COVID-19: Why Most Don’t Need to Stockpile Bottled Water

During COVID crisis, leave bottled water for those who really need it.

Learn more about NRDC’s response to COVID-19.

During COVID crisis, leave bottled water for those who really need it. 

The world is facing an unprecedented public health crisis and people are understandably scared, but one thing you don’t have to be afraid of is contracting COVID-19, also known as Coronavirus, from your tap water. We’ve all seen the pictures of shopping carts filled with food, cleaning essentials, and paper products, and rows of empty shelves in grocery stores because people are stockpiling supplies.

Thankfully, one of the items the vast majority of Americans don’t need to stockpile is bottled water. According to the World Health Organization, the COVID-19 virus has not been detected in drinking water supplies because widely-used water treatment methods kill the virus. Water systems in the U.S. are required to be protected from contamination by viruses and other pathogens and generally use disinfectants like chlorine, ozone, or ultra-violet light. Just like washing your hands for at least 20 seconds allows the soap to destroy the virus, these processes remove and kill viruses, including COVID-19, as well as bacteria and other pathogens. And to ensure that proper disinfection has been achieved, the water leaving our treatment facilities is closely monitored.

In addition, you also don’t have to be afraid that your water utility will stop providing you drinking water because of COVID-19. Our public water suppliers provide essential services and cannot close-up shop during this emergency. Right now, operators are hard at work making sure our supply of safe drinking water isn’t interrupted while the rest of us are staying safe at home. In some places, operators are sheltering-in-place at treatment plants to ensure there is no disruption in your water supply. This means that during this emergency, you can count on water in your taps to continue to flow.

Therefore, for a majority of Americans, there is absolutely no need to hoard bottled water because the water in most homes is safe. But some people do need bottled water because the water flowing from their taps is not safe or has been disconnected. There are communities like Newark, New Jersey still dealing with drinking water crises; and several more communities and individual households across the country that don’t have access to safe drinking water in their homes because their local water provider has exceeded safe drinking water levels, or they have lead pipes in their homes, or their water has been disconnected. Not all tap water is safe, but unless someone lives in a community that has unsafe water or has had their water disconnected, they should NOT be buying bottled water.

City of Flint, Michigan water and filter distribution
Credit: USDA

In California there are over 400 urban water suppliers; Pacific Institute looked at just 15 of them and found a total of 79,000 disconnections in 2018. In Detroit, the city has stopped water service to 141,000 households since 2014. There are tens of thousands of households impacted in the country and maybe millions of people, but the reality is that nobody knows because there are no national data on water disconnections. Because of unsafe water supplies in some communities and service disconnections across the country, there are families that can’t wash their hands, bathe, or even flush their toilets without bottled water. How can these families protect themselves from illness, especially something as contagious as COVID-19, under those conditions? Hoarding bottled water puts families without running water at greater risk.

The hoarding has now led to some stores limiting how much water someone can buy. While these limitations increase the number of people who have access to bottled water, those people whose sole source of water is bottled will need more than, say, two cases. And social justice groups that deliver water to people who have mobility issues or lack transportation are finding it increasingly difficult to purchase sufficient quantities to share.

As Americans band together to confront this global pandemic, it’s important that we stay home if we can and practice social distancing while in public; don’t hoard toilet paper, food, or medicine; be kind to one another; and if your water is safe - say “no” to bottled water – for your health, your wallet, the planet, and the families that actually need it.