Frequently Asked Questions for Residents and Businesses
When a public water system (PWS) such as Woodlands Water Agency issues a Boil Water Notice (BWN) to their customers, it indicates the water in the distribution system may be unsafe for consumption or may pose an acute health risk. A BWN is intended to reduce the possibility of waterborne illnesses resulting from consuming water which may contain harmful microbes.
A Boil Water Notice (BWN) is issued as a precaution or notification to protect consumers from drinking water that may have been contaminated with disease causing organisms (also called pathogens). BWNs are typically issued when an unexpected condition, such as a failed pump or broken water line, has caused a potential for biological contamination of potable drinking water in a public water system.
BWNs are instituted by public water systems (PWSs) as specified by Title 30 Texas Administrative Code (TAC) §290.46(q) in the event of:
- low distribution pressures (below 20 pounds per square inch (psi)),
- water outages
- microbiological samples found to contain E. coli
- failure to maintain adequate disinfectant residuals
- elevated finished surface water turbidities
- or other conditions which indicate that the potability of the drinking water supply has been compromised.
Public notification will be given by The Woodlands Water Agency when the boil water notice is lifted. WWA will provide details on how long the boil water notice might last and will advise you when it is safe to return to normal water use.
Typically, a boil water event lasts for 24 to 48 hours, but this can be longer and the need to boil water may last for several days or more. How long depends on the conditions that caused the need to boil, how quickly the conditions can be corrected, and how long it takes for laboratory results to confirm that your water is again ready to drink.
Water should be brought to a vigorous rolling boil and then boiled for two minutes.
Steps for boiling water:
- Fill a pot with water.
- Heat the water until bubbles come from the bottom of the pot to the top.
- Once the water reaches a rolling boil, let it boil for 2 minutes.
- Turn off the heat source and let the water cool
- Pour the water into a clean container with a cover for storage.
The flat taste of boiled water can be improved by pouring it back and forth from one container to another (called aeration), allowing it to stand for a few hours, or adding a small pinch of salt for each quart of water boiled.
No. The Texas Department of Environmental Quality encourages residents to Boil tap water even if it is filtered. Most kitchen and other household water filters typically do not remove bacteria or viruses.
A properly operating reverse osmosis (RO) unit can remove pathogens, including viruses, bacteria and protozoa. However, there are many units available to the public through hardware stores and elsewhere, not all of which can be relied upon to remove pathogens. Furthermore, RO units must be diligently maintained to assure effective treatment. If you are at all uncertain of the capabilities of your reverse osmosis unit, do not rely on it to remove potentially harmful pathogens. Instead, you should use boiled (and then cooled) water or water from an acceptable alternate source.
Most of these units are not capable of removing pathogens, including viruses, bacteria, and protozoa. The few that are designed to do so, may still require disinfection to address viruses and must be properly operated and diligently maintained to ensure effective treatment. It is recommended that you use boiled (and then cooled) water or an alternate source such as bottled water.
Boiling and bottled water are the most reliable means to ensure safe potable water during a boil water event and should always be your first choices.
If these are not options for you, chemical disinfection may be used.
Add 1/8 of a teaspoon (8 drops) of liquid unscented chlorine bleach per 1 gallon of water.
The treated water should be mixed thoroughly and allowed to stand, preferably covered, for 30 minutes. The water should have a slight chlorine odor; if not, repeat the dosage and allow the water to stand for an additional 15 minutes. If the treated water has too strong a chlorine taste, allow it to stand exposed to the air for a few hours or aerate it by pouring it from one clean container to another several times.
Chlorine tablets containing the necessary dosage to disinfect drinking water can be purchased at sporting goods stores and should be used following the instructions. When instructions are not available, use one tablet for each quart of water to be purified.
CAUTION – Chemical disinfection is limited in effectiveness and is not appropriate for very turbid (muddy) water, or where raw sewage or other fecal matter may be present. In this case only use an alternate source of water.
Tincture of Iodine
Common household iodine from a medicine chest or first aid kit may be used to disinfect water. Add five drops of 2 percent United States Pharmacopeia (U.S.P.) Tincture of Iodine to each quart of clear water. For cloudy water add ten drops and let the solution stand for at least 30 minutes.
Iodine tablets containing the necessary dosage to disinfect drinking water can be purchased at drug and sporting goods stores. They should be used by following the instructions. When instructions are not available, use one tablet for each quart of water to be purified.
The container you use to get water from an alternate source or temporary water station can greatly affect your water. Never use a container that has ever held a chemical, gasoline, or other fuel. Use only clean containers that you know are fit and that are free of all dirt and contaminants.
No, any water used for food preparation or cooking needs to be from an acceptable alternate source or boiled first.
It is more protective to boil the water first, to prevent the potential for inadequate heating. The cooking process should bring the water to a full rolling boil for two minutes before adding the food item (for example, making pasta).
Fruits, vegetables, and any other foods that will not be cooked should be washed and rinsed with boiled (and then cooled) water or water from an acceptable alternate source. Similarly, ice should be made with either boiled water or water from an acceptable alternate source.
No, not without precautions! Any water used for baby food, formula, or making beverages must be boiled (and then cooled) or be from an acceptable alternate source.
Unless a “Do Not Use” notification has been issued, your water may be used by healthy individuals for showering, bathing, shaving, and washing as long as care is taken not to swallow water and avoid shaving nicks.
To minimize the chance of infections, people with open wounds, cuts, blisters or recent surgical wounds and people who are immunocompromised or suffer from chronic illness should use boiled water (then cooled) or water from an alternate source*. Children and disabled individuals should be supervised to ensure water is not ingested. Sponge bathing is advisable, and bathing time should be minimized to further reduce the potential for ingestion.
Hand-washed dishes: No! Use boiled (then cooled) water, water from an alternate source, or after washing with dish detergent rinse for a minute in a dilute bleach (1 tablespoon of unscented bleach per gallon of water). Allow dishes, cutlery, cups, etc. to completely air dry before use.
Home dishwasher: Yes, if the hot wash is at least 170o F and includes a full dry cycle. However, most home dishwashers do not reach this temperature. If you are uncertain of the temperature of your dishwasher, rinse in dilute bleach and completely air dry as described for hand washed dishes.
Commercial dishwasher: Yes, if it is a NSF listed washer and manufactured and operated with a heat sanitizing rinse set at 170oF that lasts for at least 30 seconds. Additional information on commercial dishwashers can be found in the fact sheets for food service establishments.
CAUTION – “Green” or “Environmentally Friendly” dish washer additives, which may be advertised as a disinfectant or anti-microbial, are weaker disinfectants and should not be relied on alone to eliminate potential pathogens.
Yes, unless a “Do Not Use” notification has been issued, it is safe to wash clothes in tap water as long as the clothes are completely dried before being worn. However, increased turbidity that sometimes occurs during a boil water event may discolor clothing, especially whites.
No! Any water you ingest or place in your mouth should be disinfected by boiling (and then cooled) or come from an alternate source. Bottled water is excellent for brushing your teeth.
In many situations, you can use tap water and soap to wash hands. Follow the guidance from your local public health officials. Be sure to vigorously scrub your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds and rinse them well under running water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
Hand sanitizing wipes alone are not enough, especially to clean your hands for making food. Alcohol based sanitizers work against some common germs (like E. coli, and Salmonella) but may not be effective for cryptosporidium and bacterium spores.
You should follow the same boiling water procedures for your pet as you would for yourself. Many pets regularly drink some pretty bad water, but pets come in a wide variety with variable resistances to pathogens. Many pets are vulnerable to the same diseases that humans can get from contaminated water and can spread these diseases into the environment or pass them on to their owners. More specific information may be available from your veterinarian, based on the actual animal and conditions for the boil water notice.
There is no need to disinfect water used for flushing. Unless a “Do Not Use” notice was issued, or a water conservation notice was issued along with the boil water notice, there is no restriction or concern about using your toilet.
All food facilities / establishments including bars, restaurants, supermarkets, hotels, caterers, cafeterias in schools, nursing homes and hospitals, charitable food facilities, kitchens in non-profit institutions, food manufacturers and distributors and anyone else involved in the commercial preparation and distribution of food, water and beverages are affected by the boil water advisory issued.
Consult Guidance for Retail Food Establishments from the Texas Health and Human Services
Water can become stagnant in pipes that have been out of use or used infrequently, which can promote the growth of Legionella. To ensure the safety of your facility occupants and building water system and devices, refer to this helpful resource from the Center for Disease Control.
The likelihood of becoming ill is low. However, illness is certainly possible, especially for people that have a chronic illness or may be immunocompromised. This is why boil water notices are issued.
Anyone experiencing symptoms of gastroenteritis, such as diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, with or without fever, should seek medical attention. These symptoms are not unique to exposure to potential contaminants/organisms in the water, and a doctor’s involvement is key to identifying the cause of your illness. If your doctor suspects a waterborne illness, you may be asked to provide blood and/or stool samples.
There are many possible water borne pathogens. The organisms of most concern in Texas include protozoa such as Giardia and Cryptosporidium; bacteria such as Shigella and E. coli; and viruses.
These organisms primarily affect the gastrointestinal system, causing diarrhea, abdominal cramps, nausea, and vomiting, with or without fever. Sometimes, these illnesses are contracted by ingesting contaminated water, and in some circumstances skin contact could also lead to infection. Most of these illnesses are not usually serious or life threatening except in the elderly, the very young or those who are immune compromised.
When it is no longer necessary to boil the water, Woodlands Water will notify you that the water is safe for consumption. 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 there is fresh water flowing through your pipes. Follow the following 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
- Replace water filters
A milky appearance in the water typically indicates that there is air in the water. If you let a glass of water sit, you’ll notice the bubbles will disperse and clear up. It also can be common for calcium deposits or sediment to show up when your water service returns. Woodlands Water recommends that customers flush their plumbing lines by running the bathtub faucet for two minutes. If the cloudy appearance persists after you’ve flushed your plumbing lines, please report the issue to
Woodlands Water by calling 855-H20-SAVE (426-7283)
Customers do not need to independently have their water tested at their tap, nor does Woodlands Water hire individuals to solicit at-home water sampling. The Boil Water Notice will be rescinded when the results from the Woodlands Water drinking water testing is in full compliance with federal and state drinking water standards with no violations of listed contaminants. These tests are taken from various locations throughout the system that are approved by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.