Returning Home After A Flood

Reading Time: 5 minutes

When returning to a home that’s been flooded after a natural disaster, be aware that your house may be contaminated by floodwaters, mold, or sewage, all of which can cause health risks for your family. Below are some tips for Skagitonians who may be returning home after flooding.

When you first reenter your home.

Before returning home, make sure that it is safe to do so. Always pay attention to authorities for information and instructions. 

When it is safe, try to return to your home during the daytime so that you do not have to use any lights. Use battery-powered flashlights and lanterns, rather than candles or gas lanterns. Please keep the following in mind:

  • If you have standing water in your home and can turn off the main power from a dry location, then go ahead and turn off the power, even if it delays cleaning. If you must enter standing water to access the main power switch, then call an electrician to turn it off. NEVER turn power on or off yourself or use an electric tool or appliance while standing in water.
  • If you smell gas or suspect a leak, turn off the main gas valve, open all windows, and leave your house immediately. Notify the gas company or the police or fire departments or State Fire Marshal’s office, and do not turn on the lights or do anything that could cause a spark. Do not return until you are told it is safe to do so.
  • If the house has been closed for several days, enter briefly to open doors and windows to let the house air out for a while (at least 30 minutes) before you stay for any length of time.
  • If your home has been flooded and has been closed for several days, assume your home has been contaminated by floodwater, sewage, and/or mold. See Floodwater After a Disaster or Emergency.

Stay out of floodwater.

Floodwaters contain many things that may harm health. It is important to protect yourself from exposure to floodwater regardless of the source of contamination. The best way to protect yourself is to stay out of the water.

If you come in contact with floodwater:

  • Wash with soap and clean water as soon as possible. If you don’t have soap or water, use alcohol-based wipes or sanitizer.
  • Take care of wounds and seek medical attention if necessary.
  • Wash clothes contaminated with flood or sewage water in hot water and detergent before reusing them.

If you must enter floodwater, wear rubber boots, rubber gloves, and goggles.

Throw away unsafe food.

Throw away food that may have come in contact with flood or storm water; perishable foods that have not been refrigerated properly due to power outages; and those with an unusual odor, color, or texture. Unsafe food can make you sick even if it looks, smells, and tastes normal. When in doubt, throw it out. For more information, visit Keep Food Safe After a Disaster or Emergency.

Use safe water.

Floodwater can contaminate your drinking water. Some contaminants from surface water get into the groundwater and affect private drinking water wells and municipal water systems that use groundwater.

Do not use water you suspect or have been told is contaminated to wash dishes, brush your teeth, wash and prepare food, wash your hands, make ice, or make baby formula. Safe water for drinking, cooking, and personal hygiene includes bottled, boiled, or treated water.

For tips on how to properly disinfect contaminated water, go to Public Health’s Safe Water webpage or give us a call at (360) 416-1500.

For well water:

Wells that have been flooded may be contaminated with pathogenic organisms that can cause disease (bacteria, viruses). To have well water tested, contact one of the labs below:

  • Edge Analytical, Burlington: 360-757-1400
  • Everett Environmental Laboratory, Everett: 425-257-8230
  • Monroe Water Quality Laboratory, Monroe: 360-794-6558
  • Exact Scientific Services, Ferndale: 360-733-1205
  • Lynden Water Treatment Plant, Lynden: 360-255-5470

For septic systems.

For information about what to do with your septic system after a flooding event, go to: https://www.epa.gov/ground-water-and-drinking-water/septic-systems-what-do-after-flood.

Clean up your home safely.

Before you begin to clean, be sure to check in with your insurance company. You may need to document any damage to your property.

Take steps to protect yourself and your loved ones during the cleanup process. For more information, visit Clean Up Safely After a Disaster. Some quick tips?

  • Using personal protective equipment (or “PPE”), like gloves, eye protection, and a dust mask to avoid breathing in fine silts and sands.
  • Be sure to wear long sleeve shirts and pants while cleaning and wash hands frequently with soap and water.

Use generators and other electrical equipment safely.

Talk to your utility company about using electrical equipment, including power generators. Be aware that it is against the law and a violation of electrical codes to connect generators to your home’s electrical circuits without the approved, automatic-interrupt devices. If a generator is online when electrical service is restored, it can become a major fire hazard. In addition, the improper connection of a generator to your home’s electrical circuits may endanger line workers helping to restore power in your area.

All electrical equipment and appliances must be completely dry before returning them to service. Have a certified electrician check these items if there is any question. For more information, see Protect Yourself and Others From Electrical Hazards After a Disaster.

Never use a generator, pressure washer, any gasoline-powered engine, or charcoal grills inside your home, basement, or garage or less than 20 feet from any window, door, or vent. Visit Preventing Carbon Monoxide Poisoning After an Emergency for more information.

Dry out your home to prevent mold.

If flood or storm water has entered your home, dry it out as soon as possible to prevent mold. Here’s some helpful guidance:

People with asthma and other lung conditions and/or immune suppression should not enter buildings with indoor water leaks or mold growth that can be seen or smelled. Children should not take part in disaster cleanup work.

If you have electricity and an electrician has determined that it’s safe to turn it on, use a “wet-dry” shop vacuum (or the vacuum function of a carpet steam cleaner), an electric-powered water transfer pump, or sump pump to remove standing water. If you are operating equipment in wet areas, be sure to wear rubber boots to avoid electrocution.

If you do not have electricity, or it is not safe to turn it on, you can use a portable generator to power equipment to remove standing water. Note: If you must use a gasoline-powered pump, generator, pressure washer, or any other gasoline-powered tools to clean your home, never operate the gasoline engine inside a home, basement, garage, carport, porch, or other enclosed or partially enclosed structures, or less than 20 feet from any door, window, or vent, even if the windows and doors are open. Such improper use can create dangerously high levels of carbon monoxide and cause carbon monoxide poisoning.

If weather permits, open windows and doors of the house to aid in the drying-out process.

Use fans and dehumidifiers to remove excess moisture. Fans should be placed at a window or door to blow the air outwards rather than inwards, so not to spread the mold.

Have your home heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning (HVAC) system checked and cleaned by a maintenance or service professional who is experienced in mold cleanup before you turn it on. If the HVAC system was flooded with water, turning on the mold-contaminated HVAC will spread mold throughout the house. Professional cleaning will kill the mold and prevent later mold growth. When the service determines that your system is clean and if it is safe to do so, you can turn it on and use it to help remove excess moisture from your home.

Prevent water outdoors from reentering your home. For example, rainwater from gutters or the roof should drain away from the house; the ground around the house should slope away from the house to keep basements and crawl spaces dry.

Ensure that crawl spaces in basements have proper drainage to limit water seepage. Ventilate to allow the area to dry out.

For more information on mold cleanup, visit Homeowner’s and Renter’s Guide to Mold Cleanup After Disasters.


If you have questions or concerns about re-entering your home, please contact Skagit County Public Health at (360) 416-1500 or email EH@co.skagit.wa.us.


Are you Prepared for a Flood?

Reading Time: 5 minutes

On October 4th, the Skagit County Commissioners declared this week (October 11-15, 2021) Flood Awareness Week. Flood Awareness Week offers multiple opportunities for community members to get involved and learn about flood preparedness for themselves and their families.

Each year, more deaths occur due to flooding than any other hazard related to thunderstorms. Fortunately, you can take steps to protect yourself, your family, and your home! A great way to learn about floor preparedness is participating in two free webinars being held this week:

Flood Awareness with the Department of Emergency Management
Wednesday, October 13 from 6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
Join via zoom here: https://bit.ly/3uqlmdE

NOAA Weather Spotter Training
Thursday, October 14 from 6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
Join via Zoom here: https://bit.ly/3uE569d

Not able to attend a training this week? That’s okay! Keep reading for some important steps to reduce the harm caused by flooding.

Stay informed about flooding risks in your area

Photo from the Roger Fox Collection, taken from Burlington Hill looking down into town during the flood of 1921.

Information about flooding in Skagit County, and some helpful flood preparation resources, can be found at www.skagitcounty.net/flood. Skagit also prepares a Flood Awareness Week booklet each year, which you can find that booklet online here.

Skagit County offers a variety of alert tools for residents, as well. You can sign up for CodeRed Alerts, follow @SkagitGov on Twitter, or sign up for news releases to receive key emergency information before, during, and after an event.

For more information on Skagit County flood response, call 360-416-1400 or visit www.skagitcounty.net/flood.

Prepare for Flooding

Sometimes floods develop slowly, and forecasters can anticipate where a flood will happen days or weeks before it occurs. Oftentimes flash floods can occur within minutes and sometimes without any sign of rain. Being prepared can save your life and give you peace of mind.

Create a Communications Plan

It is important to be able to communicate with your family and friends in the event of a disaster. Whether it’s having a specific person identified to contact for status updates or a safe location to meet up with family members, having a plan in place will give you peace of mind if disaster does strike.

Assemble an Emergency Kit

It is good practice to have enough food, water, and medicine on hand to last you at least 3 days in the case of an emergency. Water service may be interrupted or unsafe to drink and food requiring little cooking and no refrigeration may be needed if electric power is interrupted.

You should also have batteries, blankets, flashlights, first aid kit, rubber boots, rubber gloves, and a NOAA Weather Radio or other battery-operated radio easily available.

Prepare Your Home

Burlington Northern Sante Fe Bridge over the Skagit that failed in 1995, stopping rail traffic for a couple of weeks.

1. If you have access to sandbags or other materials, use them to protect your home from flood waters if you have sufficient time to do so. Filling sandbags can take more time than you may think.

2. Have a professional install check-valves in plumbing to prevent flood waters from backing up into the drains of your home. Make sure your sump pump is working and consider having a backup. Make sure your electric circuit breakers, or fuses, are clearly marked for each area of your home.

3. Since standard homeowners’ insurance doesn’t cover flooding, ensure coverage by contacting your insurance company or agent to purchase flood insurance. This must be done before there is even a threat of flooding as insurance companies stop issuing policies if there is a threat of flooding. (i.e. an approaching hurricane).

Many flood insurance policies take at least 30 days to go into effect so even if you can buy it as a storm is approaching, it may not protect your home. For more flood insurance facts: https://www.fema.gov/flood-insurance

During a Flood Watch or Warning

  • Listen to your local radio or television station for updates.
  • Evacuate immediately, if told to evacuate. Never drive around barricades. Local responders use them to safely direct traffic out of flooded areas.
  • Prepare your family and pets. You may be evacuated, so pack in advance. Don’t wait until the last moment to gather the essentials, including emergency supplies.
  • Have immunization records handy. Store immunization records in a waterproof container.
  • Fill bathtubs, sinks, gallon jars, and plastic soda bottles so that you will have a supply of clean water. Sanitize sinks/tubs first by cleaning them using a solution of one cup of bleach to five gallons of water. Then rinse and fill with clean water.
  • Bring in outdoor possessions (lawn furniture, grills, trash cans) or tie them down securely.
  • Charge your essential electronics. Make sure your cell phone and portable radios are all charged in case you lose power or need to evacuate. Also make sure you have back-up batteries on hand.
  • If evacuation appears necessary: turn off all utilities at the main power switch and close the main gas valve.
  • Leave areas subject to flooding, like low spots, canyons, washes, etc. (Rememberavoid driving through flooded areas and standing water.)

After Flooding Has Occurred

  • Turn Around, Don’t Drown! Do not walk, swim or drive through flood waters or standing water. Just six inches of moving water can knock you down, and one foot of moving water can sweep your vehicle away.
  • If you have been evacuated, return to your home only after local authorities have said it is safe to do so.
  • Do not drink flood water, or use it to wash dishes, brush teeth, or wash/prepare food. Drink clean, safe water. Listen to water advisory from local authorities to find out if your water is safe for drinking and bathing. During a water advisory, use only bottled, boiled, or treated water for drinking, cooking, etc.
  • When in doubt, throw it out! Throw away any food and bottled water that comes/may have come into contact with flood water.
  • Prevent carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. Use generators at least 20 feet from any doors, windows, or vents. If you use a pressure washer, be sure to keep the engine outdoors and 20 feet from windows, doors, or vents as well.
Aerial photo of the town of Hamilton in 2003.

The initial damage caused by a flood is not the only risk. Standing flood waters can also spread infectious diseases, bring chemical hazards, and cause injuries. After you return home, if you find that your home was flooded, practice safe cleaning.

For ways to stay safe after flooding, visit: https://www.ready.gov/floods#prepare.

For more information:

https://www.ready.gov/floods
https://www.weather.gov/safety/flood


Septic Tips for National SepticSmart Week

Reading Time: 3 minutes

September 20-24, 2021 is SepticSmart Week—a week during which Skagit County Public Health joins the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Governor Jay Inslee in reminding homeowners and communities about the importance of caring for, and maintaining, their septic systems.

Governor Jay Inslee’s proclamation, declaring SepticSmart Week, underscores the importance of maintaining the approximately 18,000 septic systems in Skagit County. Properly designed, installed, and maintained septic systems can operate for a long time as a mini wastewater treatment plant on your own property! However, poor maintenance and other issues can lead to septic failures, contamination of surface and groundwater, algal blooms in lakes, shellfish closures in marine waters, and other issues.

SepticSmart Week Tips

During SepticSmart Week, the EPA provides homeowners with easy to remember septic maintenance tips and videos. Some tips include:

  • Protect It and Inspect It: Homeowners should have their system inspected. In Skagit County, gravity systems must be inspected every three years; all other systems inspected annually. Pumping is not the same as an inspection. Tanks should be pumped when necessary, typically when 1/3 full of solid material.
  • Think at the Sink: Avoid pouring fats, grease, and solids down the drain. These substances can clog a system’s pipes and drainfield. Utilize MedProject locally to safely dispose of medications by finding a local drop box or requesting a prepaid envelope directly to your door.
  • Don’t Overload the Commode: Only put things in the drain or toilet that belong there. Items like coffee grounds, dental floss, disposable diapers and wipes, feminine hygiene products, cigarette butts, and cat litter can all clog and potentially damage septic systems.
  • Don’t Strain Your Drain: Be water efficient and spread out water use. Fix plumbing leaks and install faucet aerators and water-efficient products. Spread out laundry and dishwasher loads throughout the day Too much water use at once can overload a system.
  • Shield Your Field: Divert downspouts away from your septic tank and drainfield to avoid extra water. Remind guests not to park or drive on a system’s drainfield, where the vehicle’s weight could damage buried pipes or disrupt underground flow.

Failure to maintain a septic system can lead to backups and overflows, which can result in costly repairs. The last thing anyone needs right now is an added headache or expense from a sewage back up. Spend some time learning how to properly operate and maintain your septic system for the long run, so its smooth flushing from here on out!

Homeowner Septic Education Classes

Skagit County Environmental Health offers Septics 101 and Septics 201 (Do-It-Yourself Septic Inspection) classes for free to all Skagit County residents. Classes are available online and can be accessed at any time. To access these classes, go to: https://www.skagitcounty.net/Departments/HealthEnvironmental/septic101.htm.

The Septic 101 class provides homeowners with an overview of the septic system history, function, operation, and maintenance. It is a 40-minute video followed by a 20-question quiz. The Septic 201 class provides homeowners an overview of the What, Why, & How of safely inspecting your septic system and includes instructional videos.

Note: Not all septic systems are eligible for homeowner inspection so please review our homeowner inspection policy first.

Financial Assistance

We know it’s not easy to think about spending extra money right now. Please know that there is financial assistance available for qualifying individuals.

  • If you need a septic system repair or replacement, Skagit County works with nonprofit lender Craft3 to offer affordable financing with the Clean Water Loan. Learn more and apply at www.Craft3.org/CleanWater
  • If you need assistance with the cost of routine inspections:
    • You may qualify for our low-income assistance program. Please contact our department for information at (360) 416-1500.
    • Submit a rebate application to receive up to $200 back on services.

For more information on septic systems and being SepticSmart, visit www.skagitcounty.net/septicwww.epa.gov/septicsmart, or contact Skagit County Environmental Health at (360) 416-1500.


Immediate closure of Pass Lake: Danger for toxic blue green algae exposure at Pass Lake, Deception Pass State Park

Reading Time: 2 minutes

August 17, 2021

Users of Deception Pass State Park should be aware that Pass Lake in the Skagit County portion of the park is closed until further notice due to high Anatoxin-a levels. Water samples tested this week detected concentrations of Anatoxin-a in exceedance of the state recreational guidelines.

The preliminary result from the King County Environmental Lab is 2,576 micrograms per liter of anatoxin-a present in the water sample taken from Pass Lake. According to the Washington State Department of Health, the level of public health concern for anatoxin-a is 1 microgram per liter. 

Anatoxin-a is an acute neurotoxin that can be harmful to humans and animals. Even short-term exposure is a concern. Signs of Neurotoxin Poisoning appear within 15-20 minutes of ingestion, and may include:

  • In people: numbness of the lips, tingling in fingers and toes, and dizziness.
  • In animals: weakness, staggering, difficulty breathing, convulsions, and death.

Until further testing confirms the toxin levels are back within state recreational guidelines, red “Danger” signs will be posted at the lake advising individuals to keep out of the lake, do not swim, drink lake water, fish, recreate, or allow pets or animals to access the lake.

The toxicity of each bloom can vary and is difficult to predict. Toxicity can change from one day to the next. It isn’t possible to determine how dangerous a bloom is to people and animals by looking at it. Only testing can tell if it is dangerous. Pass Lake will be continuously monitored until the levels drop below recommended guidelines.

The public is encouraged to take the following precautions when choosing a body of water for recreation:

  • Look for signs of toxic algae blooms and pay attention to signage. When in doubt, stay out!
  • Do not swim in, and limit exposure to water that is under a health advisory or is listed as having a toxic algae bloom on the Washington State Department of Ecology toxic algae tracking site.
  • Contact a healthcare provider immediately if you become ill or have symptoms after a suspected exposure to algae bloom.

For questions concerning cyanobacteria blooms within Skagit County lakes, please e-mail Samantha Russell at eh@co.skagit.wa.us or visit the Washington State Department of Health website for Blue-Green Algae. Testing results for Washington Lakes are posted at Washington State Toxic Algae.


Let’s Be “Water Safe” This Summer!

Reading Time: 2 minutes

It’s hot this week. Like, hot-hot. And this weekend looks like its going to be a scorcher. With seriously warm weather coming, you and your family might be planning to spend some time in, or near, water this weekend. Whether you’re planning a trip to the beach, to the lake, or just a casual Saturday around the kiddie pool, it is critical to be thinking about water safety at all times.

Why is water safety important?

It only takes a moment. A child or weak swimmer can drown in the time it takes to reply to a text, check a fishing line or apply sunscreen. Death and injury from drownings happen every day in home pools and hot tubs, at the beach or in oceanslakes, rivers and streams, bathtubs, and even buckets. 

How do you ensure water safety?

Being “water safe” means that you’ve taken the necessary steps to ensure the safety of yourself and your loved ones while enjoying time in, and around, the water. These steps include:

  1. Buddying Up: Always swim with other people. Designate a buddy from your household to swim with before you enter the water.
  2. Suiting Up: Always wear life jackets on boats. Make sure everyone has U.S. Coast Guard approved life jackets at all times.
  3. Knowing Your Limits: Only swim as far as you can safely get back. Don’t hold your breath for longer than you can. Stay close to shore and rest if you are cold or tired.
  4. Knowing the Water: Don’t enter cold water or very fast-moving water. Always jump feet first into unknown water.
  5. Keeping an Eye Out: Actively supervise young children and inexperienced swimmers. Stay within arm’s reach and avoid distractions.

How do you make water safety a priority, in every location and situation?

Use “Layers of Protection” In & Around Water

There are things that you can actively do to ensure water safety and prevent drowning. Here are just a few:

  • Even if lifeguards are present, you (or another responsible adult) should stay with your children.
  • Be a “water watcher” – provide close and constant attention to children you are supervising; avoid distractions, including cell phones.
  • Teach children to always ask permission to go near water.
  • Children, inexperienced swimmers, and all boaters should wear U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets.
  • Take specific precautions for the water environment you are in, such as:
    • Fence pools and spas with adequate barriers, including four-sided fencing that separates the water from the house.
    • At the beach, always swim in a lifeguarded area.

Know the Risks & Take Sensible Precautions – Even If You’re a Strong Swimmer

  • Always swim with a buddy.
  • Don’t use alcohol or drugs (including certain prescription medications) before or while swimming, diving or supervising swimmers.
  • Wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket when boating or fishing, even if you don’t intend to enter the water.

Ensure That the Entire Family Learns How to Swim

Now is a great time to look into swim lessons for everyone in your family! Most fitness centers with a pool offer swim lessons for kiddos 6 months and older. For a list of swimming lessons being offered in Skagit County, go to: https://skagit.kidinsider.com/pools. Note: Some information may have changed due to COVID.

Know how to respond in case of emergency

One of the best, and proactive things that you can do to ensure water safety is to learn how to respond during an emergency. Want to become CPR certified? Find a course nearby!

Some helpful links:

The American Red Cross has fantastic resources available that cover every water safety topic. For more information, visit: https://www.redcross.org/get-help/how-to-prepare-for-emergencies/types-of-emergencies/water-safety.html.

Links to specific topics:

  1. Drowning Prevention Facts
  2. Home pool & hot tub safety
  3. Swimming Safely at the Beach