How Natural Disasters Affect Our Water Supply

How Natural Disasters Affect Our Water Supply (infographic by High Tide Technologies

When Disaster Strikes…

Natural disasters wreak havoc on everything in their path. Their raw power can destroy entire neighborhoods, communities, and cities. Since 2009, there have been over 3,000 natural disasters worldwide, costing nearly $1.4 trillion in clean-up and recovery efforts. Many wounds left by natural disasters never fully heal, but from a logistical point of view, repairing water infrastructure presents a complicated and lasting impact. Here are some things to be aware of in the event of a water-contaminating event in your area.

Added Stress On Water Distribution Networks

We take clean drinking water for granted, but this convenience is perpetuated by best-case-scenarios. In reality, natural disasters can devastate our water infrastructure. Water treatment and distribution networks are symbiotic systems designed to handle specific capacities. If one part of the process gets overwhelmed, the entire system suffers. 

Types Of Water Problems

Floods are one of the most abundant natural disasters. They have a number of causes and can happen just about anywhere. However, they are not the only culprit when it comes to creating complications with our water supply systems. Earthquakes, wildfires, tornadoes, droughts, and hurricanes are pulling their weight in the difficulties department.

The most common ways natural disasters affect our water supply:


Natural disasters introduce large amounts of contaminants into our surface water and groundwater sources. Nitrates, total coliforms, fecal coliforms, E. coli, lead, total dissolved solids (TDS), and chlorine are just a handful of the contaminants that can spoil our water supply in the aftermath of devastation.

Rapid Soil Erosion

When soil erodes quickly, as it does in the case of wildfires, it can find its way into our groundwater supply system. The soil introduces nutrients, pesticides, minerals, debris, and other byproducts of agricultural runoff into our water sources. This results in algae blooms and clogged filters in the water treatment chain. 

Shifting Ground & Infrastructure

Bursting water supply pipelines interrupt the operation of the water treatment and distribution process. In addition to costly repairs, this side-effect is particularly hazardous when water pipes burst in older buildings. This results in lead contaminants being introduced into rivers, streams, and other sources of freshwater.

Loss of Electricity

Water treatment facilities and distribution systems need electricity to operate. This makes them vulnerable to power outages. Many natural disasters cause widespread power outages that can disrupt the treatment and distribution process. Even short electrical outages can result in stagnant water that isn’t appropriately treated.

What To Do When Your Water Is Contaminated

After a natural disaster occurs, keep in mind that drinking water may not be safe for consumption, hygienic uses, or household chores. A contaminated water system is an unsafe water system. Municipal water authorities are required to notify consumers when water is unsafe. If you’re unsure, it’s best to boil the water before use.

Everything Is Connected

Natural disasters don’t occur in isolation. Our ecosystem is an interconnected network of cause and effect. An earthquake in California can cause a tsunami in Japan. 

We will likely witness an increase in natural disasters as Earth’s climate continues to change. This will inevitably put more strain on our water treatment and distribution systems. Natural disasters are uncontrollable and unpredictable. Knowing what’s coming, preparation is our best defense.