When was the last time you thought about your drinking water?
This week, clean drinking water is at the top of nearly every Austinite's mind as the city continues its boil water order, which could last for 10 to 14 days.
But for many people around the world, maintaining a supply of clean drinking water is a part of daily life. More than 800 million people do not have access to clean water, and millions more take precautions every day to deal with a compromised water supply. In Mexico City, for instance, nearly every household has a large water dispenser that people use to fill up smaller water bottles for drinking and to wash produce and dishes.
All over the world, people have adapted their cooking, cleaning and hygiene habits to accommodate for water that isn't safe to consume straight from the tap, and Austinites are making those adjustments in real time.
On Monday, Nicole Villalpando compiled all the pertinent do's and don'ts of a boil water notice, such as don't rinse your dishes or feed your pets water that hasn't been sterilized. You can still do laundry and take showers, but the city says it's critical for Austinites to reduce their water consumption by 15 to 20 percent so that the water system can catch up after last week's floods.
Local stores are trying to keep up with demand for bottled water, but if these water restrictions are going to last for 10 to 14 days, we're going to have to get used to boiling water, too.
I've had (and received) so many questions about this boil water notice that I wanted to compile extra information to help us all navigate this new way to use water.
Boil water in whatever pot you have. You can use an Instant Pot, but the quantity isn't as much as, say, a tamal or stock pot. Boil the water vigorously for three minutes and then let cool. Keep bottled water in your bathroom so you don't forget to use it when brushing your teeth. Keep a pot of covered, boiled-and-cooled water on the stove so you can easily dip in a container for washing produce or rinsing dishes. You can cook pasta, rice and other water-based dishes in tap water, as long as the water comes to a boil for at least three minutes during the cooking process. Even though coffee pots get hot, they don't get hot enough to sterilize water, so you'll need to use bottled or already boiled water until the advisory is lifted. The official recommendations say to use sanitized water to wash your hands, but if you're washing your hands with soap and the regular water, avoid touching your mouth. I have four gallons of store-bought water that I've been using, and my plan is to store the boiled-and-cooled water in those containers. You could also use pots with a lid, plastic or glass pitchers or, for uses such as dishwashing, a sanitized cooler. Just make sure the containers are clean and made of food-grade materials, including used 2-liter soda bottles or milk cartons that have been cleaned with sterilized water. Boiled water can have a "flat" taste, but in a story yesterday about why boiling water kills pathogens, Asher Price recommended adding a teaspoon or a pinch of salt to improve the taste. (He also explains the difference between pasteurization and sterilization.) You can also pour the water from cup to cup to aerate it, which will give it better taste and texture. An electric kettle is a great way to bring water to a boil quickly, but you might have to "start" it several times in order to boil for the recommended three minutes. How long does it take to boil a gallon of water? About 20 minutes if you're using my gas stove and you take the lid off to take photos for Instagram. Less if you keep the lid on. After you've boiled the water, store the water in a cool, dark place. If the water is in a well-sealed container, it will keep for six months, according to the Alberta health department. If you're using the recently boiled water for newborns, however, the recommendation is to use the water within a day, and to store it in the refrigerator within an hour of boiling. Don't waste water. Reducing the city's water consumption is the only way the city can improve the quality of the water coming out of the tap, so cut down on usage however possible. Most dishwashers get hot enough to sterilize the water, but make sure you use the hottest setting. If you don't have a dishwasher, use a container with warm, soapy tap water within the sink and then use sterilized water to rinse them.