Survivors Notebook #2
Water, a Precious Commodity
Water covers over 70% of the Earth’s surface. Of all the water on our planet 97% is in the oceans, 2% in the ice caps
and glaciers, and only about 1% is fresh ground water. With all that abundance of water there is ironically a worldwide
shortage of potable water. In an emergency situation, potable water is always a scare precious commodity. It is scarce
even in flood disasters when there is too much water.
If you read all of the information from government, universities, commercial interests, survivalists, and relief
organizations, you will find there are common practices in purifying and storing water. You would also notice that a few of
the recommendations differ or are skipped over on the various sources.
I think one thing that is understated is the amount of water that should be stored. The accepted rule of thumb is 1 gallon
per day per person for 14 days. That just about equals a 55 gallon drum for a family of four. Rarely is it mentioned that if
it’s hot and/or work needs to be done, both of which are likely, then much more water will be needed. Also consider the
distinct possibility that water service may not be back in 14 days. Will you need to share some water with a neighbor if
they run out? I would say double at least the minimum amount if you are able to store it. The one gallon per day is a
minimum amount needed. FEMA says do not ration water if supply is running low, drink the normal amount and search
It is often not mentioned that certain protozoan microbes are not killed reliably by the often recommended hypochlorite
bleach or iodine water treatments. Cryptosporidium in particular and Guardia are the two most common waterborne
protozoan diseases, and there are others. These two parasites infect hundreds of thousands of people worldwide. In the
USA these infections are rare, but there have been sporadic outbreaks. These germs cause diarrhea which leads to
dehydration, couple this with possible lack of medical care and you have a very serious situation on your hands that
could affect all consumers of the contaminated water.
Boiling for several minutes will kill all the protozoa, bacteria and viruses. That is a lot of water to boil, but better safe than
sorry. Some sources say boil for 1 minute, some say 10 minutes at sea level and more for higher elevations. Personally I’
ll go with a 10 minute boil just to be sure I kill all the bugs. If you are planning to store water and you are unsure about
its purity or quality of treatment, by all means boil it.
If you have a high degree of confidence in your local municipal or county water source then you may opt to store the
water right out of the tap. If it has already been treated with chlorine there is no need to further treat it. The treated
water from these sources is periodically tested for protozoa as well. If you live in a locality that uses ozone or UV
purification, then I recommend you treat it because the ozone and UV methods do not provide a lingering protection.
You store treated water no longer than six months.
If you have to treat water, the household bleach treatment method is the preferred method. It is commonly
recommended to use 8 drops of a pure 4 to 6% hypochlorite beach per gallon to purify and preserve clear water, double
that for cloudy water. Some sources call for using as little as 2 drops per gallon, but that conflicts with my common
sense, I’ll use 8. Let the treated water stand for 30 minutes, you should be able to smell the chlorine faintly after
treatment, if not then repeat the process. Use regular household bleach such as Clorox, unscented, NOT color safe with
no additives, or a comparable product. The bleach has a shelf life, it it’s a year old then double the amount of drops;
better yet get fresh bleach. Iodine treatment is better than no treatment, but it does come with a lot of caveats such as,
do not use longer than 4 weeks, do not use if pregnant or have a thyroid condition, do not use if you have sensitivity to
iodine. That’s too many caveats for me; I’ll go with the bleach.
The best solution for drinking water storage is commercially bottled water that has been purified by reverse osmosis or
filtered to absolute 1 micron pore size to eliminate the protozoa. Also distilled bottled water is a good choice. This water
can be stored for a year, and rotated regularly with household use. It is a lot more expensive however to use bottled
water. To offset the cost, you could use stored treated water for personal hygiene, cleaning, etc, and if needed as a
backup drinking water source.
Water should be stored in containers approved by the USDA or similar authority. The most suitable containers are made
of high density polyethylene. Avoid other plastics which can leach toxins into the water. You should have a variety of
sizes, small ones to distribute water, medium (5 gal) to transport, and larger ones (55 gal) for bulk storage. When the 55
gal drums are filled they are very hard to move without help from an elephant. Glass has the serious drawbacks of being
both heavy and breakable. Metal or porcelain tanks can be used but react with the chlorine and are subject to
corrosion. Containers that previously held food or drinks can sometimes be used; 2 gal soda-pop bottles are often
suggested, however milk jugs are not recommended because they breakdown over time and can leak, also the fat and
protein from the milk is hard to remove completely and that can feed bacteria.
If the water is running low you may have to find additional supplies, maybe a tank truck will come around or maybe there
is a river or pond nearby. There is also hidden water in your house in the pipes and the hot water heater, ice cubes,
water in canned fruits, etc. Water from a water bed should not be used because of the presence of fungicide and the
material the mattress is made from is toxic. Water from a toilet tank (not bowl) should only be used as a last resort and
only if it has not been treated with a chemical cleaner. Also rain or snow collection is a real possibility as long as there is
no possibility of contamination from radioactive fallout or chemical-biological attack.
Water from these alternative sources may need to be filtered and purified. In a pinch coffee filters will do a fair job of
filtering although better filters are available and are highly recommended. Purification follows filtration, and then storage
in clean, disinfected containers. First wash the container with a mild detergent, rinse well, and disinfect with the same
bleach solution used in purifying. Prepare the containers before disaster strikes to avoid wasting water. Avoid opening
containers once sealed unless you are going to use the water at that time, this will minimize contamination
Water is something we all take for granted, but when the supply stops, it suddenly becomes a precious commodity. It is
absolutely essential to store water for emergencies. Remember that we can survive for a month without food, but only
about 4 days without water for a healthy person.
Copyright 2007 Tim Thomas All Rights Reserved
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