What is a Boil Water Advisory?

Last Modified: April 24, 2013

A Boil Water Advisory is a public statement advising people to boil their tap water before using it, typically in response to an event that could allow contaminants to enter the water distribution system. Such events would include a water main break, small or widespread loss of system pressure, or a natural disaster. In some cases the field staff can make repairs to a water main while under pressure which prevents any contamination from the soil and bacteria from entering the distribution. When this process is used there will be no boil water advisory issued.

When we do issue a boil water advisory, we will notify only the customers affected or served by the water main repaired. If the boil water advisory is wide spread, Public Utilities will utilize available media, radio and other appropriate notification measures to assist us with informing the public of the boil water advisory.

If you have additional questions, please contact our Water Treatment Plant Staff at 919-996-2870.

What is a Boil Water Advisory? Is it the same as a Boil Water Notice?

A Boil Water Advisory (BWA) is a public statement advising customers to boil tap water before consuming it. Advisories are issued when an event has occurred allowing the possibility for the water distribution system to become contaminated. An advisory does not mean that the water is contaminated, but rather that it could be contaminated; because the water quality is unknown, customers should assume the water is unsafe to drink and take the appropriate precautions. A Boil Water Advisory is different from a Boil Water Notice, which is issued when contamination is confirmed in the water system. During a notice, all customers must boil their water before consuming it or use bottled water.

What should I do during a Boil Water Advisory?

You should boil tap water vigorously for at least one full minute prior to using it for drinking or cooking (the minute starts when the water begins to bubble). This includes water used for brushing teeth, making ice, washing raw foods, preparation of drinks, and water for pets. Wait for the water to cool before using it, or store it in the refrigerator in a clean container. Boiling removes harmful bacteria in the water that may cause illness.

After an Boil water advisory has been lifted and if contamination of the water system did occur you should flush household pipes, ice makers, water fountains, etc. prior to using for drinking or cooking. Flushing simply means letting the water run to ensure that no contaminated water remains in your pipes.

Follow these guidelines for flushing:

  • Run all cold water faucets in your home for one minute
  • To flush automatic ice makers, make three batches of ice and discard
  • Run water softeners through a regeneration cycle
  • Run drinking water fountains for one minute
  • Run water coolers with direct water connections for five minutes.

Do I still need to boil my water if I have a filter system on my faucet or refrigerator?

Most point-of-use (POU) filters are designed to improve the aesthetics of water (improve taste and odor), not remove harmful bacteria.

Is the water safe for washing dishes, laundry, and bathing?

The water is safe for washing dishes, but you should use hot, soapy water (you may add one tablespoon of bleach per gallon as a precaution) and rinse dishes in boiled water. There are no restrictions on doing laundry. The water is also safe for bathing during an advisory or notice.

How long must a Boil Water Advisory be in effect?

An advisory or notice will remain in effect until test samples show the water is safe to drink. Testing for bacteria requires 18-24 hours to complete, depending on the type of test used.

What are total coliform bacteria?

Total coliform bacteria are a collection of microorganisms that live in large numbers in the intestines of humans and animals, as well as in most soils and surface water. A sub-group of these microorganisms is the fecal coliform bacteria, the most common member being E coli. These bacteria occur naturally in lakes and streams, but indicate that the water is contaminated with human or animal waste and therefore may pose a health risk to people who drink it. The water treatment process removes these bacteria from the water, but events such as a water main break or a loss of pressure in the water distribution system may allow these bacteria to enter water lines through cracks in pipes or back-siphoning from a residential plumbing system. Boiling water vigorously for one minute will kill these bacteria and make water safe to drink.

How will I be notified if my home/business is affected by an advisory or notice?

By regulation, Raleigh Water System must follow certain public notification efforts and depending on the customers affected by the planned or emergency water main repair will decide notification process. If this is a planned or minor water main repair the use of door to door notification/door information packets will be delivered. If this is a wide spread notification advisory the use of media outlets and any other means will be utilized to inform the water users/public.

Under what circumstances will Raleigh Water System issue a Boil Water Advisory?

An advisory must be issued in the following instances:

  • Loss of system pressure in small or large sections of the distribution has been identified.
  • A water main break where dirt and debris could have entered the distribution piping
  • Scheduled water main maintenance that would drop system pressure in that local area.

How will I know when the advisory or notice has been lifted?

Raleigh's Water System will issue a repeal of the boil water advisory when the results from the testing have been confirmed that the water is safe to drink; depending on how you received your notification will decide how you are informed of the repeal (door hanger/packet or media/radio).

Since an advisory is a precautionary measure, will I get sick if I drink the water? What if I drank some of the water before I found out about the advisory?

Until test results show the water is safe to drink, you should not drink the water without boiling it first. During an advisory, chances are if you are in good health, you will not get sick from drinking the water; however, young children, some of the elderly, and people with severely compromised immune systems should not drink the water until it is deemed safe to drink. Symptoms of illness caused by bacteria in the water may include diarrhea, cramps, nausea, headaches, or other symptoms. Please note that these symptoms are not caused only by organisms in drinking water. If you experience any of these symptoms and they persist, you may want to seek medical advice.

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