Warmth, medicines and water are the first things we should think about when it comes to storage because without either one we could die quickly. We also could not prepare many of the food items recommended for long-term storage, nor would we be able to wash ourselves and maintain sanitation. This article focuses only on water storage and purification. To determine what and how to store required medicines, talk with your doctors and pharmacists because they are the ones who provide access to your prescription medications.
Storage of water can be difficult in the sense that it is very heavy and it takes up a lot of space. At just over eight pounds per gallon, carrying much water becomes a difficult task. Absolute minimums for water storage include 14 gallons per person for a two week period. That would be a 2 week supply at one gallon per day. This includes drinking as well as washing. Remember this is the absolute minimum amount. The CDC (Center For Disease Control and Prevention) says “you will also need water for food preparation, bathing, brushing teeth, and dish washing.”
Another take on how much water is needed goes like this:
Minimum drinking water requirement: 5 liters per person per day
Basic requirements for sanitation: 20 liters per person per day
Basic water requirements for bathing: 15 liters per person per day
Basic requirement for food preparation: 10 liters per person per day
TOTAL = 50 liters (13.2 gallons) per person per day
During non-emergency times, the average American uses 69 gallons of water a day indoors. Think of how many gallons of water you personally use flushing toilets, running the water until it gets hot for drinking or dishwashing, running a dishwashing machine, filling a bathtub or taking a shower. Sixty Nine gallons is NOT an exaggeration. In times of emergency we can make do with much less. Even at the minimum recommended one gallon per person per day a family of four requires 56 gallons in just two weeks. This means that even one 55 gallon drum is not enough for two weeks because you must leave about four inches head room (air space) inside the drum to allow for expansion. And don’t forget your pets! You should store an additional quart per pet per day.
Whether from stored water or water collected from irregular sources, organisms sometimes exist that must be filtered and/or destroyed.
1. Protozoa–like Cryptosporidium and Giardia are the largest of the organisms and easiest to remove with simple filtration.
2. Bacteria–like Salmonella and Cholera are smaller and harder to remove.
3. Viruses–like Hepatitis are the smallest and hardest to remove. They are seldom removed or destroyed by filters alone. Most filters that destroy virus have been treated in some way to kill the viruses while filtering out other pathogens.
Ensure that all of your water storage is contained in recommended water containers: food safe, HDPE, PET or PETE bottles, jugs and barrels. Then look at the other resources around your house to add to your water supply to make you comfortable in a time of crises. I don’t think you could ever have too much water. And, since even a five gallon water jug weighs more than 40 pounds, you can see why storing your water in multiple container sizes is essential. Because the vast majority of “emergencies” will allow you to remain inside your home, storing water in large containers may make sense. Pay attention to the cost, size and weight of the storage medium. While fancy storage containers may seem like a really cool idea, consider that the extra money you spend on your fancy medium might better be spent on the purchase of more water, food and other essential supplies. I can’t eat or drink the plastic barrels. There are few places that sell 55 gallon drums for under $50. Instead, store your water in already filled one gallon jugs for under $1 each and you achieve the same result without paying extra for the water or the treatment of the water. You also need to rotate pre-bottled water every couple of years instead of every six to twelve months. Besides, they are so easy to find storage spaces for and they are so easy to handle and even carry if necessary.
In the case of catastrophic events that require you and your entire community to evacuate your homes, you cannot pick up and move even a 55 gallon drum full of water weighing approximately 450 pounds. Keep smaller containers freshly filled and easily accessible along with your emergency kit that can be grabbed as you run out the door. Also, always keep at least one gallon per person in your car. Remember though, that in some climates these water containers can freeze. This means they may crack and when thawed, leak. In the elevated temperatures car interiors reach in the summer time, the containers might also burst from the pressure. For more information on the containers themselves, see the end of this article.
Some other water sources to consider around your home are hot water tanks, toilet tanks, surface water, ground water, and rain water. Water that you store and the additional sources that you use in and around your home will probably need to be treated to get rid of contaminates. It is important for all of us to know how to treat contaminated water so it is safe to drink.
There are several methods and many products available to aid in this project. A simple way to improve the effectiveness of any purification method is to physically filter the water before treatment. Using almost any piece of cloth, strain the water by pouring it through the cloth into a container, then treat. By removing the larger particles of debris you are making it easier for the purification method used to complete its job more effectively.
- Chlorine Dioxide This is NOT bleach. The form of water purification comes in both tablet and liquid forms. Chlorine Dioxide is the same purification product used by many municipalities for their water treatment facilities. It is tasteless and meets strict EPA water purifier test standards without using a filter, and is also used by the U.S. Military. This is the only product currently registered by the EPA that effectively controls cryptosporidium. It is the only EPA approved product for long term (up to five years) water storage. Other products seem to work well but are not EPA approved.
Chlorine Dioxide comes in both tablet and liquid form. It is a toxin that reacts with water to form a gas that destroys all living organisms both in the water and on the surface of the container in which the water is contained (if sealed). Twenty minutes after using the liquid form, the toxins are gone and the water it totally safe to drink. Use of the tablet form requires a four hour waiting period before drinking the treated water.
- Pasteurizing water – Most water can be purified for drinking purposes by bringing it to a temperature above 159°F for 5 minutes, this will destroy the pathogens. Without a WAPI (Water Pasteurization Indicator), the simplest visible way to pasteurize water is to bring it to a boil. By the time water comes to a full boil it has been above 159° long enough without boiling any longer. If desired, to improve the taste of the water after pasteurizing, simply pour the pasteurized water, after it has cooled, from one container to another several times to aerate the water to a normal state.
- Bleach method – liquid chlorine bleach (Clorox or Purex type bleaches, containing 4% to 6% sodium hypochlorite. DO NOT use scented bleach). Chlorine bleach is another toxin. However, when used properly and under most conditions, chlorine bleach is a suitable disinfectant for filtered, raw water. Used at the rate of 8 drops per gallon of clear water, or one teaspoon of bleach for five gallons of water, three tablespoons will disinfect 55 gallons of water. This level of treatment will kill bacteria and viruses and prevent the growth of microorganisms during storage. Also check with your local water plant for any additional information they may have for you.Turbid water (filled with sediment and/or debris) requires you to double the above amounts, i.e. at least 16 drops per gallon in turbid water (another reason to pre-filter most water before using a chemical treatment. After waiting at least 20 minutes you should still be able to smell the bleach. If not, retreat and wait another 20 minutes before smelling and using the treated water.Keep in mind that household bleach may not be as effective under certain conditions such as water that is extremely hot, cold, alkaline or full of organic matter. Chlorine is effective against most pathogens but has a very short purification time span. In hot water, bleach as a disinfectant is only effective for a maximum of 20 minutes. In room temperature water, such as water stored in containers in a house or basement, water should remain pure for at least 6 months if the storage container is not opened during the six months.CAUTION: NEVER store water in bleach bottles. Although the water is safe in a bleach bottle, the potential problem is too great to ignore. When small children see you put water into a bleach bottle and/or pour water out of the bleach bottle to drink, they naturally associate the bleach bottle label as meaning it is okay to drink. If they were to ever pick up and drink bleach instead of water, the results are most likely an agonizing death – physically for the child and emotionally for the parents. (This warning is repeated in the Container section below.)
- Iodine Method – Iodine can be used to treat small quantities of water. Be sure to stir thoroughly when mixing iodine into the water resource. The presence of the iodine taste or smell is a sign of safety. If you cannot detect either the taste or smell after water is treated, don’t use it. The iodine may have become weakened by time, heat, or contamination. Iodine can come in a liquid form or tablets. Use 12 drops of 2% iodine per gallon for clear water and 24 drops for cloudy water (pay attention to the iodine percentage).For example, Potable Aqua tablets contains 20 milligrams of Tetraglycine Hydroperiodide (TGHP), which liberates 8 milligrams (ppm) of titratable iodine. Dissolving Potable Aqua tablets in water releases iodine. At the concentration released by Potable Aqua tablets, iodine will kill the following organisms: Escherichia coli, Vibrio Cholerae, Salmonella, Shigella, Streptococcus Faecalis, Entamoeba Histolytica, Giardia, Infectious Hepatitis. Potable Aqua is not effective against Cryptosporidium and generally leaves a very unpleasant taste in the water. This is not the type of iodine to be considered as a preventative for radiation contamination.
- Stabilized Oxygen – is oxygen in molecular form. Even though these products do not obtain EPA approval ratings, researchers have not found any anaerobic infectious disease bacteria that Stabilized Oxygen does not kill. ION and other brands have been and are being used by thousands of people with complete success. It usually comes in a liquid form. For water storage, follow the manufacturers’ directions. There is no after taste. The shelf life is from 5 to 10 years.
- Filtration – There are multiple types of filtration systems. Filter media include ceramic, glass fiber, structured matrix, iodinated resin or carbon, etc. The smaller the pore sizes the smaller the organisms the filter can trap. For the most complete filtration, look for filters that include removal of up to 99.99% of viruses, contaminants and pollutants found in water.Filters come in a variety of pump, gravity, suction and siphon styles. No one style does a better job than another. Each, however, serves best in certain circumstances.
- Pumps can provide large amounts in a short time. Gravity filtration allows for very large quantities in a hands-free environment but takes a long time.
- Suction filters, such as in bottles and straw types are very fast and convenient.
- Bottles can share filtered water by squeezing water into multiple containers for multiple people to use.
- Whereas straws are usually only good for a single person and for smaller amounts of about 20 to 25 gallons per straw. Even so, this equates to 40 or 50 days of safe drinking water. Because straws only work when someone is sucking on one end, they do not provide water for cooking and other uses.
- Siphon styles are similar to gravity filters in that they just sit in a container of water. Once started they cause water to move from a higher container to a lower container as the water is siphoned through the filter and hose. Both gravity and siphon filters usually treat larger quantities than other methods. They are both just very slow.
Semi-effective gravity type filters can often be constructed from materials at hand. They usually can be made effective enough to filter out Giardia and Cryptosporidium but sand, charcoal and other common components will not destroy viruses. This is another whole level of filtration that goes beyond the scope of this paper.
- Ultraviolet or UV – is not believed by everyone to be an effective method of purification. There are plenty of studies proving its effectiveness. Both electric UV light devices and natural sunlight can perform the job of destroying all harmful organisms.
Portable electric UV Light devices are usually expensive battery operated and generally require only a minute or so of light exposure for all living organisms in the water to be destroyed. When you are out of battery power, you are out of luck using the electric device.
A second method of UV light purification is the sun, better known as SODIS (Solar Disinfection). By using a clear plastic bottle no larger than 2 liters filled with water, laid on its side on highly reflective material that is curved about halfway around the bottom of the bottle and exposed to full sunlight for at least six hours, the ultraviolet rays of the sun perform the same function as the electric device, only slower. Containers larger than two liters create a distance barrier for the UV rays to reach all the way through. While gallon jugs are wonderful storage medium, they do not work for SODIS use.
Water tested before and after using this method has proven to result in the total destruction of all pathogens. The clearer the water is when put into the bottle, the more effective the UV light method is. This means you should pre-filter almost all water before starting the UV light treatment so that the debris in the water does not create shadows and therefore prevent light from reaching and disinfecting ALL of the water. Again, in less than nearly full sun, the process requires two days instead of just six hours.
In this and all descriptions above, the word “destroyed” means “killed” or rendered no longer viable or harmful to humans or animals. At the same time, the word destroyed never includes any form of filtration. So, while the water may be safe to drink because all existing pathogens are no longer harmful, they are still in the water. Some of them may be visible and some may not. For this reason many people prefer to both filter and destroy harmful pathogens. So, for emotional and safety reasons, filter first and then treat if both are required.
As you research to find what is best for your most likely situations, remember the possible mental state you and your family members might be in during emergency situations. What can you do to mitigate the mental perceptions of each person in your family or group? Visual purity may be too important to some to ignore – at least during the first day or two.
1. Appropriate plastic containers generally range in size from one and two liter bottles to one gallon and five gallon jugs to the 15, 30, 55, 125 and 250 gallon sizes. Larger sizes are sometimes appropriate but special considerations need to be met. Make sure all containers are “food grade” plastic, so that a plastic taste is not leached out into the water. Most of these containers can withstand fluctuation in temperatures so they can be stored in a garage, basement or shed as long as any valves or faucets are not left installed. Freezing water will usually break the protruding valves/faucets.
Avoid putting containers directly on cement due to possible leaching of acid from the cement into the water through the plastic. Leave sufficient head space in the container to allow for freezing. This will prevent cracking.
2. Small containers (when cleaned thoroughly) such as originally used water, juice and soda pop bottles are useful because they are so portable; always check for PET or PETE designations on these containers. You may sometimes see the warning “Do not refill” on these bottles. It is not that it is unsafe to use again, it is that these containers are made to decompose over time, unlike most plastics we are familiar with. They are perfectly safe to use to store water if properly cleaned and sanitized. Just remember to check them every six months to ensure they are not leaking or getting so thin in spots that they may soon begin leaking.
NEVER reuse milk product bottles because it is impossible to ever wash/rinse out all of the enzymes in milk and these will cause the water (or food) to go bad very quickly. Plastic milk jugs are also biodegradable so they start deteriorating within one year – obviously not good when the water starts to leak out. Make sure water storage is out of direct sunlight. Avoid placing water containers in areas where toxic substances such as gasoline, paint products and pesticides are present. Vapors may penetrate even food grade plastic over time.
3. Flexible or collapsible containers may also meet your needs. Most of these are intended more for water carrying, such as when camping. There are, however, water storage systems that use collapsible bladders that are inserted in either cardboard or metal frames and range from five gallon to 250 gallons or more. The outside frames allow them to be stacked and can be easy to find places for.
4. One other form of container is becoming more popular of late. Water cubes, water blocks and several other names refer to extra heavily constructed plastic containers that are made for freestanding and stacking situations. Their dimensions are often thinner than other types of containers and might even fit behind cabinet drawers. If you’ve never noticed, remove one drawer completely and, using a flashlight, check to see how much vacant room is left behind each drawer; you may be surprised. On a side note: this can also be a great place to store certain foods that come in small boxes like cereal, rice-a-roni, baking soda, etc. Think of your own products that might fit.
CAUTION: NEVER store water in bleach bottles. Although the water is safe in a bleach bottle, the potential problem is too great to ignore. When small children see you put water into a bleach bottle and/or pour water out of the bleach bottle to drink, they naturally associate the bleach bottle label as meaning it is okay to drink. If they were to ever pick up and drink bleach instead of water, the results are most likely an agonizing death – physically for the child and emotionally for the parents. (This warning is repeated in the Purification section above.)
Rain Catchment Systems
Another important consideration is the capture of water – most often meaning rain water. Most methods of gathering and capturing water still allow for filtering and purification of the water. Generally water captured from exposed areas is not clean enough to drink untreated/filtered, it simply provides a much greater amount of water to work with. In a general sense, most rain catchment systems divert the water running off of the roof into rain gutters which then empty into various water containers such as barrels, ponds, and so on.
There are many ways to capture water and learning about as many as possible is a good idea. Start small if you have to and expand according to your living quarters and your finances. Water remains one of the three most important items to store, along with warm and can’t-go-without medications.