooking or cooling, which depend on electricity.
- Know where you can buy dry ice and blocked ice, in case it should be needed.
- Know what to do in case of a power outage.
- Check the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s website for information about how to prepare an emergency kit and other safety tips.
When Flooding Occurs
- Do not eat any food that may have come into contact with flood water.
- Discard any food and beverage that is not in a waterproof container if there is any chance that it has come into contact with flood water.
- Food containers that are waterproof include undamaged, commercially prepared foods in all-metal cans and “retort pouches” (like flexible, shelf-stable juice or seafood pouches).
- Food containers that are not waterproof include those with screw-caps, snap lids, pull tops, and crimped caps.
- Also discard cardboard juice/milk/baby formula boxes and home canned foods if they have come in contact with flood water, because they cannot be effectively cleaned and sanitized.
- If you have a freezer, either a chest or upright, which was covered with floodwaters, chances are the food inside has been damaged through seepage. All of this food should be thrown away. If the electricity has been cut off, but no floodwater has seeped into the freezer, the food will last for awhile depending on the amount of food in the box. A fairly full freezer should last 2-3 days without much loss of quality or flavor.
- Partially thawed meat should be refrozen at once.
- If meat has been completely thawed, it should be used at once, or may be cooked and refrozen.
- Any meat, poultry, fish, or containers of fruit and vegetables that show any sign of spoilage should be thrown away.
- Discard any food in damaged cans. Damaged cans are those with swelling, leakage, punctures, holes, fractures, extensive deep rusting, or crushing/denting that is severe enough to prevent normal stacking or opening with a manual, wheel-type can opener. See “How to Save Undamaged Food Packages” below for steps to clean/save undamaged packages.
- Thoroughly wash metal pans, ceramic dishes, and utensils (including can openers) with soap and water, using hot water if available. Rinse and then sanitize them by boiling in clean water or immersing them for 15 minutes in a solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented household (5.25% concentration) liquid bleach per gallon of water.
- Thoroughly wash countertops with soap and water, using hot water if available. Rinse and then sanitize by applying a solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented household (5.25% concentration) liquid bleach per gallon of water. Allow to air dry.
- Buy dry or block ice to keep the refrigerator as cold as possible if the power is going to be out for a prolonged period of time. Fifty pounds of dry ice should keep an 18 cubic foot, fully stocked freezer cold for two days.
How to Save Undamaged Food Packages Exposed to Flood Water
Undamaged, commercially prepared foods in all-metal cans and "retort pouches" (like flexible, shelf-stable juice or seafood pouches) can be saved if you follow this procedure.
- Remove the labels, if they are the removable kind, since they can harbor dirt and bacteria.
- Brush or wipe away any dirt or silt.
- Thoroughly wash the cans or retort pouches with soap and water, using hot water if it is available.
- Rinse the cans or retort pouches with water that is safe for drinking, if available, since dirt or residual soap will reduce the effectiveness of chlorine sanitation.
- Sanitize cans and retort pouches by immersion in one of the two following ways:
- Place in water and allow the water to come to a boil and continue boiling for 2 minutes.
- Place in a solution of 1 cup (8 oz/250 mL) of unscented household (5.25% concentration) bleach mixed with 5 gallons of water and soak for 15 minutes.
- Air dry cans or retort pouches for a minimum of 1 hour before opening or storing.
- If the labels were removable, then re-label your cans or retort pouches, including the expiration date, with a permanent marking pen.
Food in reconditioned cans or retort pouches should be used as soon as possible thereafter.
Baby Formula Tip
For infants, try to use prepared, canned baby formula that requires no added water. Otherwise, dilute any concentrated baby formula in reconditioned, all-metal containers with clean drinking water.
Wastewater Disposal System
If flooding has impacted your property, DEC recommends that you take precautions to reduce any threats to public health and the environment from onsite sewer systems. Homeowners are advised that onsite sewer systems and holding tanks may be damaged due to flooding and/or high groundwater levels. Homeowners with onsite sewer systems that have been flooded, or are in the vicinity of flood waters, should inspect their system as follows:
- Check for any evidence of sewage on the ground. If found, you should disinfect the area using large amounts of lime (finely ground garden lime will work) or a strong solution of water and chlorine bleach. Apply the disinfectant to the ground surface in the affected area. Make sure that you keep people (especially children) and pets away from any contaminated areas prior to and during disinfecting.
- Check for any changes in the ground surface that might indicate movement or damage to any part of the system. Raised areas may indicate that the septic or holding tank may have floated upward due to floodwater in the ground. If this has occurred, damage to the tank and/or piping is likely. Depressed areas may indicate a collapsed tank, or that the upper soils have sunk downward into the drainfield. The system should be checked for damage by a qualified system installer or a professional engineer. DEC recommends that for safety reasons, you keep people and pets away from these areas prior to repairs.
- Floodwaters may have raised the groundwater to levels at or near the ground surface in many locations. Onsite sewer systems do not provide proper wastewater treatment under these conditions. Use of systems under these conditions may lead to groundwater contamination, surfacing of sewage, and/or sewage backing up into your home. All of these conditions pose a significant health threat. It may take some time for the surrounding ground to dry up enough for the drainfield to recover and resume its normal absorption capability. During the time when the groundwater level is above or near the level of the drainfield area of your sewer system, your system will not function properly. During this period, avoid discharging wastewater to your onsite sewer system. When use of your sewer system is resumed, DEC recommends that you closely monitor its performance and limit water use for at least 30 days.
- Once the flood waters and groundwater levels have receded, the septic tank may be pumped, which can give the drainfield a resting period before introducing additional wastewater to the drainfield from the tank. Prior to pumping a septic or holding tank, the homeowner should verify that their tank is anchored down to prevent floatation when pumped, and that groundwater levels have receded enough to prevent further inflow of groundwater into the tank, and/or damage to the tank and piping when pumped out.
- Cleanout pipes and monitoring tubes should be inspected to assure those joints and connections have not been damaged, and that caps are in place.
If you have any questions or concerns about potential damage to your sewer system you should contact a licensed professional engineer, a certified installer, or a septic professional in your area. If you suspect your system is damaged, you should limit use of water in your home and keep people and pets away from the system until it is inspected.
Solid Waste Disposal
Cleanup of flood-impacted property can expose you to potential safety hazards and hazardous materials and so should be done with care to protect you and others. For clean-up of general debris, filter masks and protective clothing are suggested to protect from exposure to dust, mold spores, and other particulates.
All debris that may include pathogens, such as medical waste, sewage, outhouse remnants, plumbing fixtures, sewer piping, and septic tanks can contain high levels of bacteria and should be handled with great care to minimize any exposure. Household hazardous waste, such as cleaning products, electronics, fluorescent bulbs, and thermostats need to be properly handled and disposed. Pressurized containers, such as propane and acetylene tanks, need to be inspected to ensure they have been fully vented.
Hazardous materials, including fuels, oil, paints, solvents, batteries, and asbestos-containing materials should be carefully handled and packaged before disposal. Debris from buildings constructed before 1980 may contain hazardous materials and should be tested for asbestos, PCBs, lead-based paint, and others. These materials may require special handling to be removed. An online search for companies that perform testing and removal of these hazardous materials is suggested.
Even though non-hazardous flood debris can be disposed in a permitted local landfill, the large volume of debris that needs to be disposed can easily fill up or significantly shorten the life of a small community landfill. Therefore, the Solid Waste Program strongly recommends that non-hazardous flood debris be disposed in a one-time use landfill that is authorized and created for this purpose. If a suitable location can be found, the Solid Waste Program can authorize such a landfill on an emergency basis.
- ADEC Solid Waste Program
Oil and Hazardous Substance Spills
During a flood warning it is recommended for individuals with heating oil systems to close all fuel tank connections, make sure piping is properly elevated, and anchor tanks and cradles to a structure, tree or other sturdy item to prevent them from being swept away. It is critically important to secure all fuel storage containers so they do not float or blow away, including propane tanks, small fuel containers, and barrels. If you have a buried fuel tank, block the vent and fill pipes to prevent water from seeping into the tank and contaminating the fuel.
During flooding events, aboveground tanks, including propane tanks, may shift or fall causing fuel lines to kink, weaken, or break, and fittings to loosen or become damaged. Technical resources are available at DEC’s home heating oil website to help you inspect your fuel tank and lines in order to prevent spills.
If you have a buried fuel tank, there may be some damage to the tank and/or the fuel lines connected to it. It is not possible to conduct a visible inspection of underground tanks and lines, you should check for diesel odor around your tank or house, and notice any differences in the operation of your furnace or boiler. If you suspect damage to your underground tank or lines, contact your fuel supplier for further assistance.
If you have any questions on the integrity of your tank, fuel lines, tank stand, the fuel itself, or need help moving or returning the tank to service, please contact your fuel supplier.
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- Spill Reporting information https://dec.alaska.gov/spar/ppr/spill-information/reporting/