Emergency Preparedness

Our Preparedness 

As your local water provider, Santa Margarita Water District not only ensures that you have water every day of the year, but we also plan for emergencies which come in all shapes and sizes - earthquakes, droughts, storms, power outages, terrorism, or major line breaks.

Investing in Water Storage + Local Supply

The region is heavily dependent on imported drinking water because we do not have a local, reliable groundwater source. The District set a strategic goal to have a six-month supply of drinking water readily available if a major emergency knocks out our imported water supply. Currently, Santa Margarita Water has well over 200 million gallons of water stored in regional reservoirs, including the award-winning  Upper Chiquita Reservoir which was developed and built by the District in 2011. The District also has agreements with regional agencies to acquire water in an emergency. Additionally, the District is investing in local, reliable and sustainable water supplies to reduce our dependence on imported water supplies.

Santa Margarita Water maintains a comprehensive emergency preparedness plan compliant with the National Incident Management System.

Investing in Infrastructure Maintenance 

A major part of our emergency preparedness includes our ongoing commitment to maintaining critical infrastructure so it can be reliable in an emergency. Explore some of these projects by visiting our interactive Capital Improvement Program at smwd.com/CRP

Your Preparedness

Water Supply At Home 

Having an ample supply of water is a top priority in an emergency. You can live for weeks without food, but without water, you can die in as little as 3 days. Help Santa Margarita Water District, emergency responders, and other relief organizations help you by having an adequate emergency supply of water, food and other essentials.

Store one gallon of water per person, per day for three days.  
According to the American Red Cross and FEMA, you should store at least a two-week supply of water for each member of your family. A minimum three-day supply is essential. Don’t forget to store additional supplies for your pets.

In an emergency, drink at least 2 quarts of water a day, 3 to 4 quarts a day if you are in a hot climate, pregnant, sick, or a child. If supplies run low, don’t ration water: Drink the amount you need today and look for more tomorrow.

Emergency Water Sources

Safe SourcesEmergency Preparedness Social Media Images-07

  • Melted ice cubes
  • Water drained from the water heater (undamaged water heater)
  • Liquids from canned goods such as fruit or vegetable juices

Unsafe Sources 

  • Radiators
  • Hot water boilers (home heating system)Emergency Preparedness Social Media Images-08
  • Water beds (fungicides added to the water or chemicals in the vinyl may make water unsafe to use)
  • Swimming pools and spas (chemicals are too concentrated for safe drinking but can be used for personal hygiene)

Water Treatment

If you have used all your stored water and there are no other reliable clean water sources, it may become necessary to treat suspicious water. Treat all water of uncertain quality before using it for drinking, food washing or preparation, washing dishes, brushing teeth or making ice. In addition to having a bad odor and taste, contaminated water can contain microorganisms (germs) that cause diseases such as dysentery, cholera, typhoid, and hepatitis.

There are many ways to treat water. Often the best solution is a combination of methods. Before treating, let any suspended particles settle to the bottom or strain them through coffee filters or layers of clean cloth.


Boiling is the safest method of treating water. In a large pot or kettle, bring water to a rolling boil for one full minute, keeping in mind that some water will evaporate. Let the water cool before drinking.

Boiled water will taste better if you put oxygen back into it by pouring the water back and forth between two clean containers. This also will improve the taste of stored water.

boil steps


You can use household liquid bleach to kill microorganisms. Use only regular household liquid bleach that contains 5.25 to 6.0 percent sodium hypochlorite. Do not use scented bleaches, color-safe bleaches or bleaches with added cleaners.

Add 16 drops (1/8 teaspoon) of bleach per gallon of water, stir and let stand for 30 minutes. The water should have a slight bleach odor. If it doesn’t, then repeat the dosage and let stand another 15 minutes. If it still does not smell of chlorine, discard it and find another source of water.

Other chemicals, such as iodine or water treatment products sold in camping or surplus stores that do not contain 5.25 or 6.0 percent sodium hypochlorite as the only active ingredient, are not recommended and should not be used.


While boiling and chlorination will kill most microbes in water, distillation will remove microbes (germs) that resist these methods, as well as heavy metals, salts, and most other chemicals. Distillation involves boiling water and then the collection of only the vapor that condenses. The condensed vapor will not include salt or most other impurities.

To distill, fill a pot halfway with water. Tie a cup to the handle on the pot’s lid so that the cup will hang right-side-up when the lid is upside-down (make sure the cup is not dangling into the water) and boil the water for 20 minutes. The water that drips from the lid into the cup is distilled.

Stay Connected 
Before, During & After an Emergency 

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AlertOC is a mass notification system that will inform Orange County residents and businesses of emergencies. By registering with AlertOC, urgent voice messages will be sent to your home, cell or business phone. Text messages will also be sent to cell phones, e-mail accounts, and TTY/TDD equipment.


FEMA Guide on Food and Water in an Emergency
Red Cross