Aside from oxygen, water will typically be your most pressing need in any survival situation. Shelter may occasionally represent a more pressing need if you find yourself trying to cope with temperature or weather extremes, but even in these scenarios, water will become your most urgent need once you’ve satisfied your shelter requirements.
Given this, most survivalists try to store as much water as they can. This is certainly wise, as your taps may cease to function during a SHTF situation, and even if they continue to work, you won’t know if the water is safe to drink. It doesn’t take much rain to overwhelm some treatment facilities, which can result in bacteria-laden water pouring from your home’s pipes.
But, while it is a good idea to store plenty of water, you have to do so in a safe and appropriate manner. Otherwise, you may find that all of your preparatory efforts were in vain, and the water you stored has become unsuitable for drinking.
We’ll explain some of the most important water-storage principles and practices below, so that you can be better prepared for emergencies.
Water Storage Basics
First of all, it is important to understand that water does not “go bad” or spoil. If you put a sample of water in an inert, hermetically sealed container, it’ll last for decades. Problems only occur when water is stored in a reactive container, or it is allowed to become contaminated with bacteria, viruses, algae or other potential pathogens.
This helps to illustrate the three primary things you’ll need to keep in mind when trying to select a water-storage vessel:
- You must begin with potable, treated water.
- You must use a sealed container to prevent pathogen exposure.
- You must use a container made from a safe material that will not leach harmful chemicals into the water.
Starting with Clean, Potable Water
If you are proactive about storing water, it is very simple to obtain clean water. You can either purchase drinking water from the store or use the municipal water from your tap. Both of these water sources should be free of dangerous bacteria or other pathogens, and completely safe to drink.
However, if you fail to prepare in advance, or you have to grab your bug out bag and flee, you’ll need to learn how to make untreated water safe for drinking. There are a few different ways to do this:
Use a Filter
Most filters will eliminate bacteria, sediments and protozoans, but some viruses may be able to slip through. You’ll have to use your judgment to decide whether this is an acceptable risk, given your circumstances.
For example, if you are trying to treat rainwater you’ve collected, the chances of the water being contaminated by viruses is pretty low. On the other hand, municipal water supplies may be contaminated with viruses if their filtering and treating processes fail.
If you are planning to treat the water via some other method, and just want to remove large particulates, a piece of clean clothing (such as a bandana) will work well.
Boil the Water
Boiling will kill any pathogens lurking in the water, but it won’t remove sediments or particulate matter. Accordingly, many people will filter water first, and then boil it to kill any remaining organisms that slipped through the filter. Some people complain that boiled water tastes a bit odd, but that’s easy to remedy with a few drops of lemon juice.
Distill the Water
Distillation – boiling the water, then collecting the condensed steam — is the gold-standard for treating water. It not only eliminates all pathogens, but it will also get rid of things like salt or sediments. It can, however, be tricky to rig up a contraption to allow you to distill a large quantity of water.
If you are just trying to distill small quantities of water, consider the following trick: Tie a cup to the handle of the lid for a pot. Pour the untreated sample of water into the pot and begin heating it. Place the lid upside down on the top of the pot, so that the cup hangs directly below the handle (do not allow it to become contaminated by the untreated water). When the water boils, it will condense on the inverted lid, roll down to the lowest point and drip into the cup.
Treat the Water with Chlorine
Chlorine will not address any sediments in the water, but it will kill any pathogens living in the water, as long as it is used in the correct ratio. Just use a household bleach (without any added fragrances, soaps or detergents) that is comprised of 5.25 to 6.0 percent sodium hypochlorite.
Mix in 16 drops per gallon of water and let it sit for 30 minutes. It should have a slight bleach odor; if it does not, add another 16 drops of bleach and let it sit for 15 additional minutes. If this fails to produce a bleach-like odor, discard the water and find another source.
Selecting a Suitable Container
There are a variety of different containers you can use to hold water, but they all have two things in common: They are made from food-grade materials, and they’re specifically designed to hold potable water. You can re-use commercial water bottles, just be sure to clean and disinfect them before use.
However, the better option is to purchase 5- to 55-gallon water jugs. These containers are made from food-grade plastics, and most are opaque, which will help prevent algae from forming inside the container.
Many people like to use the 55-gallon containers, but it is often wiser to use ten 5-gallon containers instead. The smaller containers are much easier to fill or empty, and they are much easier to transport or bring with you if you have to bail. Five-gallon containers of water are already heavy enough – most weigh about 40 pounds. A 55-gallon container of water would weigh nearly 450 pounds.
Note that you’ll need to purchase special hoses to use the water from a 55-gallon container, as they don’t offer easy access to the water in any other manner. You’ll also want to purchase hoses that are specifically designed to carry potable water, rather than simply using your garden hose.
Unsafe Storage Vessels
There are two commonly cited water storage places that you should avoid using at all costs: Your bathtub and your backyard pool.
Many people think that their bathtub is a good place to store water (most tubs hold about 100 gallons), but this is not a good idea (for potable water anyway, there’s nothing wrong with storing water in your tub for hygiene or other needs). For starters, your bathroom is unlikely to be clean, and it may even have dangerous chemical residues that could contaminate the water.
If properly maintained and treated, your pool water should actually be safe to drink, but it won’t stay that way for long. First of all, in an emergency situation, it is unlikely that the pump and filter mechanism will be operable, meaning that it will quickly become filled with sediment and pollutants. Additionally, because chlorine evaporates rather quickly, it will not remain safe for drinking unless you continue to add fresh chlorine.
How Much Water Should You Store?
Most Americans are thought to use well over 100 gallons of water per day, which may make the notion of storing enough water to allow you to survive an emergency seem farfetched. However, most of this water is used for things like washing dishes, watering the lawn and laundry – things that you’ll do far less of in an emergency.
This means you don’t have to worry about storing this much water to get through most emergencies. Instead, you’ll only need enough water to satisfy your hydration needs, as well as basic hygiene.
The rule of thumb is that you’ll want to store one gallon of water, per person, per day. This will give you about half of a gallon per day for drinking and half a gallon for basic hygiene needs.
So, if you and your spouse may need to survive for one week without access to municipal water supplies, you’ll need approximately 14 gallons on hand. If you are trying to plan for a family of four, you’d need twice this much. Just remember that this is a minimum guideline for your water needs – if you have the space, it doesn’t hurt to double or triple this figure.
As you can see, storing your water properly isn’t terribly difficult. Just make sure that you address your water-storing practices now, so you won’t have to worry about water-safety issues in the middle of an emergency. Hopefully, you’ll never need your stored water. But if the need arises, you’ll want to be sure you are well prepared.