In times of emergency, water is an essential concern. Take precautions now and start storing water. Water is not only essential to good heath and hygiene, it is quite often the first thing to be affected by natural disaster. The water supply may be interrupted
because of earthquake, tornado, flooding or extreme weather. Or water may become unsafe when a chemical spill contaminates the water source or the local water treatment is compromised.
These emergencies almost always occur without warning, so now is the time to prepare.
How much should I store?
A person can go without food for as long as three weeks, but can die after just three days without water. To meet your body’s basic needs, most experts recommend one to two gallons per person per day. That means that a week’s supply of water would be 14 gallons per person. The ideal is to have a week’s supply of potable (safe to drink) water. But for this month make a three-day supply of water your goal.
Water is also vital to good hygiene. Disease always take a terrible toll during a natural disaster. The best way to prevent disease during a crisis is to practice good hygiene, starting with frequent and thorough hand washing.
You should also have another 1-2 gallons per person per day for washing and hygiene. But this water does not need to be potable. You do not need to store non-potable water in food grade containers. Personally, I store my non-potable water in empty liquid laundry soap containers. Every time I empty a container of laundry soap, I rinse it well, fill it up with tap water and store it in the basement. There’s no need to add bleach to this water.
Keep it simple
Your water storage can be something as simple as empty vinegar jugs filled with water. The one-gallon jugs that vinegar comes in are a heavy food-grade plastic. Just fill them up with water from the tap, add a few drops of bleach (see chart) and set aside. There! You’re done. It couldn’t be easier.
Yes, you can just go buy a couple cases of bottled water. That’s even easier and doesn’t cost a lot. But you may find that it takes up a lot of room and it’s not so convenient once you start having to open dozens of bottles to cook a meal.
Many bakeries and restaurants give away plastic 5-gallon buckets. These were used to store pickles or other food ingredients, so they are sturdy and food grade. But they may smell of pickles or vanilla, so wash them well. Let them soak for a couple hours with a solution of 2 cups of vinegar or bleach to get the residue out of the plastic. The vinegar is cheaper. It cuts through most oils and is non-toxic. But since you may want to rinse the bucket with a sanitizing bleach solution, maybe you’ll prefer to soak the whole bucket with a bleach solution.
Do NOT store water in empty plastic milk jugs or 2-liter pop bottles. This kind of plastic degrades over time. One day you’ll go in to your storage room to inspect your water storage and you will find a bunch of empty jugs. If you’re lucky, the water will have slowly evaporated through very small holes. If you’re not so lucky, the jugs will develop large holes and you’ll have a soaking wet floor.
Clean containers for clean water
Whatever you use to store water, make sure that it is very clean. Rinse your containers with a disinfecting solution of 1/2 cup bleach to one gallon of water. Make sure that plastic containers are food grade and have never had any kind of chemicals or non-food items stored in them.
Fill clean containers with water–either tap water or filtered water. Then add a few drops of bleach (see chart). If you are certain that your purified water has been stored in clean containers, there’s nothing more to do. It will store indefinitely. However, over time it will begin to taste flat. You can correct this by aerating the water, pouring it back and forth between containers several times to reincorporate oxygen.
But if there is any chance that your water may have been exposed to contaminants during storage, you will want to rotate your water once or twice a year. Rotating your water gives you the added assurance that your water has not become contaminated or is unfit to drink.
For larger families
If there are more than 2-3 in your family, you might want something larger than one- or five-gallon containers. A food-grade storage drum or water storage tower may just do the trick. I’ve compiled a list of the many water storage options that you can read here. Choose the water storage system that fits your family size, storage space and budget.
Long-term safe water
Most communities are able to restore water within 3-4 days after a disaster. But what if the water crisis lasts longer than a week? The water crisis in Flint, MI lasted several weeks. When we lived in Milwaukee in the 90’s there was a cryptosporidium outbreak that killed over one hundred people and made hundreds of thousands sick. It took over two weeks for the water plant to correct the problem and produce safe water.
You may want to prepare for a long-term water crisis by having a water purifier on hand or in constant use. It took several days for the Milwaukee water plant to identify the
problem and warn the public that the water they were getting from their faucets was unsafe. That is why over 400,000 people were sickened by the contaminated water. But our family was fine because we had an under-the-sink reverse osmosis purifier, so we never were exposed to the cryptosporidium.
What about water contamination?
When thinking about clean, potable water, there are two things you want to tackle: large contaminants (like sediment) and micro-contaminants, like chemicals and bacteria. You will likely find all of these contaminants if your water source is from the outdoors, like a lake or a stream.
- Straining water through a cloth or several layers of cloth will remove most, if not all, large contaminants.
- Distillation is the most time-consuming but will remove all biological and most chemical contaminants.
- Reverse osmosis will remove almost all chemical and biological contaminants.
- Gravity filters will remove most or all biological contaminants (depending on how fine the filter is) and most chemical contaminants.
No single purification system can handle all of these problems—large contaminants, chemicals, and bacteria—equally well. If your water source is from a lake or stream, you should first filter it through a cloth to remove a large part of the sediment. Then whatever other filter system you have will be more efficient and effective.
What purifier should I get?
Again, this depends on your family size, whether you rent or own, space constrictions and your budget. You can choose something as basic as a filtering pitcher that costs about $20-$30, or you can get a whole-house installed system that will cost you $200-$2000. I have compiled a list of several purifier options, giving the pros and cons of each. Read it here.
Don’t leave this essential ingredient to your emergency plans up to chance. Plan now to be prepared for a crisis water shortage.