Survival Basics: Water and Water Storage
by Gaye Levy
During a recent book giveaway, the question asked was “What piece of prepping gear is at the top of your bucket list?” Needless to say, I was more than a little bit surprised to find that the top response was water storage, water filters, and water purification equipment.
While having the gear is nice, anyone interested in preparedness also needs to have a basic understanding of the concepts behind water and water storage. Where to find, store, purify, and filter water are all questions that need to be asked, answered, and periodically reviewed.
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And why do I know that? A couple of months ago I was personally without running water for 12 days. Being up to speed on the do’s and don’ts of water were key to my getting by just fine during this period.
With that in mind, today I share an article on water as a survival basic.
Back to the Basics: Water for Survival
When I first started Backdoor Survival, my focus was on gathering the basics: food, water, shelter and fire. Of course, along the way I have learned that there is so much more that is essential to long-term survival. Things that come to mind are clean air, clothing, first aid, self-defense, signaling and a community with others.
But today I want to keep things simple and, for the benefit of my newer readers, go back the basics and review the essentials of water for survival.
Water is the Most Important Survival Basic
Clean water is something that we all take for granted. We turn on the faucet and there it is. It is plentiful, it is clean and it is drinkable. Yes, it may have some undesirable chemical additions such a fluorides but, for the most part, having clean, drinkable water is something we have come to rely upon.
The bottom line is that if a disaster occurred and the supply lines to fresh water were comprised, we would be in a pickle. There is a possibility that safe water would not be available for days and possibly not for weeks.
The rule of thumb propagated by FEMA and just about every other authority out there is that you store at least one gallon of water per person and pet, per day, for a minimum of three days. But if you think that a three-day water supply is adequate, think again.
A more reasonable recommendation is that you up the recommended amount of stored water to a two-week supply. So for two people that would be 2 people x 1 gallon x 14 days = 28 gallons. This amount should cover your minimal needs for drinking, food preparation and nominal, and I mean nominal, hygiene.
DIY Water Storage
Storing water for an emergency can be as simple as filling thoroughly washed plastic or glass containers with tap water and sealing them tightly. This is something that anyone can do without incurring a cost, so long as a few simple rules are followed.
Here are the steps to can take to store water for emergency use:
1. Thoroughly clean your plastic bottle and jugs with dishwashing soap and water then rinse completely so there is no residual soap.
2. Sanitize your bottles by adding a solution of 1 teaspoon of unscented liquid household chlorine bleach to a quart of water. Swish the sanitizing solution in the containers so that it touches all interior surfaces. Don’t forget to sanitize the lids and caps as well. After sanitizing the containers and caps, thoroughly rinse out the bleach solution with clean water.
Note: Bleach has an effective shelf-life of one year. Make sure that the bleach you are using is fresh.
3. Fill the sanitized containers to the top with regular tap water. Add two drops of non-scented liquid household chlorine bleach to the water, then tightly close the containers using the original caps. It is probably a good idea to use some latex or nitrile gloves at this point so that you maintain the sanitation and do not contaminate the caps by touching the inside of them with your fingers.
4. Date the outside with a permanent marker such as a Sharpie.
5. Store in a cool, dark place.
6. As a precaution, rotate in six months to a year. Dump the water, re-sanitize the jugs, and start all over. Or, if you have the space, mark the jugs as “non-potable” and save the water for non-drinking emergency purposes.
Personally, I think it would be a good idea to put up a few jugs at the first of each month. Do this for six months and you will build up a nice, rotating stock.
Plastic soda bottles or juice jugs work well for DIY water storage. On the other hand, milk jugs should not be used for water storage. Milk and protein sugars are difficult to remove and will compromise the stored water because they create an environment for bacteria growth. In addition, milk jugs are flimsy and will not hold up, even for a short period of time. Ditto cardboard. The cardboard will eventually leak and make a big mess. Glass is okay but be aware that glass is heavy and subject to breakage.
Water stored as described above will be good for at least six months to a year and possibly longer. Let me be clear: you rotate water not because it has an “expiration date” but that it may become chemically or biologically contaminated and foul. Why take a chance?
Technically, if water is stored in a cool, dark area and away from chemical and toxic fumes, it should last forever.
If the cleanliness of the the water is in question, it can be purified with purification tablets, fresh bleach, or a filtering system such as the Berkey or LifeStraw, among others.
If you have the space and the budget, you can also purchase food-grade plastic containers and drums designed for water storage. These containers typically hold up to 55 gallons of water and, with the addition of proper purification chemicals, will keep the water safe for up to five years.
I personally have a 55-gallon water storage system. It was easy to set up and it came outfitted as a complete kit with all of the various tools and siphons I will need if/when that emergency situation occurs.
Another alternative, of course, is bottled water. The same rule applies: store in a cool, dark area and periodically rotate just to be on the safe side.
Hidden Sources of Water
In addition to tap water, there are other hidden sources of water that you can use when a disaster occurs. These sources include the water in your hot water heater, pipes, and even the ice cubes from the icemaker in your refrigerator or freezer. Before tapping in to these sources, however, you will first need to shut off the main valve coming into your home so that you do not contaminate the “good” water with the “bad.”
Here are some specific instructions for using the water in your hot water tank:
- Turn off the electricity or gas.
- Open the drain at the bottom of the tank.
- Start the water flowing by turning off the water intake valve at the tank and turning on a hot-water faucet.
- And don’t forget: be sure to refill the tank before turning the gas or electricity back on.
Outdoor Sources of Water
Barring the use of stored water or the hidden water sources in your home, there is always the outdoors. Water may be available from rainwater, streams, ponds, lakes and natural streams. Absolutely stay away from flood water since it is likely to contain sewage and other nasties that you do not even want to think about.
When using outdoor sources of water, you are going to have to undertake purification measures to make it safe. There are many ways to purify water, some better than others and some easier than others.
For ad hoc water purification, nothing beats plain old bleach as long as it is fresh (no more than a year old) and unscented.
According to the Clorox website: When boiling off water for 1 minute is not possible in an emergency situation, you can disinfect your drinking water with Clorox® Regular-Bleach as follows:
- Remove suspended particles by filtering or letting particles settle to the bottom.
- Pour off clear water into a clean container.
- Add 8 drops of Clorox® Regular-Bleach (not scented or Clorox® Plus® bleaches) to one gallon of water (2 drops to 1 quart). For cloudy water, use 16 drops per gallon of water (4 drops to 1 quart).
Boiling water is considered the safest method of purifying water. What you do is bring water to a rolling boil for three to five minutes. The water may not taste that great but it will be safe to drink.
Factoid: To improve the taste of boiled or stored water, you can put some oxygen back in to the water by pouring it back and forth between two containers.
As an alternative to bleach or boiling water, the EPA has guidelines for using calcium hypochlorite, commonly sold as “pool shock” to disinfect water:
Add and dissolve one heaping teaspoon of high-test granular calcium hypochlorite (approximately ¼ ounce) for each two gallons of water, or 5 milliliters (approximately 7 grams) per 7.5 liters of water.
The mixture will produce a stock chlorine solution of approximately 500 milligrams per liter, since the calcium hypochlorite has available chlorine equal to 70 percent of its weight. To disinfect water, add the chlorine solution in the ratio of one part of chlorine solution to each 100 parts of water to be treated.
This is roughly equal to adding 1 pint (16 ounces) of stock chlorine to each 12.5 gallons of water or (approximately ½ liter to 50 liters of water) to be disinfected. To remove any objectionable chlorine odor, aerate the disinfected water by pouring it back and forth from one clean container to another.
Tip: For more precise (and in my opinion better) instructions, visit the article How to Use Pool Shock to Purify Water. In this article, I go into great detail describing plus showing you how to safely use Pool Shock for water purification purposes.
A good reference for this and other purification methods can be found in the downloadable and printable article Emergency Disinfection of Drinking Water.
What About Water Filters?
The use of water filters to make raw water drinkable is another solution to the water for survival dilemma. The nice thing about a filtration system is that it will not only supplement your stored water, but will provide you with great tasting, chemical-free drinking water for day to day.
I personally have a Royal Berkey and, to tell the truth, wonder what took me so long to discover this alternative to purchased water in bottles and a countertop Brita.
This is not to say that I don’t have bottled water because I do. After all, if I have to leave my home, it would be tough to drag along a 55-gallon water barrel or a Berkey. But for day-to-day drinking, as well as long term survival needs, you simply can not beat a quality filtration system.
Portable Water Filters
I have had good luck with the LifeStraw Personal Water Filter. This lightweight and affordable filter is like an oversized straw. You can use it with a cup or dip it directly into a pond or stream. There are other portable water filtering systems as well and these are handy to keep in your emergency backpack, your car or your travel kit.
I have written about various aspects of water for survival purposes. Here are some additional articles for you to peruse as time and interest dictates.
- 16 Tips for Coping Without Running Water
- The Five Myths of Water Storage
- How to Use Pool Shock to Purify Water
- 8 Reasons to Drink Water for Survival
- 15 Ways to Conserve Household Water Now
The Final Word
Thanks to a tip from a Backdoor Survival reader, I learned that you can find pre-used, food grade, 55-gallon plastic drums on Craigslist for about $25 each. If you decide to check in to this, be sure to confirm that the original contents was food. Clean them well first with vinegar and baking soda to remove odors, and then with a strong bleach for sanitation.
Here in my area, there is a fellow that sells such barrels and will even add a hose bib at the bottom for a nominal cost. I am not 100% sure I would drink from such a barrel, but the water inside should be great for bathing, laundry and housekeeping chores.
Another reader has suggested the use of colloidal silver to get rid of bacteria in water. I have not researched this personally, however.
Whatever your water storage method of choice, I highly recommend that you store at least two weeks of water for every member of your household, including pets. Please remember that depending on climate conditions, you can only survive for an average of three to five days without the intake of water.
Why take a chance when it is so easy to store water?
Enjoy your next adventure through common sense and thoughtful preparation!