Ngā ohotata ,
Emergencies

If you are concerned about the safety of your drinking water, the first thing to do is to contact your drinking water supplier. They have a duty of care under the Water Services Act 2021 to ensure the water they supply is safe, to inform consumers if there is a problem and to respond to protect public health and restore safe water supply.

See below for information on what to do in a drinking water incident or emergency to protect the health of you and your whānau .

Frequently asked questions for drinking water incidents & emergencies

What’s the first thing I should do if I have a concern about my drinking water?

The first thing to do is contact your drinking water supplier. If you’re on a council supply, you may be able to find information about your drinking water supply on your council website. If you’re unsure who your drinking water supplier is, you can find information on water suppliers on the public register.

How do I know if there are water notices in place where I live or am staying?

If you’re on a council supply, the first place to check is the council’s website. Most councils also have social media, and some have opt-in text services to disseminate water notices. If you’re still unsure, contact your supplier. If you’re not on council supply, you should be discussing water notices with your water supplier who has a duty to advise consumers when water is or may be unsafe.

How do I get water in a disaster?

All people are encouraged to store water in readiness for a disaster. The National Emergency Management Agency recommends at least three litres of water per person per day for at least three days. Click here for more information on storing water for emergencies: Storing water — Get Ready — Emergency preparedness in New Zealand.

In some areas it is recommended that people store significantly more emergency drinking water. Your local Civil Defence Group will have more information regarding emergency water distribution in the event of an emergency: Local civil defence groups » National Emergency Management Agency

Potential health risks from bugs in the water

What are the potential health risks from drinking water containing bugs/ microorganisms?

Having bugs in the water could cause gastrointestinal illnesses and in severe cases, death. Symptoms could include diarrhoea, vomiting and/or fever.  Babies, young children, pregnant women, the elderly, and people who have weakened immune systems are more at risk of illness.

I have already drunk the water. Will I get sick?

It is possible you could get sick in the next few days.  Babies, young children, pregnant women, the elderly, and people who have weakened immune systems are more at risk of illness.

If you get diarrhoea, vomiting and/or a fever, contact your doctor or Healthline (0800 611 116).

What should I do if I have symptoms?

The most important thing to do is to avoid dehydration. Drink plenty of fluids (including bottled or boiled water) and avoid drinks with caffeine, such as coca cola or energy drinks, coffee, and tea.

If you are concerned about your health or the health of a family member, contact your doctor or Healthline (0800 611 116).

If you think your sickness is caused by your water, contact your drinking water supplier as soon as possible and your local public health unit.

Public drinking water notices

Why are drinking water notices put in place?

A water supplier (e.g. council) may issue a boil water, do not drink water, or do not use water notice when there's a problem with the water supply to reduce the likelihood that anyone will get sick.  The notice should remain in place until the water supply is once again safe to drink or use normally. 

What is a boil water notice?

A boil water notice is an instruction, put in place by a water supplier when the drinking water supply contains, or could contain, bugs or microorganisms that could make you sick. Boil water notices are put in place when E. coli is detected in the water or when the supplier has identified a risk of contamination such as a problem with the treatment system or damage to pipework.

When a boil water notice is in place all water for drinking, preparing food, brushing teeth, and preparing infant formula must be boiled (or have some other treatment e.g. bleach) before use. 

Water for showering, laundry, and other uses does not need to be boiled.

You should follow the instruction until you hear from your drinking water supplier that the boil water notice has been lifted and the water is safe to drink. 

What is a do not drink water notice?

do not drink water notice is issued when the water supply is, or could be, contaminated with harmful chemicals and toxins. In this case boiling water will not make it safe. Your water supplier may recommend limited use of tap water for some tasks, depending on the harmful chemical or toxin contaminating the water. Follow the information provided by your supplier carefully to protect your health and your family’s health.

During a do not drink water advisory, use bottled water for drinking, cooking, brushing teeth, washing fruits and vegetables, preparing food, mixing baby formula, making ice, giving water to pets. Your water supplier should provide further advice.

In some instances, it will be safe to wash hands, flush toilets and shower. In other instances, it will not be safe. You should be cautious when bathing babies and young children as they might swallow water.

Do not drink or use water from any appliance connected to your water supply lines. This includes the water and ice dispensers in your refrigerator, freezer and dishwasher.

What is a do not use notice?

do not use water notice is issued when your community’s water is, or could be, contaminated in way that any contact, for example with the skin, lungs, or eyes, may be unsafe. Do not drink or use tap water from the impacted system for any purpose as long as the notice is in effect, including for bathing. These types of notices are rare.

What does E. coli in the drinking water mean?

E. coli is a type of bacteria found in the intestines and faeces (poo) of people, other mammals and birds. In technical terms it’s a subgroup of the coliform group. E. coli is used as an indicator of bacterial risk. It’s presence in a drinking water sample, indicates recent faecal contamination (i.e. the presence of poo). That means it can be expected that micro-organisms including bacteria, viruses and protozoa that can cause illness, will be in the water. Boiling contaminated drinking water destroys all illness-causing bacteria, viruses and protozoa that may be present.

What should I do once a boil water notice is lifted?

Run all your cold taps for five minutes before using the water. Flush any appliances (e.g. coffee machines, water dispensers, ice makers) that are connected to the water supply. Hot water cylinders and header tanks may need to be drained and refilled – your drinking water supplier should provide some specific instructions at the time the notice is lifted. 

I have a water filter installed.  Does this need to be cleaned after the water notice has been lifted?

Water filters should be maintained and replaced according to the manufacturer’s instructions.  You will also need to follow the advice of your drinking water supplier for any specific instructions. 

How to boil water to make it safe

How long do I need to boil the water for?

Bring the water to a rolling boil (where bubbles appear in the centre and do not disappear when the water is stirred) for one minute. Or boil the water in an electric jug until the jug turns off automatically.

What do I use boiled water for?

Use boiled water for drinking, preparing food, cooking, making up infant formula, handwashing, and cleaning teeth.

How often should I boil water?

Store the boiled water in a clean container with a lid. Boiled water is best used within 24 hours and can be boiled again to be sure it is safe. This is especially important for preparing infant formula.

I don’t like the taste of boiled water. What can I do?

Boiled water can taste a bit flat. To improve the taste, you can pour cooled water back and forth from one clean glass into another to add air to the water, let the water stand for a few hours, or add a pinch of salt to each litre of boiled water.  Chilling water in the fridge can also improve the taste.

Using bleach to make water safe

I cannot boil my water. How do I disinfect my water to make it safe to drink?

You can add plain unscented bleach to your water (do not use Janola as it contains cleaning chemicals which make it unsuitable for treating drinking water). To disinfect the water add 5 drops of bleach to 1 litre of water or 1/2 teaspoon to 10 litres of water. Stir and leave the water to stand for 30 minutes before drinking.

Why is boiling preferable to adding bleach?

Boiling water is the most effective way to disinfect water, as it will kill all disease-causing bugs.  If it is not possible to boil water, e.g. in a power outage, disinfecting the water by adding bleach is effective for killing most bugs. 

My water turns blue (or black) when I add bleach. Is it safe to drink?

Some water sourced from the ground and contains minerals. Some of these minerals can react with the bleach and change the colour to blue or black. While not hazardous, it is not aesthetically pleasing. 

What is bleach?

Bleach is a compound (mix) of chlorine known as sodium hypochlorite.  Chlorine compounds are often added to drinking water to get rid of disease-causing bugs.  The use of chlorine has been a major factor in reducing illness from waterborne diseases.

Can I use any brand of bleach?

Plain unscented bleach is best.  It is not safe to use bleaches that contain added scent or perfume, surfactants (cleaning chemicals) or other additives as they can make people sick. Surfactants will make the water foam or bubble when it is shaken or mixed. If the product's label is not clear about what has been added to the bleach, do not use the product for making water safe to drink.

My bleach has expired. Can I still use it?

If there are no alternatives available, use your bleach and double the dose.  You can double the dose with no adverse health effects. 

I don't like the chlorine taste of bleach; what can I do? 

To improve the taste, store your treated water in the fridge. Not only will the chilled water taste better, but it will also lose that chlorine smell. Keep the jug covered and preferably do not keep any water for more than 24 hours. 

Using purification tablets to make water safe

Can purification tablets be used to treat water?

If you are unable to boil your water or add bleach, purification tablets can be used to disinfect the water.  Follow manufacturer’s instructions for details on how much to use. 

Commercially bottled water

If my tap water is unsafe to drink can I use commercially bottled water?

You may choose to use bottled water if it’s available. Keep bottled water in its original container and do not open it until you need to use it. Bottled water may be used for drinking, cooking, and hand washing with no further treatment.

Should I use commercially bottled water if it is past the expiry date?

Many manufacturers advise a two-year period for taste, but bottled water can be used indefinitely if stored properly. Store commercially bottled water at room temperature (or cooler), out of direct sunlight and away from solvents and chemicals such as petrol, paint thinners and dry-cleaning chemicals. If the water appears cloudy, then it should be treated (e.g. by boiling or adding bleach) before drinking.

Using water for food and drink preparation

Can I use contaminated water for cooking?

No, any water used for preparing food or cooking needs to be treated first by boiling or adding bleach.  

What if I’m boiling my water as part of the cooking process?

It is safer to treat the water first (boil or add bleach) in case the water does not reach a high enough temperature during cooking. 

How do I prepare food and drinks?

Fruit and vegetables should be washed using cooled, boiled water, water treated with plain unscented bleach or commercially bottled water. In cooking, it’s safer to boil the water first to prevent the potential for inadequate heating.  Do not use ice, food or drinks that may have been made from contaminated tap water. 

Can I use my coffee machine, soda machine or ice maker? What about ice?

Coffee machines, soda machines and ice makers that are connected to the water supply should not be used.  Use boiled water, water treated with plain unscented bleach or commercially bottled water for making coffee, soda drinks or ice.

I have a water filtration unit installed/ a container fitted with a filter. Does this make the water safe?

No.  Filtered water does not destroy bugs that can make people sick.  Filtered water should be treated by boiling or adding bleach before using it for drinking, preparing food, cooking, making up infant formula, handwashing and cleaning teeth. 

What should I do about feeding my baby?

If breastfeeding, continue as usual. If you are using infant formula, prepare using commercially bottled or cooled, boiled water. Wash and sterilise bottles and teats in boiling water or use sterilisation tablets and follow manufacturer’s instructions.

Using water for your garden, washing and personal hygiene

Is it safe to water my vege garden with untreated water?

Vege gardens should be watered with treated water to prevent contaminating garden produce. 

I wash dishes by hand. How do I disinfect them?

Dishes can be washed using boiled water and detergent. If you are unable to boil your water, dishes washed with contaminated tap water and detergent should be rinsed in bleach solution. (1/4 cup of plain unscented household bleach per 10 litres of water). Allow dishes to completely air dry. 

Is it safe to use my dishwasher?

Household dishwashers are generally safe to use if the water reaches a final rinse temperature of at least 65°c or if the dishwasher has a sanitising cycle. 

Should I change the way I am doing my laundry?

No, you can continue doing your laundry the way you usually do.

Do I need to treat the water I use for cleaning?

Adults and older children may shower or bathe with untreated water as long as no water is swallowed (avoid the face). Young children should be sponge-bathed instead of bathing in a tub because they are likely to swallow the bath water. If you have recent surgical wounds or a chronic illness, you may want to use bottled or boiled water for bathing until the notice is lifted.  You can use water from the hot water cylinder, header tank and toilet cistern (if no chemical toilet cleanser is present) to wash yourself.

Can I use the water for handwashing?

Keeping hands clean during an emergency helps prevent the spread of bugs that can make people sick. If your tap water is not safe to use, wash your hands with soap and either commercially bottled water, cooled boiled water or water that has been treated by adding unscented bleach. Wash your hands well. If water is in very short supply, keep some in a bowl with disinfectant added, but change frequently. 

Can I brush my teeth?

Only use commercially bottled water, water that has been boiled or water that has been treated by adding plain unscented bleach for brushing your teeth.  

Can I use the water to shave?

You can shave as usual using the tap water. 

Pets and animals

Can my pets drink untreated water?

Pets can usually drink untreated water.  If you have any concerns, contact your veterinarian. 

Do I need to worry about my fish or aquatic pets (e.g. reptiles, frogs)?

Most bugs that infect people do not infect reptiles or fish. Be cautious about changing the water in your fish tank or aquarium if the water has different treatment (e.g. more chlorine being added or new treatment added). Contact your local pet store or veterinarian for more advice.

Can livestock drink untreated water?

Livestock can usually drink untreated water.  If you have any concerns contact your veterinarian.