Water Facts – The average adult uses over 140 gallons of water each day for drinking, bathing, laundry, dishes and watering lawns etc… According to FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency), in case of an emergency you should store at least one gallon of water per person per day and have at least a three-day supply. However, individual water needs vary depending on age, physical condition, activity and climate. Children and nursing mothers need more water and high temperatures can double the water needed. If you have pets, allow a gallon per day for each dog or cat. This is pretty much the minimum for drinking and very water conservative cooking. The Center for Disease Control receives over 4,000 cases each year of illness due to drinking contaminated water. Contaminated water can cause such diseases as dysentery, typhoid and hepatitis.
The Rule of Threes – The average person can survive 3 minutes without air, 3 days without water, and 3 weeks without food. So, right behind breathing, water is really important to our survival. Our bodies are made up of roughly 65% water so we really need to replace what we use through daily life.
So, where do we get water?
Well, Bear Grylls has his way…. Yuck. (Although, in extreme situations I’d do it)
Municipal water system
Almost everyone relies on this source. It is already treated and usually filtered down to 0.3-0.4 microns to remove most of the contaminants. It requires functioning infrastructure, maintenance personnel, treatment supplies, pumps, and electricity.
A lot of systems have generator backup power that will keep it flowing for awhile after power outage. Pipeline contamination is a possibility with major disasters.
Do you know where your town’s water source is located (storage tanks and source).
You are dependent on this system for survival unless you plan and prepare ahead of time.
Requires a pump and electricity. Electricity could be from an alternative source like solar, battery bank, or generator if you modify it for multiple power sources. A manual pump could be a solution, and is advisable if your plumbing and well pipe will allow. Ask a well company about options for your system. Rope and bucket set up is possible depending on well diameter.The depth of your well needs to be considered also.
If you don’t already have a well, get an estimate of the cost of drilling and implementation.
As well as what it will take for water to be pumped up to a storage vessel. Find out what size storage is allowed locally and what size fits your property. You will need gravity feed from your storage vessel for emergencies (store higher than user location).
You may need filtration or treatment for drinking, depending on source quality.
A well will be the best overall self-reliant method (with appropriate backups for power, pump).
Local Lakes, Rivers, Streams, Ponds
First and foremost, transportation of water to intended location will be your primary concern. Remember, water weighs 8.4 pounds/gallon. So you will need buckets, pails, lids, and/or water jugs. Manual transportation will be your only long term option. You may not have fuel or reliable motorized transportation available. Look at a wagon, 2-wheel dolly, hand-truck, bicycle/trailer/saddlebag set up as possible solutions. A system of pipes with a pump might work if water is near your location. Look for a water source above your location as a gravity system could be implemented. You can store water in vessels at your intended location. Water may need filtration and purification for drinking depending on source.
Ditch, Gully, Puddle
This is any temporary water source after rainfall, water from runoff in low lying areas, a seasonal creak or drainage. This will probably be much dirtier and filtration and purification are definitely needed for drinking.
Here we are at the Bear Grylls solution again. Technically your body has already “filtered” this source. In times of dire need urine is a viable short term solution.
Hot water tank
An easy emergency water source that is often overlooked.
Home hot water tanks usually hold 40 to 50 gallons that should be safe to drink unless it sitting unused for a long time. If you are unsure how long it has been sitting purification is recommended. Water should be fine for a couple months. Most water heaters have a hose spigot for drainage, making it very convenient in a disaster.
Depending on the sanitation system used this source should be for emergency use only
if you have questions regarding chemicals. That being said, kids gulp pool water while swimming and survive. Recreational swimming pools are kept to less than 3ppm chlorine, which is safe for drinking. Sunlight and time will quickly depleted the chlorine in an untreated pool. Filtration and purification are recommended but not always necessary. Better safe than sorry. Be careful as some pools use a salt based chlorination system and my have salt levels between 2 and 4 parts per million. Fine for cooking but might not be ideal for drinking. A water still or desalinization unit would be handy here.
Use Google Earth to discover who has pools in your area.
Toilet holding tank
THIS IS THE TANK, NOT THE BOWL…. Yuck! Most toilets hold about 2 gallons of water in holding tank. I would recommend purification if used for drinking.
Retail bottled water
These allow easy storage of manageable sizes that are very portable. It makes counting “quantity on hand” simple, and most are a good size for hiking or bugging out in backpack.
They are clean air tight containers and should be good for 3-5 years regardless of package date. Keep out of sunlight and avoid UV light. Use a sheet or towel to cover clear bottles.
Home storage containment
Purpose built water storage vessels. Ranging from 5-gallons up to several thousand gallons.
Food-grade, designed for water storage. These can be portable sizes or in ground/above ground storage tanks. This is the easiest way to achieve the recommendations of 1 to 3 gallons per person, per day. If possible keep storage out of sun and heat.
WaterBOB – This is a clever set-up. It is a 100gal clear plastic bag with a fill spout and a hand siphon pump that fits in your bath tub. At the first sign of trouble simply lay this out in your bath tub and fill it up. Its that easy. Draining isn’t quite as easy. A Shop Vac should do the trick. Remember to treat the water with a small amount of bleach if you leave it filled for more than a few days. It is an air tight system and should give you drinking water for quite a while. The average 5 foot bath tub holds 30-50 gallons. Jacuzzi type tubs can hold 100 gallons or more.
Rainwater Collection Barrels – Fiskars makes a great system. While not the cheapest way to go, it is very effective and a 58gal system can be found for well under $200. If you only plan to use rain water for watering and cleaning you could buy the Fiskars downspout diverter and modify a garbage can for collection. You can build your own system from east to find plans also. Either way its free water from the sky and your roof is a massive collection area. Get a couple systems if you can. There are other companies that offer these systems or find some info and cobble together your own system. Just be sure you use clean components and glue that is suitable for potable water systems. No sense in saving water if you are going to contaminate it. Filter all drinking and cooking water from this system.
Fresh, clean water:
– Sawyer PointOne – This is an amazing filtration system. It is a 0.1 micron system. That’s excellent for a filter of any size and these are small. They make a gravity feed system that will treat up to 540 gallons a day. These things have a million gallon guarantee and are field cleanable. Just back-flush the filter with clean filtered water and you’re ready to go! Sawyer now makes 2 smaller units designed for those on the go. Perfect for a Bug Out Bag or just for hiking. Look for the Sawyer Squeeze (smallest system) is ingenious or the Sawyer bottle system (comes with its own sport bottle).
-Katadyn, Berkey, or other traditional water filter systems – These are tried and true systems that work great and will provide you with clean water. They do require replacement filters, so stock up!
If you are stuck unprepared or otherwise filterless, this is your redneck filter system. This won’t be perfect but it really beats having nothing. You will need about an inch of each layer of components.
Here is what you’ll need and assemble it in this order with the funnel or bottle “small end down”:
A large funnel or top 1/2 of 2 liter bottle
A coffee filter or tight knit cloth
Crushed fire charcoal (from burnt wood)
Carefully place the fine sand into the coffee filter or cloth so that it doesn’t fall through. Place each layer on top and gently shake the bottle to level and compact each layer. Run 1 gallon of water through this before saving/drinking (to wash the impurities and settle the components). Pour slowly so as to not disturb the layers. Use this to fill a clean container to drink from.
Treating Water With Bleach
-Clear Water: 1 quart – 3 drops, 1 gallon – 1/8 teaspoon, 10 gallons – 1 teaspoon
-Cloudy Water: 1 quart – 5 drops, 1 gallon – ¼ teaspoon, 10 gallons – 2 teaspoons
Stir or shake for 1 minute, let stand for 30 minutes.
Also known as Granular Calcium Hypochlorite. It has an indefinite shelf life, it is very concentrated, and fairly light weight.
-To make a stock of chlorine solution (This will make a useable dilution that is NOT FOR DRINKING. It will be diluted again to make drinking water) dissolve 1 heaping teaspoon (about one-quarter of an ounce) of high-test (78%) granular calcium hypochlorite for each two gallons (eight liters) of water. To disinfect water add one part of the chlorine solution to 100 parts water to be treated.
Disclaimer: Do your own research for conclusions before using Calcium Hypochlorite.
An iodine based solution, usually in liquid form. Extremely compact and lightweight.
5 drops per quart.
20 drops per gallon.
Shake and Wait 30 minutes before drinking.
This is a quick simple method for hikers. It is not advisable to use this method for more than a few days in a row. P.S. this tastes less than appealing but will keep you alive.
Clear plastic water bottle, 2 liters or less.
Direct sunlight for 6 hours (clear water).
Several days if the sun is clouded
This method will kill 90% of all living contaminants. Other similar methods are UV-pen and other portable UV methods but these require batteries. The most recommended version of these is called the Steri-Pen .
These are the lightest and most compact form of purification. This usually takes 1 or 2 tablets per quart. Follow instructions on package as each brand differs.
*For example : Aquamira Tablets – Remove from foil and place tablet in 1 liter (34oz) of contaminated water. Allow to sit out of direct sunlight (in your pack, etc…) for four (4) hours to completely treat water.
This is a great solution for treating water overnight. Bad news here is that they leave a really funny taste. Good news is that they are extremely small. Pre-filter your water through a coffee filter or tight knit cloth for best results. These are great for hikers and GoBags. Like Iodine, this tastes a bit funny.
This is another cheap and easy way to purify water. Potassium permanganate crystals can be bought from any chemist and you need add only about 3 or 4 crystals per litre of water (or until the water stains a light pink) and leave for 30 minutes. Potassium permanganate can also be used as a disinfectant for cleaning wounds, add crystals one by one until water turns purple (approx. 0.01% solution). If you have a small vial of it and you need to purify water you put a few crystals in the water and after a while the water is drinkable, a few more crystals in the water and it becomes an antiseptic for wounds, a few more crystals and it can be used to mark a purple SOS in the snow. If you put a few drops of antifreeze from your car , or glycerin from your first aid kit on some potassium permanganate crystals, you will get fire. The idea is this chemical has more than one survival use.The brand Pot Perm is available at Home Depot, Sears, Amazon, and a lot of aquarium stores. Look for crystals not the liquid.
There are better ways to purify water. There are better antiseptics on the market. There are also much better fire starters out there. That being said, a little potassium permanganate goes a long way and has menu uses.
This fuel hogging method will purify any water (including salt water) into pure water.
Water is boiled to steam that is routed through tubing, the steam is condensed back to water. Generally copper tubing is used as it cools quickly to aid in condensing steam back to water with a minimum of tubing. A method of boiling is required as well as a plentiful fuel source. A ‘Still’ needs assembly and adaptation to boiler. This is most feasible if added onto a cooking or heating stove.
Arguably the safest, non-chemical purification method (along with the Water Still).
Once the water reaches a rolling boil (212° F, 100° C), it has become safe to drink.
Other options are:
160° F (70° C) for 30 minutes to reach pasteurization.
185° F (85° C) for several minutes.
Conserve fuel, don’t boil longer than necessary.
As with all prepping, do your due-diligence regarding choosing methods of water purification. You should have at least 3 ways to purify water. Store as much water as you can. If you have a viable year round source of water (that is not grid dependent), you can get away with having less water on hand.
Storage Tips – Thoroughly washed plastic containers (soda bottles or other water bottles) are good but glass containers are best. Do not use juice or milk containers as they are difficult to get clean enough for long term storage. Fill the container to the top with regular tap water. If the tap water has been commercially treated from a water utility with chlorine, you do not need to add anything else to the water to keep it clean. If the water you are using comes from a well or water source that is not treated with chlorine, add appropriate amount of non-scented liquid household chlorine bleach to the water. Tightly close the container using the original cap. Be careful not to contaminate the cap by touching the inside of it with your finger. Place a date on the outside of the container so that you know when you filled it. Store in a cool, dark place. Replace the water every year if not using commercially bottled water.
Water Purification – Personally I believe the Sawyer filter is the best option here but in the absence of a good water filtration system use coffee filters, paper towels, cheese cloth, or cotton balls at the bottom of a funnel to filter cloudy or dirty water before boiling or adding bleach. It is a good idea to do this to all water before putting it through a regular filter. This filters out the larger particles that clog a filter the fastest. In a disaster never assume that your tap water is safe for more than the first day or two. If there is any hiccup or disruption of water from your tap, filter everything after that. Filter or purify all drinking and cooking water.