Water supply could be down for 2 months if catastrophic earthquake hits

Alaska’s earthquake last week is a grim reminder that we need to prepare.

But what Seattle Public Utilities is bracing for is even worse than what Alaska experienced.

“The Seattle Fault Zone itself is one of 2 earthquakes we are planning for the other one being the Cascadia Subduction Zone,” Alex Chen of SPU said.

A new study says there is a 15 to 20% chance of a catastrophic earthquake like the two mentioned in the next 50 years.

In both cases, 1.4 million people would lose access to water within 24 hours mostly because of underground pipes breaking or leaking.

“We have a pretty large and complicated system 18 hundred miles of pipe to manage,” Chen said.

SPU says it will take up to 2 months to get water restored to everyone.

“The restoration, the recovery process is going to be very inconvenient for some and it will induce a lot of suffering for others,” Senior Research Scientist at UW Scott Miles said.

State emergency experts say water is crucial.

“Ideally we would like people to have at least two weeks of water one gallon of water per person per day for two weeks plus their pets,” Maximilian Dixon with WA State Emergency Management said.

SPU says it will cost $850 million over 50 years to strengthen underground pipes, protect reservoirs and rehabilitate vulnerable infrastructure.

“It will come from a combination of rate payers and we will be looking for other sources of funding,” Chen said.

Customers can expect to pay more over time but exactly how much we do not know at this point.

So far SPU says about $100 million has been spent to prepare for earthquakes over the last 20 years but seismologists say it hasn’t been enough.

“We haven’t been doing the investment in our infrastructure that’s been needed for many years now we are trying to play catch up,” UW Seismologist Bill Steele said.

“It’s outstanding that SPU conducted the assessment and put together the plan,” Miles said.

“A new plan that pinpoints the most vulnerable spots along the Seattle Fault Zone, spanning from Bainbridge Island to the Eastside. SPU says they will prioritize the identified areas for improvement.

SPU’s in-depth study is more than 700 pages but SPU only released a 16 page executive summary of the report.

When asked why they are not releasing the whole study SPU says it`s because of security reasons. They say they are trying to keep sensitive infrastructure information from terrorists or anyone else who would use it for harm.

State emergency experts say besides having at least two weeks of water stored up they say have enough food and means to stay warm.

They also say have a family plan in place so you can reunite with family members in case of separation. Dixon also says to have an out of state contact.

“Having an out of area contact because internet, cell phone towers, phone lines will potentially be down,” Dixon said.

The out of state contact could help relay messages and information to you.

Dixon also says in case of an earthquake, drop, cover and hold on. He says try to get protect your head and neck from falling objects.

SPU’s study says there is a 84% chance of an earthquake similar to the Nisqually quake to hit our region in the next 50 years.