Clean water is important for life and there are many scenarios that can threaten your drinking and cooking supply.
- A water main burst in winter
- Contamination at the source or processing plant
- Prolonged power outage
- Weather Events: Hurricane, blizzard, etc.
It is recommended (source: FEMA) to store at least one gallon per person per day, and have 2 weeks worth of water on hand. This will allow you to ride out disruptions of your running water supply. If you can't store two weeks worth, store as much as you can.
While storing as much water as possible is optimal, water takes up a lot of space and can get heavy in large volumes. Your water plan should include storage water but also water filters or treatment methods to clean contaminated water.
Where to Find Water
For many people, water comes right from the tap without them even having to think about where it came from. This makes it a great source when times are good, and an easy place to start getting prepared. Of course, there are many sources of water depending on where you live.
- The Tap
- Your own tap water from the city is by far the easier method for getting water. When it's flowing, you have a ready source to begin preparing for when it's not available. Without any further steps, you can store water from the tap.
- Well (+ hand pump)
- For those without city water, who have well water, you have a build-in supply of fresh water. Adding a manual pump or back-up generator for when there is not electricity can a be great way to ensure continued access to drinkable water.
- Commercial buildings
- In the event water is not readily available, but you live in the city there are often water faucets on the outside of most commercial building. They may be behind a metal plate or just sticking out on the side. To access this water, you just need the right wrench or tool to open the faucet.
- A silcock key, is a 4-sided faucet wrench that fits most commercial faucets. Although, this may or may not be legal to "steal" their water. Judge the situation yourself, but in an emergency this could be a way to access water in an urban environment.
- Natural Water Sources
- Your local pond or stream can also be a resource for water. This water will need to be treated or filtered before it is safe for human consumption. I do not recommend drinking right from a stream unless it is a dire situation. But your backyard frog pond could provide a bit of relief in the event you are short on water.
- As utilized in the book; "One Second After" by W. R. Forstrum. Your pool can also be a source for fresh available drinking water. Although it often contains chlorine, so does your city tap water. It may not be your first choice of water but, your average round 24' diameter above-ground pool holds approximately 13,500 gallons.
- That is enough for 4 people using 5 gallons a day, to have water for 675 days.
- Roof (rain barrel)
- Depending on your average rainfall, your roof can be a source of water. Installing a rain barrel to collect the run-off from your roof, could be a seamless way to add extra water to your family's storage without too much extra effort.
- Hot Water Tank
- In your standard home with a hot water tank, this metal tank holds a water reserve at all times. You draw this water when you turn the faucet, but even without this step you have water storage build into your house. When you draw water from the tank, it automatically refills itself to be always ready.
- Canned goods
- Most canned vegetables are packed in water. Carrots, corn, green beans are all packed with water right there in the can. While most people, I think, drain this water, in an emergency save it. You can think of your cans as double duty food and water. Add that water right to the soup to add volume without having to use other water sources.
- After exhausting all other sources of water, there are many ways to "create" water from using what's around you and the sun. There are various survival methods of extracting either condensation or evaporation from a water source.
- The basic concept is as follows: The sun evaporates water, the water vapor hits an object which causes it to condensate on the surface. The water then runs off the surface into a collection method. Plant material with a plastic cover in the sun is one such example.
How to Store Water
Try to store at least 2 weeks worth of water, a gallon per person per day, or as much water as possible. Remember that animals need water too!
Hazards to avoid:
- The Sun
- The sun can cause algae growth inside of a warm water storage tank. This will require more filtering and purifying in order to make it drinkable again.
- Instead: Use dark colored water storage containers.
- Leaching Plastics
- All plastics will leach chemicals over time. This is drastically sped up by heat and the sun, such as leaving a plastic water bottle in your car in the summer.
- Instead: Use glass or metal when you suspect the bottle may get heated.
- Water Bricks
- There are readily available containers designed for storing water in tight spaces. These water bricks are stack-able and could make a coffee table, be stacked in a closet or behind the couch. What about under bed storage too?
- Food Safe Containers
- The quickest way to store extra water, is to use containers you have lying around. Cleaned 2 Liter juice or soda bottles could be used for water storage without the purchase of extra containers.
- Hot Water Tank
- Consider add a second tank (before the hot water heater), to double your water storage that is continually replenished. These tanks can often be found free on Craiglist or for cheap. They are still good to you if they hold water but don't function any more as a heater.
- Bath Tub Liner
- There are now a few of these bath tub liner storage units available for sale. While I like the idea of holding a hundred gallons of water in my bathtub so it is still drinkable, it requires you to #1 sacrifice your bath tub and #2 know ahead of time to fill the liner.
- These may be good if you expect a natural weather event or power outage, but would be unhelpful for the unexpected events.
- Bottled Water Cases
- Of course, there are cases of bottled water. These are stack-able, easy to find, and easy to take the exact amount of water you need. If one bottle gets contaminated, you haven't contaminated everything. Although they are plastic, and should be stored in a cool, dark place.
How to Purify Water
- Commercial Filters
- The easiest way to create clean drinking water is using a commercially available filter. While this is the easiest way, if you find yourself in a situation without one then you will need to resort to other methods. There are many different types and sizes of water filters available. Most use some combination of carbon/charcoal and small permeable membranes.
- For survival kits and backpacking: I recommended the Sawyer filter as it is a cheap, small, lightweight filter that can be used for creating drinking and cooking water. The filter screws on to most soda and water bottles, like the LifeWater bottles. You can drink right from the filter or squeeze it into a clean water container. The downside: it can be slow to filter large amounts of water.
- Large family standalone filters:
- Small Personal filters:
- Other types:
- DIY Filters
- If you are in survival mode, and lack both clean water and a commercially available filter then you will need to make one with resources around you. The main components are: Sand, pebbles, and charcoal.
- I've noticed that different survival sites will recommend various different layerings of the elements to filter out all types of debris and dirt, while the charcoal removes ions, and toxins from the water.
- This method may not remove all bacteria and therefore could be combined with boiling to 100% sterilize the water.
- Boiling Water
- Boiling water kills the bacteria and other living things in the water that could make you sick. This does not remove dirt or other contaminates.
- The Center for Disease Control recommends a rolling boil for at least 1 minute. (Source: A Guide to Drinking Water Treatment and Sanitation for Backcountry & Travel Use)
- This method can be energy intensive and requires a heat source: fire, cooking gas, etc.
- Iodine kills everything in the water, but does not remove salt or pesticides. If you’re using tincture of iodine, use about 2 drops per quart of clear water and 10 drops for cloudy water. Let the water sit for at least 30 minutes before drinking. Note iodine will change the color and taste of the water. Iodine has a long shelf life and is relatively compact to store.
- Distilling Water
- The only way currently known way to change salt water to fresh water is to boil/evaporate the water and then condense it. This will leave the salt behind, and render the evaporated water ready to consume.
- This requires a heat source: fire, the sun, etc.
Note: I do not recommend planning to purify water with bleach because it has a shorter shelf-life and does not kill all bacteria and parasites in the water.
My hope is that you have a better understanding of the options out there when it comes to finding, storing, and purifying water. Most people probably drink the tap water and don't give it a second thought. But chances are, if you are reading this article you aren't like most people. You want to be prepared and learn ways to ensure clean drinking water for yourself and your family. We hope to give you the tools and knowledge to stay safe and healthy.