How critical is your emergency water supply in case of a disaster—natural or manmade?
The truth is, there’s nothing more important. You and your family could normally go as long as 30 days without food. But as a rule of thumb, we can live without water for just 3 days.
If you’re serious about preparing for the worst—even if your water supply is cut off only a few hours or days—then you need to get serious about your water preparations.
So as you prepare your emergency survival plan, water should be up there at the top of the list.
How can you actually build an emergency water supply? How do you ensure your supply is safe? Where can you find a reliable sources of good, clean water?
And last but not least, how can you safely store water for an extended period of time so that, when needed, it’s ready to use?
In this article, we’ll cover each of these issues:
- Sourcing Your Emergency Water Supply
- Creating Long-Term Storage
- Water Filtering Processes for Safety
But First: Needs Assessment
Before we get into the nitty gritty of a strong emergency water program, let’s talk about how much water you’ll need for all of your family’s needs.
As noted above, the typical person can survive only 3 days or so without water. However, there are certain factors which may affect just how much water a person needs. These include:
- Activity Levels
- Bodily factors such as height and weight
Also, the types of food a person eats may affect the amount of water they need. One who eats primarily grains, bread and other dry foods may need more water than a person who eats fruits or vegetables.
In addition, people in hot climates who sweat a lot will need to drink more water than one in a cold climate.
And finally, a person suffering from diarrhea or vomiting could lose water faster than a healthy person.
With that in mind, you need to estimate the water consumption needs of each person in your family for any number of days (say, 3 days to 30 days), and calculate how many gallons you’ll need to set aside.
Sourcing Your Emergency Water Supply
Once you’ve determined how much emergency water supplies you need, the next logical question is where will you find it.
Assume that, in a really serious disaster, you may not have access to local water supplies or wells. Electricity could be down. Flood waters, fires or other disaster-related events could have shut down local utilities.
So it’s essential that you prepare your water supplies well in advance of such events. Once the disaster happens may be too late.
Where will you find the water you need?
Source #1: Your City or Municipality
The United States is noted for having some of the world’s safest drinking water. These waters come from a variety of locations, including rivers, streams, wells, and underground aquifers.
That water is pumped up out of the ground into local municipal water storage facilities. So when you, the local resident, need water, all you have to do is turn on the faucet.
When building your emergency water supply, much of it can come from these local sources. Keep in mind that, during and immediately after an emergency, these sources may no longer be available. So plan to store as much as your family might need well in advance.
Source #2: Private Wells
Over 15 million U.S. households get virtually all of their drinking water from private wells.
If you have a private well on your property, this could be a good source for your pre-disaster water supply. All private wells get their water from ground water, so they have to be extra careful about contamination.
If you’re using a private well, make sure the water is safe for drinking at all times.
Source# 3: Rivers, Lakes or Ponds
Many of us live near a river, lake or pond, but these are not necessarily good sources of emergency water supplies. Such sources are vulnerable to bacteria, parasites, viruses and other contaminants, so you have to be extra careful before drinking even small amounts.
Post-emergency, however, with all other water sources unavailable, rivers, lakes or ponds might be adequate for water needs like bathing, washing dishes, watering gardens, etc. In such instances, health departments recommend you boil the water at least one to two minutes before using.
Source #4: Rainwater
Unlike the waters already gathered into rivers, lakes or ponds, rainwater itself is an excellent source of water. It is relatively safe to drink, but best of all, cheap!
Your biggest challenge is capturing it, and we cover that a bit later in this article. But once you’ve done that, you’ll have a great water source limited only by Mother Nature. The more it rains, the fuller your water reserve will be once you have your capture system in place.
Source #5: Local Food Stores
Next to tap water, buying bottles of water from your local food store is one of the most popular ways to add potable water to your emergency supplies.
When you buy in bulk, the single unit cost can be quite affordable. For example, a 40 bottle pack from Nestle Waters is around one dollar per bottle.
An alternative is to purchase empty plastic bottles and fill them from your own local sources such as tap water. Soymerica’s 33 pack prices out at around $0.85/bottle.
Source #6: Survival Water Pouches
Our final source for emergency water supplies are survival pouches filled with purified, naturally sourced water. These are commercial available on sites like Amazon and other prepper supply online stores.
A single serving pouch generally holds just over 4 ounces of water, and can be stored for upwards of 5 years or longer.
Not only are these packets suitable for long term storage, but they can also be used on hiking and camping trips, or on boating adventures in nearby rivers and lakes. Many of these products can withstand temperatures from -40 degrees to 230 degrees Fahrenheit.
Compact and easy to store, water pouches will take up very little space in your emergency pantry and will always be quickly available should you need them.
Filtering Water After An Emergency Event
As you build your water supply program, you have to consider how to handle your water needs after an event as well as before.
If your water reserve doesn’t last as long as the emergency does, you need a way to get water other than the 6 water sources above.
As we mentioned, that will mean gathering from local lakes, rivers, ponds or rainfall. Recalling the dangerous microbes, bacteria and other health threats when you use these resources, you need to have a way to filter the water so it’s drinkable.
Incidentally, never use water from your home’s radiators or boilers. They will be filled with all kinds of nasty rust and other contaminants that you will want to avoid.
Here are what we consider 3 of the best ways to ensure you have safe water in the event that electricity is down and your storage supplies are low:
- Commercial Water Filtering Products
Some commercially-available water filtering systems work without electricity. For example, there’s the Outback water filtration system from ESP Water Products that works with just about any fresh or flowing water source. It uses gravity to run water through a series of filters and give you potable water. Where some filtering systems produce only enough water for one person per day, this system produces up to 24 gallons of purified water per day, more than enough for a family of four.
Check out the Internet for other commercial products that use processes like reverse osmosis and ultraviolet filters to achieve the pure water you’re looking for.
Finally, don’t overlook solutions like water purification tablets, as well. During an emergency, these tabs can save your life. You simply drop the tablets into the water, waiting 15 to 30 minutes for the water to become clear and bacteria free. Most outdoor recreation stores have various tablet brands you can choose from.
LifeStraw is a good example of a water filtering device that you may want to consider adding to your emergency supplies. It’s small, conveniently transportable, and is extremely effective in filtering out bacteria, parasites, dirt and even microplastics.
It’s like a super powered spaghetti or tea sieve. Only it filters water instead.
The smaller version of LifeStraw can hang from your neck so you can enjoy filtered water no matter where you go. It has received tons of high praise, and some even call it one of the top new products that can change the way we live.
LifeStraw is constructed as a hollow membrane filter built into a straw. When you need a drink, you simply place the straw into the water and drink. The filter then removes as much as 99.9999% of bacteria and 99.9% of protozoa. Can’t beat that, right?
Each filter lasts for around 1000 liters of water, all for around $10 on Amazon.
LifeStraw is available in a variety of sizes for all kinds of applications: outdoor activities, on the road or at home. In emergencies, people will be worried about waterborne disease in their water supply, and LifeStraw can completely alleviate that worry.
It protects you and your family against E.Coli, giardia, and water borne viruses including rotavirus and norovirus.
Alternative brands include Sawyer Mini, GRAYL Ultralight Purifier and Survival Filter Pro.
Which of these technologies are best? It’s hard to say. If you’re in the market for a personal water filter, make sure the technology behind the product meets NSF and EPA standards.
Once you’ve decided on the best model for you, thinking about keeping a small, lightweight backup micro filter with you in the trunk of your car, backpack or bug out bag. You never know (especially on a hike into remote areas) the unexpected circumstances you might run into where you’re desperate for clean drinking water.
Homemade Water Filters
So what can you do when you haven’t put in a supply of commercially manufactured water filters?
You can make a filter of your own, using supplies that you might find around the house. These may not be nearly as efficient and the manufactured versions, but they can help you get through rough times until local services are restored or local stores reopen.
Homemade water filters using the power of natural sunlight is a good place to begin.
PET bottles and the sun.
PET (polyethylene terephthalate) bottles are made of polyester and extruded into the plastic bottle shape you’ve seen everywhere. They’re perfect for use as a homemade water filter.
Here’s how it works:
Fill some bottles with water and let them sit in the hot sun for a minimum of 6 hours. Solar energy can kill the pathogenic microorganisms in the water and help prevent waterborne diseases.
This process was first published in 1991 by the Swiss Federal Institute for Environmental Science and Technology as a household water treatment option in developing countries.
Over 2 million people in 28 developing countries rely on this method (known as SODIS for “solar disinfection”) for daily drinking water treatment.
A somewhat different approach is using a glass vessel instead of plastic bottles, plus a hot fire.
You can simply build a fire, get it really hot, then place a few rocks in the fire. After 30 minutes or so, the rocks should be sufficient hot to boil water. Place some water on the rocks (using a glass vessel) and let it come to a boil. That should kill off much of the bacteria.
There are any number of homemade water filters online. Many involve running water through sand, rocks and pebbles (and even cotton!). You can find some of them described here.
Again, the best time to set up your emergency water supply is now, before a disaster happens. That gives you time to investigate and eventually purchase safer commercial filters such as LifeStraw to protect your water consumption needs.
Use homemade methods only in extreme emergencies.
Water Storage Supplies
If you’ve already figured out how to find water for use in an emergency, give yourself a gold star!
But now you have to learn just where to store that water in quantities sufficient for your family, and in a safe environment that keeps the water free of bacteria and contaminants.
You’ll want to store a minimum of 2 week’s supply (at one gallon of water per person per day) for drinking and sanitation.
If you live in a hot climate or have family members who are either sick or pregnant, plan to store a larger amount.
If the water you store is not commercially packaged, mark the container with the date of storage and plan to replace the water every 6 months.
For general cleaning and sanitizing, keep on hand a bottle of unscented chlorine bleach (the label should indicate it contains between 5 and 9% sodium hypochlorite).
Next, Find a Suitable Container.
You’ll need containers to hold and preserve all that water. We’ve found that the following criteria should apply to every container we use:
- It should be made of unbreakable material (never use glass).
- It should have a lid or cap to protect the contents.
- It should have a narrow neck for easy pouring.
- It should not have been used previously to store potentially harmful chemicals like pesticides or bleach.
You have lots of container choices to pick from.
- 2 Liter Bottles
We’ve already described the use of 2-liter plastic water bottles that many people use for their emergency water supply. They meet all the criteria for a suitable container, plus they’re relatively inexpensive and almost always available at your local retail stores.
If you spread out your purchases, you can affordably build your storage capacity to 2 months or so in a relatively short time, without stressing your budget. Don’t forget to mark the bottles with a 6 month expiration date, and plan to replace their contents at that time.
- 5 Gallon Jugs
Another popular storage container is the 5-gallon jug with built-in spigot. Always look for a label stating that the jug is food grade LDPE4 compliant. It should be made of non-toxic material, with no lingering plastic smell or taste.
We also prefer jugs that are transparent so we can be aware of water levels. Durable construction and crackle resistance are also importance for long use and content protection.
A nice big handle and leak-resistant spigot complete the list.
- Large Capacity Storage Tanks
If you have the space for them, you could also find suitable storage containers much larger than 5 gallons. In fact, commercially available drums or tanks as large as 50-500 gallons are available to give you long term storage options.
These are typically food grade products that meet all the EPA standards for long term water storage.
When filled, these tanks can be quite heavy, so it’s a good idea to put them in their permanent storage location before filling them with water.
Are these larger containers right for you? You’ll have to decide that for yourself. Consider things like cost differences between smaller and larger containers, longevity, ease of handling and ease of distribution.
Incidentally, these large containers are also ideal for collecting rainwater. Many people have built a system where rainwater from the roof is directed down the waterspout to a tube which leads to one of these large containers.
It’s a simple process, and ensures you’ll always have a fresh water supply every time it rains.
- Containers Not Meant to Be Containers
So let’s say you delay any action on providing for emergency water supplies. If you’re suddenly faced with a situation where water is unavailable for 3 days or so, what can you do?
An emergency backup that has worked for a number of people is drinking the water in your bathtub. Eeeeesh!
OK, before you turn pale and get queasy in your stomach, think about it. If your local utility suddenly shuts down and you realize your whole family is about to face 3 days without water (remember, that’s about as long as most people can survive without water), are you going to put up a fuss or are you going to survive?
Most people would pick survival.
So as soon as you learn about the imminent disaster at your doorstep, run down to your bathroom and thoroughly rinse out your tub. Then fill it to the brim with tap water.
The result? Instead of dying of thirst, you and your family will have a ready supply of (reasonably) safe water for not just 3 days, but even a bit longer.
And by the way, there’s even more water in the water tank of your toilet. Just saying…
But to avoid all that, build up your emergency water supply now, before it’s too late. Your queasy stomach will thank you.
Emergency Water Supply—Reminders
One last reminder: As we touched upon in the above article, if you purchase a container that is not specifically marked as sanitized, you need to clean and rinse it before using.
We like to treat our containers with a mixture of 1 teaspoon of unscented chlorine in 1 quart of water, shaking it well, and then air dry or rinse the empty container with untreated water.
For storing, keep your containers out of direct sunlight in a cool (50 to 70 degrees) room free of toxic substances such as pesticides or gasoline.
But most of all, don’t just go through an article like this without making a commitment to do something about your emergency water supplies.
Make a plan of how you will proceed. Create a budget that you can afford to live with. Map out the location where you’ll set up your supplies. Set some completion goals that you know you can meet.
Your family’s health and safety is at risk here. Prepping is easier than ever. Let’s get on it now!