Monday, June 9, 2014

Getting Prepared for Beginners #8 Water

As I sit here writing this a severe thunderstorm is rolling in. I know it sounds strange, but that helps me focus on my topic. If you have been around a while you know that I lost a business in a tornado in 2011. Now every storm makes my pulse quicken and puts my senses on high alert. I have never really been a fearful person, but I do try to he very observant.

You may remember all the way back in post #2 of the series I said that water wasn't a very high priority in our area. There are several reasons water isn't as high a priority for us as it maybe for you. In our area we still have water towers. Water towers store thousands of gallons of water and use gravity to supply water pressure. As long as the towers are full an entire community will have several days of water at normal usage levels. We are on "city water", not a long term plan, but it is what it is. There are benefits for being on city water. Even when the power goes out the utilities board has huge generators or fuel powered pumps. Does this mean that I do not have any water storage? Of course not. Does this mean that I do not have as much as someone should have that is on a grid powered well or even in the more arid parts of the country? Probably.

Remember our good friends at They suggest having a minimum of a gallon of water per person per day for at least three days. Children, nursing moms, or people who are ill may need more. Also remember the good folks at are only interested in you being able to take care of yourself long enough for them to come to the rescue. The one gallon per day recommendation is for both drinking and sanitation. 

Do I have the minimum one gallon per person for three days? Yup. Do I have a little more than that? Yup. Do I have a plan if need be? Oh yes I do. 

Why Store Water?

I know a lot of people who when you talk to them about being more prepared or even more self- reliant look at me like I am growing another head right before their eyes. Even when I point out the government suggests them doing so. A lot of people think major problems only happen somewhere else. That is simply untrue. We are going to cover some reasons storing water is a good idea.

1. Water main break. Nothing catastrophic has happened. The zombies have not risen, just a huge inconvenience of metal fatigue. The utilities company has shut the water off to an entire section of your community to be able to make repairs.It is only going to take a couple of days to repair.

2. A drought had lowered the aquifer and the authorities are telling everyone to boil their water.

3. A severe weather event that knocks out the water supply.

4. A regional flood.

You can see from the list above that you not only have to worry about a lack of water, but too much can be a bigger problem. Contamination is as big a concern as lack of water. Disease caused by contaminated water in many cases kills more people than the event that caused the problems.

Water storage.

If you have read any of the posts in the series, I believe in looking around at what you have or what you can get for free first, then if needed purchase things second. To get to the minimum of 3 days of water for each person we want to look at cheap or free. There are a variety of water storage containers available from several different places. But if you look around there is really good free storage available.

So the requirements for water storage are of course water tight, movable, rugged, and stores easily.

5-Gallon Water Container - Stackable
Do I want any of the 5 gallon stackable storage containers like the one on the right? Yup sure do, and I will get one in the future. But for just getting started I use what is available. If you were going to start saving water tomorrow what is the first thing you would think about using? Most people will first think of a milk jug. Hey, I mean it meets three of the four criteria. Oh but the fourth criteria is the one that dooms the milk jug to failure. 

The problem with a milk jug is it is very thin and gets brittle quickly. I have stored more that a few in the freezer filled with water. I take them out to find that they have busted. I have carried several in my van and had them bust and soak the carpet. They really are just not designed for a very long and productive life.

Enter the hero; the lowly soda bottle. You can get them in 16oz, 20oz, 1 liter, 2 liter, and 3 liters. They are designed to deal with higher pressures caused by carbonation and have been designed to be able to handle the acidic qualities of soda. Soda bottles store well and once you get a layer, just put a board on top and start another layer. The soda bottle meets all of the criteria for good quality water storage. 

If you drink sodas around your house, no problem. Every time you empty a bottle rinse it out well then fill with water and store. That is really all you have to do. If you like you could add one drop of chlorine bleach to the water, but that isn't necessary. Do not store these bottles where they will receive any light. Light promotes algae growth and you do not want that in your water. You can do this till you have your basic storage complete.

Caution:Studies have shown that water stored in plastic containers that have gone through wide temperature swings may contribute to certain types of cancers in women.Do not store water in plastic containers in areas such as vehicles and sheds that will experience wide temperature variations.

Longer Term Water Storage

Some folks want to have a much longer term water storage or may even water self- sufficiency. A very honorable goal indeed. There are all kinds of systems for water catchment, water acquisition and water storage.

Water catchment is when you capture water that would not be available for use. An example would be having rain gutters on your house and instead of those gutters emptying out onto the ground they empty into some type of storage container. Trashcans, 55 gallon barrels, and even larger tanks have been used. For the most part water that has been captured in this way is used for gardening, grey water, and black water purposes, but it can be purified and used for drinking in a pinch.

Grey water: Water that has been used but would not be considered truly contaminated biologically. Examples would be the water that drains from you clothes or dish washer, the water from your tub or shower, and even the water from your sinks.

Black water: water that has been biologically tainted. The water from your toilet being the most commonly thought of black water.

Water acquisition on a home site is typically done by use of a well. Though I have read articles about cisterns and even air wells. There are a few problems with wells. If the power is out how will you get that water? If the local water source has been contaminated, how can you be sure your water source isn't as well? If there is a regional drought it is possible that your well could run dry.

We have a drilled well on our place. Only one problem. We do not have a well pump and it is not on the priorities list right now. Well pumps can be fairly expensive and if the power is out the pump doesn't work anyway. (I know some of you are thinking solar or wind well pumps and they do have their place, but remember for the purpose of this series we are talking a short term even say 10 days or less. We will get to true long term later on.)

This is where a pressure tank comes in. A pressure tank is actually a fairly simple device that as I think about it may be difficult to explain. It is a tank that has a diaphragm or bladder inside. As it fills with water, pressure builds up. The pressure starts immediately. As long as there is any water in the tank at all there will be pressure. Power out no problem. You may have to start conservation procedures, but a 20 gallon tank will provide the recommended 1 gallon of water per person per day for 4 people for 5 days. My grandparents had I believe a 50 gallon pressure tank. For short term outages they acted like normal. They are fairly pricey as well, and again it is on my long term list.

Water Purification

Okay so you have used up your suggested 3 days of water and you have no additional water stores. What do you do? I know there is a pond or creek just over there! STOP! Remember what I said about how many people die from water related illnesses? I tried to find a reference that was not politically motivated that would tell me how much of the world's fresh water was biologically contaminated, but I could not. The percentages I found were between 76 and 99% of the world's fresh water contain some type of biological contamination. One site claimed that if you add chemical contamination the result is 100% of the planets water is bad. So basically consider all water contaminated until treated in some way. I hate the fact that my children have never been able to experience drinking straight from a stream as I did so many times as a child. 

There is a whole host of products available to purify water. You can use iodine tables, personal water filters, or even water filtration systems. All of the ones I included below require no power. If you are only worried about biological contamination all you really have to do is boil the water. I have heard people who acted like experts say you needed to bring the water to a boil and keep it there for 5, 8, and even 10 minutes. That just did not seem right to me. So after a little research I found that I was correct. According to a USA Today article you only need to keep the water at a rolling boil for 1 minute. Anything longer than that you are just wasting water and fuel. You can actually go even less than that. According to Modern Survival Blog as soon as the water comes to a boil it is purified. I tend to agree more with the Modern Survival Blog, but hey if you wish to be extra cautious, we are only talking 60 more seconds.

Now boiling and water purification tablets only deal with biological contamination. Chemical contamination is another story all together. Water purification tablets do nothing to deal with chemical contamination and boiling only makes it worse.

Allow me to explain. When you boil water, you will lose some of the volume of water in the form of steam. It is natural and there is no way to avoid that. The chemicals however do not evaporate as easily, in fact some do not evaporate at all. What you end up with is the same amount of chemicals in less water, so the concentration of these chemicals have gone up. When chemical contamination could be an issue you may want to invest in a filter.

Steps to Purifying Water (Biological)

  1. Get the water. So you have decided to use the water from a local stream or pond. You are going to need a container. Any glass or plastic container that is clean is acceptable at this point.
  2. Filter the water. When you collect the water, no matter what you do you will get several organisms and a lot of sediment in the water. There are ways to make a very effective water filter with stuff you can find around your house, but most of these take a lot of practice. I am just going to cover the basics. You will want to filter out as much of the larger particles from the water before you boil. You can use coffee filters (I would suggest at least 4 of them at once), or even a t-shirt folded several times as your first line filter.  
  3. Boil the water. If you are without power and you have a camp stove like I suggested in post #7 Basic Energy, this is no big deal. All you need is a pot, tea kettle, or percolator. If you are having to do this the really old fashioned way, you will need a pot that can handle an open flame. There are several, so I will not cover those.
  4. Allow to cool before you drink. I know this seems obvious to all of us, but remember we live in a world where there are warning labels on everything. I know you have seen on plastic bags "Do not place in cribs". Come on! Who thinks, "Junior needs a toy. Hey I know !I just got back from the store, let's give him one of those bags to play with."?(Sorry for the rant).
  5. If you do not have a way to filter the water before you boil, you can just go ahead and boil then wait for the stuff in the water to settle to the bottom then carefully pour off the clearer water at the top.
I hope you are learning a ton from this series. Maybe you could share these with someone who is on the border of wanting to be more prepared, but concerned that they will look like one of "those people on TV". You comments and question are always appreciated.

Rural Dreams and Homestead Wishes to you.

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More Posts in this series:
#17 A Case for Long-Term Preparedness

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