Safe drinking water in a flood: How to tell and what to do

Joshua Murdock

Is the water safe to drink? 

That’s a fundamental question for thousands of people across south-central Montana as historic flooding carves paths of destruction in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

In Gardiner, just north of Yellowstone National Park, the answer is an emphatic no. The town is one of the hardest hit by flooding so far and is the source of viral videos showing houses falling into surging floodwaters. Red Lodge, Fromberg, Emigrant and many other small communities also had their water systems swamped by this week’s deluge. 

On Monday afternoon, officials advised residents not to consume Gardiner’s drinking water. That order was changed to a boil advisory on Tuesday evening. Gardiner officials said that residents should boil drinking water and maintain a rolling boil for one minute to disinfect it for drinking. The Montana Department of Environmental Quality issues advisories on whether to boil or altogether abstain from consuming drinking water, but it’s up to the entity that administers a water system—often a city or water district—to disseminate the information to water users.

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