Record-low temperatures in Texas and elsewhere have strained power grids and forced millions to reconsider how to stay warm. Now, days after that arctic blast chilled parts of the Central and Southern parts of the United States, a new problem is emerging: finding water.
Officials in Harris County, including the city of Houston, announced that residents would need to boil water coming from their faucets before safely drinking it. And the city of Kyle, south of Austin, asked residents on Wednesday to suspend their water use until further notice because of a shortage.
“Water should only be used to sustain life at this point,” officials of the city of 48,000 said in an advisory. “We are close to running out of water supply in Kyle.”
Now, some in Texas have turned to a once-unthinkable source for their water needs: snow.
Though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said melting snow for drinking water was “an emergency measure, if no other water is available,” it had also been cited as an emergency option by the Food and Drug Administration and the National Weather Service.
The science of measuring how much water can be obtained by melting snow has been studied by NASA.
But melting snow — for drinking, bathing, washing dishes or flushing toilets — safely and effectively may be trickier than many assume.
If you “just take snow, put it in your pot and turn the heat on,” said Wes Siler, a columnist with Outside magazine, “it’s going to take forever and waste a bunch of fuel.” Mr. Siler, who was demonstrating his technique on a small outdoor stove, said it was more effective to melt a small amount of snow first. Then, once that is boiling, add more snow.
This step will “accelerate the process of melting snow tenfold,” Marty Morissette, an outdoor enthusiast, has said. (He said it may be because water transfers heat more effectively.)
Also, since water expands when it freezes, a pot full of snow may turn into a pot with very little boiling water, so be prepared to work with a lot of snow.
This arduous process will produce usable water, but perhaps not the kind of water many are accustomed to receiving from a turn of their faucet.
If you are melting snow on an outdoor fire, the CBC cautions, “the smoke from the fire can affect the taste of the water.”
The C.D.C. urges people to bring the water to “a rolling boil” for at least a minute to “kill most germs” but also politely reminds that it will not get rid of “other chemicals sometimes found in snow.”
Source: Read Full Article