There are many things which you may need to have if there is an emergency or disaster or social upheaval which shuts down the normal supply chain or results in chaos in the streets. But one thing which rises near to the top is water. You need safe water to drink, and if you don’t have any for three days, you are likely to be dead or near death. No plan for survival is likely to be successful if you don’t arrange for an adequate supply of water.
Water has a lot of uses besides drinking and cooking. Second most important is cleaning for hygiene and medical procedures.
It would be nice if you could arrange to have a 100,000 gallon tank of water, but even if you could physically manage that, it likely would not turn out to be practical for your survival. Keeping that much water safe from contamination and those who are desperate to poach it for their own use is likely to prove an impractical task.
A practical water “storage” plan has four parts to be considered.
– Long term water storage
– Short term water storage
– Non-potable water storage
– Water replenishment
Long Term Water Storage
This is the most important, because it is the one which guarantees you drinkable water no matter how unexpected the situation. It is also the most problematic because it is big and heavy and can have a fairly short lifespan. The bigger the supply (the more gallons) the better, but the more problematic it becomes. In deciding, balance the amount of water you need against the amount you can practically store. Generally, one gallon per person per day is considered the “normal” requirement for drinking, cooking, and basic hygiene including brushing teeth. In a hot climate or for people with extra needs, more may be required. The sum of the amount for each person per day is the amount you need to plan for. Then figure out how many days you need or can store, whichever is smaller (if you need more, think of ways you could expand your storage). I would say two weeks would be a “minimum” if at all possible, and much more than two months will likely be a challenge.
There are a number of ways which people store water long term; the most common are pre-packaged individual serving bottles, jugs of five gallons plus or minus, or fifty gallon drums. The individual bottles are convenient but I recommend against them. Every bottle I’ve ever had long term eventually distorts inward. I don’t know why this is, but I suspect that since water does not “get smaller” there is a chemical reaction going on, which I can’t imagine is good. Or the water is “leaving” the bottle somehow. Furthermore, you generally don’t know the quality of water they put in there to begin with. The fifty gallon drums are a pretty good solution, except forget about moving them (they weigh over four hundred pounds each when full). And you need some kind of pump to get the water out. My preference is jugs of five to seven gallons, which will weigh about forty to sixty pounds each, just barely manageable for a relatively healthy person. Smaller jugs (4 gallon, 3 gallon, 2.5 gallon and smaller) are available if you need them for non-standard handling or storage issues, but since each container costs, generally it costs “more” for a lot of small containers than a smaller number of bigger ones. I like rectangular jugs better than round ones because they store more compactly, and often have faucets available which is so much more convenient (and less likely to spill) than trying to pour from a large jug. Note that reusing containers which originally were used for some other material should be avoided, or at least cleaned VERY well first. For that matter, used water containers need a thorough cleaning first as well.
Once you figure out your storage methodology, you need to actually get water into it. The better the quality of water you start with, the longer it will last. I prefer to use water from a professional water treatment company, so I know I am starting with the best water possible, but the price of this has skyrocketed to a dollar a gallon at the place I used to use, and they wouldn’t do a quantity discount this time. About the least quality you want to go with is “decent” tap water if you drink it normally. It would be a bit odd to store water for bad times you won’t drink in good times. If you have any question at all about the biological purity of the water you are storing, putting in one teaspoon per five gallons of fresh, standard (no dye or scent or additives) household bleach can help keep biological contamination under control.
It is best to rotate “normal” (tap) water each 6 months; that may not be financially practical (or necessary) if you use the purified water. I tried some purified water I put away eighteen years ago and it didn’t seem to bother me; although in an emergency situation I’d run it through a good water treatment before drinking it in case any of it has problems. This is because access to medical care is likely to be limited if it turns out the water became biologically active or contaminated from reaction with the container.
Short Term Water Storage
This name is somewhat misleading. It does include any non-tap water you use daily, whether bottles or purified. But more importantly, it is water you acquire “just before” an emergency because the emergency is predicted or you think it will happen, or immediately after the emergency occurs while water is still available. One really good option for this is an Aquapod or equivalent. This is a bladder which you put into your tub and fill with water; it usually comes with a pump to get the water out. Each one can hold on the order of sixty gallons; having one for each tub is a really good idea.
This also includes water you rush out to get from the store in gallon or even individual bottles, where you’ll be using the water quickly enough that any problems with the bottles undergoing chemical reactions are not significant. Use this water first, whether or not the emergency happens or is quickly resolved, because it is not stored effectively and probably will be in your way long term.
Before the event happens, water from the tap should be as good as it usually is (which may not be very good as we saw in Flint). During and after the event, the water quality can deteriorate into non potability and you may not be informed of this. This does not mean not to get any which you can, just don’t use it for drinking or critical cleaning without purifying it first.
Non-Potable Water Storage
It may seem odd to store non-potable water; if you can store non-potable water, why not store potable water there instead? But you are already storing water which is of questionable potability. Do you have a standard (tank) water heater? It is full of water; turn off the input valve as soon as you are aware of a problem, to avoid contaminated water getting in or any water escaping backwards. Of course, turn off the gas or flip off the circuit breaker. You can access this water from the cleanout valve at the bottom. It is wise to flush out the particulates which accumulate at the bottom on a yearly basis; not only will it improve the condition of this source of water, but it will help the water heater to work better and last longer. And of course there is the water in the tank on the back of every toilet.
In the “good old days”, a waterbed was a good way to store a bunch of water. In order to prevent problems, you needed to keep it dosed with some blue stuff, which made it a bad idea to drink it. For this, as for any source of non-potable or even questionable water, having water purification capability (>>> see series on water purification here <<<) is important.
A swimming pool is an ok way to store a whole bunch of water, but you need to take steps now (installing some kind of cover) to minimize contamination and evaporation after a crisis; it should also improve the pool experience under normal conditions. Be aware that it will attract people desperate for water since it is hard to hide. Make sure you restrict access to the degree practical, not only to protect the water, but to keep uninvited people and unsupervised kids out to comply with laws and keep lawsuits and drowning to a minimum. A pool alarm might be a good idea, although I’ve heard that many are not reliable, either having lots of false alarms or failing to sense all intrusions.
This hardly qualifies as “storage”, but it recognizes that storing more than a few months of water is a real challenge. If you have a well, make sure you have a manual pump or other way to get water out of the well if there is no power available. A stream or river, or a lake which is replenished is good to have access to; although other people can contaminate it, deliberately or accidentally, or possibly “use it up” or use it as “bait” to lure people in to be robbed or worse. If this is part of your plans, make sure you have effective containers to transport the water from the source to where you need it. If it is on your land, consider running piping from the water source to your house for convenience; best would be if it were buried to protect it from vandalism and freezing.
Whenever you use water, you may end up with “used” water. This is often classified as “grey water” or “black water”. Grey water from sinks and showers is usually not dangerous and can be used for irrigation and non-critical cleaning and can be relatively easily purified to potability. Black water is typically from toilets or other sources of extensive contamination and generally is not practical to use for anything. Grey water should be collected or used appropriately.
Water harvesting is a good source of water in places with a lot of rainfall. This involves having gutters all the way around your roof, leading down into barrels or other storage tanks. Of course, gutters are a pain to maintain, but you can keep this to a minimum by having a good gutter guard installed to keep much of the solids out of the gutter. Of course, there are some communities which are so autocratic that they make it illegal to harvest rain water. I probably would not live in such a place because it is unlikely that is their only problem, but if I were there, I suspect I would have gutters which just output to the ground, but with all the parts necessary to harvest that water “in storage”. In a crisis, I’d hook it up. If possible, I would have the storage containers buried or hidden so that not only would the chances of legal harassment be minimized, but theft of the water as well.
In a crisis, the government may “hand out” water. This is a risky option, as governments usually don’t have your (the individual’s) best interests at heart. If you have to leave your place where everything you have is located unprotected, go a significant distance, wait in line, and register to get some water, it seems the risk/reward ratio is not favorable to you. Unless the distribution point is close by and there is no “tracking” of the water provided, it would be better to provide for your own water to the degree possible, and keep out of sight and under the radar.