Hardcore Water Conservation When The Taps Run Dry
by Lizzie Bennett
At this point drought conditions are devastating crops and even causing shortages of drinking water in California. Texas has also recently experienced a crippling drought that killed tens of thousands of cattle who had no access to drinking water. There are things other than drought that can cause a massive and rapid reduction in the amount of water we have available to us.
Water will be a major problem post-collapse, we all know this, and we store water accordingly but we can never, ever have enough stored water to keep us going indefinitely. We are going to have to become very savvy about how we use what we have whilst still trying to maintain enough to drink, to maintain basic bodily hygiene and to prevent major contamination in our homes.
This is going to be a major challenge, possibly the biggest challenge we will face in a collapse situation and anything we can do to eek out our supply will be a major boon in what will surely be very difficult times.
We all know the rule of three, three minutes without air, three days without water and three weeks without food. Assuming the air is good enough to breathe, water becomes the first thing on the priority list. As much of this precious liquid as possible needs to be saved for drinking so what measures can we employ to make our water last longer and go further?
We all know a good bit about water conservation, showering with a friend, a brick in the toilet cistern and turning off the tap when cleaning out teeth, all saves on our usage. I am interested in what we can do when lowering our usage of what comes out of the tap is not enough, because nothing is coming from the tap.
Rainwater collection methods usually centre around a water butt collecting what comes off the roof, and this is the most effective way of collecting rainwater, but there are other ways. Every drop of rain that lands on your car, the pavement or anywhere else that’s not harvested for watering edibles, drinking or washing is wasted. Children’s paddling pools should be set upon any ground not used for growing, cheap car washing sponges can be put on shed roofs, brick walls, children’s play equipment or anywhere else that will be hit by rain showers and these can be wrung out giving a decent amount to use elsewhere.
People living in low rainfall areas need to be much more mindful of having everything in place for when rain does occur than those of us living where it is pretty much guaranteed on a regular basis. A decent rain storm or even a heavy shower can prove a Godsend if you are ready to collect it in any way you can.
Little of the rainwater that lands on a tree actually waters the roots of that tree, the branches cause it to drip onto the ground some distance from the trunk, and as little edible produce is grown in the shadow of a tree again the water is wasted. Plant edibles that like cooler shadier conditions in these areas to make better use of the land and the water that drips from the branches. Small raised beds work well as the soil is often impoverished in these areas. All varieties of lettuce do well in cooler conditions and their soft leaves prefer some shade.
Paper plates and plastic cutlery are often sited as they reduce the amount of water needed for washing up. This can be taken a step further by using dry sand to clean out saucepans and skillets as many people in desert countries do. Dry sand is put into and rubbed around a scraped out pot absorbing liquid and acting as a scourer to remove debris. Cleaning done the pot is left to dry out at which point any sand left behind is easily dusted out.
Removing the trap under the sink and placing a bucket underneath means no water at all is wasted transferring from one receptacle to another. A sponge stuffed up the pipe will filter out any debris. You can do several things with this water:
- Flush the toilet (with bleach added)
- Wash down outdoor areas soiled by pets (with bleach added)
- Water the garden
- Soak heavily soiled clothes to remove the bulk of the dirt (with laundry soap added)
- Mop hard floors(with bleach added)
Gardening is going to become the mainstay of survival post-collapse. The growing season also tends to be the warmest time of year and much of the water we put on the garden is lost to evaporation.
Weep pipes that allow water to constantly seep through their sides reduce this, but not enough in a situation where every drop saved may make the difference between life and death. Watering plants where they need it, under the soil is optimum, and this is very easy to achieve cheaply.
Connect a regular hose pipe to a water butt, this can be filled with grey water that has been previously used, or be allowed to fill with rainwater, or even a mixture of both. The hose should then be laid in a trench some six inches deep around the plants you are aiming to water. That done, cut the hose and make small holes on both sides of it, covering the entire length that will be buried. Using a funnel fill the portion of the hose that will be buried with grit and that done block the open end. Put the hose back in the trench and cover with soil. Turning the tap on the butt (slowly) will allow water to be delivered underground, the grit stops the wet soil from getting into the hose and blocking it. This method prevents water being lost to evaporation and significantly reduces the amount used for irrigation. The same method can be used with a funnel in the end of the pipe allowing for manual watering.
A similar set up can be used in the centre of a group of fruit bushes or near trees. Dig a hole the size of the large lidded buckets that are often used to store rice and grain in. It should be three inches shallower than the bucket so it stands proud making refilling easier. Make some small holes in the bottom, a heated fine knitting needle works well. Put an inch of grit in the bottom and top that with a couple of inches of damp sand, dry sand would just fall between the grit and leach out. Put the bucket in the hole and fill with water before putting the lid on. The water will slowly seep out keeping the roots watered but saving an immense amount as you have not had to wet the top eighteen inches of soil before it gets to them.
A smaller version of this can be made using soda bottles. Make a hole in the cap, fill with water and invert into a hole in the ground, this supports the bottle as well as getting the water deeper into the soil where the plants can better utilize it.
Much is made on survival programs of building a solar still to produce clean drinking water, and the principle is great and it works. Problem is, it takes up a lot of space, has to be dismantled to get to your half cup of water, and there is more condensate on the underside of the plastic than is in your cup. A soda bottle still is far easier, takes less space, involves no digging and is easy to move around.
Take several soda bottles and cut them in half. Set the bottoms aside. Make a few vertical cuts about an inch long from the cut edge of the top section of the soda bottle, this will enable the top to fit easily into the bottom of your still. Put a small container of whatever liquid you are going to evaporate into a small container placed in the bottom of the soda bottle and then slide the top section into it, making sure the slits you have made go down inside the bottom section so water does not seep through them.
Condensate will run down the inside of the bottle into the reservoir…the bottom section of the soda bottle. Just like any other solar still you are never going to have enough to take a bath but when every drop counts it is a way of getting a drink from dirty water.
Anything you like can go into the central pot to be evaporated, coffee grounds, grey water, rain water even urine will evaporate giving clean drinkable condensate. Larger stills will work using organic matter such as grass, leaves and even faeces, all will produce safe drinkable water that requires no boiling or treatment before consumption. Knowing that ANYTHING ORGANIC, even water from a polluted stream, or stagnant water you have found, can be utilised for a still, is something that could prove very useful long term in areas that are rain deprived, but have sunshine in abundance.
If you are fortunate enough to have trees they too can provide you with drinking water. Strong clear plastic bags, such as large zip locks slipped onto the end of a leafy branch and duct taped or tied with string to hold them there and seal them will cause a decent amount of water to collect in the bag if left overnight. To harvest your water make a small hole in the bag near where it is taped/tied and tip the bag up collecting the water as it trickles out. Fold the bag over the hole and hold the fold closed with a paper clip, taping the hole will rip your bag when you go back to it. The water droplets left on the inside of the bag will act like liquid in the still and will form even more condensate than the tree produces on its own, adding to the amount you collect the next day.
Dew collection may sound ridiculous, but it can produce quite a volume of liquid. Most of us have walked through dew covered grass at some point and come out of it wet up to our knees. Laying a sheet or large towel over dew covered grass will collect enough moisture to have a sponge bath. Rolling across the grass and then using the wet towel may be the nearest thing to a shower we can get if the water supply is compromised.
Where water is concerned nothing should be discounted. We need to think laterally regarding its collection in order to procure as much as possible for drinking. Methods of getting clean drinkable water without having to use fuel to boil it before consumption is the optimum as that also may be in short supply.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but just suggestions that may help trigger ideas that would work in your own locations. Innovation is going to be key to surviving in a post-collapse society. Thinking about these things now may well save your life in the future.
Contributed by Lizzie Bennett of Underground Medic. Lizzie Bennett retired from her job as a senior operating department practitioner in the UK earlier this year. Her field was trauma and accident and emergency and she has served on major catastrophe teams around the UK. Lizzie publishes Underground Medic on the topic of preparedness.