Protecting Public Health and the Environment.

Emergency Preparedness for Public Water Systems

Safe and reliable drinking water is vital to every community. Water utilities are responsible for ensuring that our state’s water systems are protected against a variety of threats that could affect their core mission of an providing uninterrupted supply of safe drinking water and maintaining an adequate supply of water for fire fighting.

Threats to water systems include the following:

  • Natural disasters: earthquakes, floods, severe storms, fire, and drought
  • Man-made threats: vandalism, disgruntled employee or customer, computer hacker, and terrorist

Emergency Response Planning

Community water systems that serve populations greater than 3,300 are required to have an emergency response plan on hand designed to ensure system security, minimize property damage, and lessen liability. DEQ urges all public drinking water systems, regardless of size of population served, to adopt an emergency response plan. Emergency plans outline the steps a water system will follow if a primary source of drinking water becomes contaminated or the flow of water is disrupted. The purposes of an emergency plan are to:

  1. Establish a procedure for the management and staff of a water system to follow in case of an emergency
  2. Help a water system reduce its vulnerability to emergencies

Developing an emergency response plan takes time and effort. Once completed, the plan should be kept on hand for any unforeseen emergency.

Contamination Emergencies: When to Call and What to Do

What should you do if you believe a suspected or intentional contamination or intrusion has occurred at your public water system or facility? Call 911 if your system experiences any of the following scenarios:

  • Physical security is compromised or obvious evidence exists of accidental or malicious intrusion.
  • Evidence of vandalism exists that may suggest intrusion leading to an added vulnerability of the system (e.g., hole in fences or gates, barbed wire cut, and locksets removed or destroyed).
  • Suspicious materials are found around a site that is part of, or associated with, a public water system (e.g., discarded packaging, plastic bags, unlabeled and discarded containers, evidence of marks indicating devices were dragged across the ground, and vehicle tracks).
  • A chemical spill or release of chemicals that may impact the drinking water supply.
  • An anonymous threat is directed at the facility.

If a laboratory needs to report an exceedance of drinking water standards, the laboratory should immediately contact the public drinking water system operator or owner and the regional DEQ or health district office. After normal working hours, the laboratory should notify the Idaho State Communications Center at (800) 632-8000.

Certified Drinking Water Haulers in Idaho

For emergencies, such as pump failure or water quality or quantity issues, it may be necessary for some public water systems to use bulk water as an alternative water source. In Idaho, suppliers of bulk sources of water are certified by the state's seven health districts to haul drinking water in emergency situations.  For a list of potential bulk water suppliers in your area, contact your local public health district.

Staff Contacts

Technical Services Division Administrator
Mark Dietrich
DEQ State Office
Technical Services Division
1410 N. Hilton
Boise, ID 83706
(208) 373-0204

Drinking Water Bureau Chief
Tyler Fortunati
DEQ State Office
Water Quality Division
1410 N. Hilton
Boise, ID 83706
(208) 373-0140


Idaho Water/Wastewater Agency Response Network Website: Links to a voluntary mutual aid organization of water utilities helping other water utilities during times of emergency.

DEQ Resources

After the Flood: Protecting Your Drinking Water

Emergency Preparedness: Protecting Water Quality Before, During, and After a Flood Strikes

Event-Specific Resources

Earthquake – Incident Action Checklist

Wildfire – Incident Action Checklist

Drought – Incident Action Checklist

More Information

Water Security Publications Database

Related Pages

Emergency Response Overview