We can go for weeks without food but only 48 hours without water. It’s time to get serious about where your water will come from in the event of a catastrophic event.
Many parts of the world are facing a serious shortage of fresh, drinkable water. While most of these areas are dominated by undeveloped countries, Flint, Michigan is still facing a fresh water crisis and Puerto Rico still hasn’t fully recovered its fresh water supplies following a hurricane more than a year ago.
The result is that many people drink polluted water out of desperation. The result is rampant disease from cholera to amoebic dysentery. Lack of fresh, clean water in a major crisis is something that you don’t want to ignore.
We use water in a variety of ways and the level of purification can vary.
1. Water for drinking
On its most fundamental level, water is necessary for all life. The water we drink is the most critical use and its purity is of vital importance. This includes any water we may use to brush our teeth. If it goes into your mouth, make sure it’s pure. We’ll cover water purification methods especially for drinking water.
2. Water for cooking
Many of our meals use water as a foundation ingredient. But don’t assume that simply boiling water to cook food will purify if to the degree necessary. Any water that is ingested should start as a pure source.
3. Water for washing
In some hotels in undeveloped countries the faucet in the sink will have a small metal plaque that states, “For Handwashing Use Only.” That’s a polite way of saying, “Don’t drink the water.” There could even be a risk for face washing if the water is polluted in any way and comes in contact with mucous membranes in the eye, nose and even our ears. If you’re not confident of its purity don’t use it to wash your face.
4. Water for sanitation
It takes water to flush a toilet and this may be the only occasion when the purity of the water doesn’t need to be pristine. The water should at least be filtered to remove particulate matter but it it’s going down the toilet it doesn’t need to be perfect.
When the water isn’t running you’ll have to find your own resources. Here are some of the most accessible water sources.
1. Your water heater
It’s easy to forget that one of our largest reservoirs of water in our homes is the water heater. Most water heaters hold anywhere from 50 to 100 gallons of water. Because it tends to be from a pure, original source and is subjected to high heat over a period of time it should be reasonably safe. It may also be wise to reserve any water from the water heater for drinking or cooking. Don’t flush the good stuff down the toilet.
2. Rain, snow and ice
This is potentially another pure water source and it actually gets delivered to us. Fresh, fallen snow may be the purest followed by ice and then rain. Rain is third because it potentially comes in contact with surface areas like roofs, gutters and even the dust and dirt on a tarp you might use for collection. Be ready to harvest and store any rain, snow or ice when the opportunity presents itself.
Catching the rain can be done with a large piece of tarpaulin or plastic. Angle and funnel the runoff into a 5-gallon bucket and replace with additional buckets as they fill. Snow can be pushed into a bucket but be careful to avoid scratching the ground. Ice can be collected in the bucket as well.
To melt snow and ice leave the buckets in a room at room temperature. If you are boiling to melt snow or ice, make sure there is a small amount of water in the pan before exposing it to high heat.
3. Local lakes, ponds and rivers
Water from these sources will definitely need to be filtered and purified. The value of these resources is that they’ll present a good amount of water, but you’ll need to think about the best way to collect it and transport unless you have a pond in your backyard. Water can be heavy depending on the quantity. One gallon of water weighs 7.5 pounds so even a 5-gallon bucket can be quite a burden if you have to walk to and from a distant water source.
4. Local EMA distribution
In the event of an emergency, most local emergency management agencies will make water distribution a priority. Most of this water will be intended for drinking although temporary facilities for washing and even showering may be available. The fundamental challenge is the quantity needed and the duration of the emergency. As a result, rationing will be the most likely solution and strictly limited to drinking water. There’s also the possibility that they’ll simply run out. That’s why you need to consider all available resources.
Water Purification 101
Boiling water to purify it is a standard practice but the water needs to be boiled briskly for a good 10-minutes. The boiling point of water is 212 degrees Fahrenheit and will sufficiently sterilize water as long as the 10-minute rule is followed. Prior to boiling, any water should be filtered until it runs clear. But be careful. Just because it looks clear does not mean that it’s pure. Boil it for 10-minutes.
The 10-minute rule is one of the reasons why you can’t assume that cooking with water will sufficiently sterilize it. Many foods cooked in water are cooked for less than 10-minutes or a very mild boil.
Water purification tablets
These are commonly referred to as Halazone tablets. They have a trace amount of chlorine to kill any microbes and purify the water. Unfortunately, chlorine leaves a faint aftertaste so there are also tablets to neutralize the chlorine flavor. A pass through an activated charcoal filter can also remove the aftertaste.
Another tablet developed by the U.S. Army is the Globaline tablet. It uses traces of iodine to purify water. It also leaves a faint aftertaste. Even with Halazone or Globaline tablets, the water should be filtered until it runs clear before using the tablets.
Types of water filters
The simplest filter is a piece of fine weave fabric. This is used to filter out sediment, particulate matter and other materials that can cloud or dirty the water. A thick towel or a piece of canvas are options. A simple filter like this will not sterilize the water nor make it drinkable. The water could be used to flush a toilet but would require additional treatment before being safe to drink.
2. Charcoal filters
A charcoal filter is typically loaded with fine pieces of activated charcoal. The charcoal will remove foul odors and further filter out small particles. It will often help increase the clarity of water but does not actively kill micro-organisms requiring further treatment to make the water drinkable.
3. Ceramic filters
Ceramic filters force the water through a dense piece of ceramic that physically removes microbes from the water. The tight composition of the ceramic is measured in microns, and its action is similar to the physical action of filtering water through fine-mesh fabric only on a microscopic scale.
If in doubt about the purity of the water, boil it for 10-minutes although the manufacturers of ceramic filters like the Katadyn express confidence in the ability of their filters to purify water. Many of the Katadyn water filters also have an activated charcoal cartridge installed in addition to the ceramic element, and they also recommend the usage of water purification tablets as an added precaution.
It’s one thing to collect water and purify it, but just as important is the ability to store water. The challenge with any water storage is the potential for micro-organisms to find their way into the storage containers and grow and develop over time. There are long-term water purification tablets that can be added to any container holding water for a month or more.
Another challenge is that water can acquire an off-taste with time. A simple way to correct this is to run it through an activated charcoal filter. Another approach is to pour the water from one bucket to another. The aeration of the water as it’s exposed to air during this process can improve the taste. This is often done with melted snow and ice which could also have a flat or off-taste.
Storage containers can be empty 1-gallon milk jugs, 5-gallon plastic buckets with a lid, and there are 20 to 50-gallon, plastic water drums available on the Internet. These large drums require a hand operated pump to draw the water from the drums.
The bathtub is a great way to store water for toilet flushing. Everyone should be cautioned not to drink the water from the tub but given the fact that most bathtubs and toilets are in close proximity it makes sense. Use a bucket to transfer the water to the toilet tank and flush away.
Water should be your priority
No one, especially children can survive without water over a 48-hour period. Collection, purification and storage of water in a desperate time can be the most critical success factor in survival. Don’t take it lightly and do everything you can keep your water supplies replenished, fresh and most importantly -pure.