Day 6 – National Preparedness Month Challenge – Water Storage
Water storage – not something we think about every day. When was the last time you actually thought about the amaount of water you use each day – or the amount of water that is wasted by your family each day? FEMA recommends we have on hand 1 gallon of water per person for 2 weeks, or 14 gallons per person, in case of emergency.
I filled some canning jars today with 1 gallon of water and I’ve been contemplating whether I could really live on that amount in an emergency. The
thought of limiting my water intake to those two jars gets me thinking about how I could ration that cleaning and bathing jar – and not be Smelly Shelle! Just the thought of having to ration by drinking water makes me REALLY thirsty…
The City of Portland recently issued a boil water alert for the west side of the city and I found it interesting that so many people posted to the site – and did not know what to do. They were confused about whether they were in the alert area and how they were supposed to make their water drinkable.
As I write this, the mid-section of the country is experiencing the worst drought in 50 years. Crops are ruined and animals are being sent to slaughter early, because there is a limited amount of feed. There are severe water restrictions in place for much of the Mid-West and meteorologists are not predicting it to get better this fall.
“Many who have been through severe water shortages have been concerned enough about the natural resource to conserve water even when it was plentiful. During our recent 3-month period of water rationing this summer, a friend encouraged us to put a 5-gallon bucket in each tub and to put it under the faucet while we waited for warm water. I was amazed to find that we wasted about 2 to 4 gallons, not counting the amount we used to get clean. This amount was more than enough to water the garden, flowers and shrubs in between our twice weekly watering turns” Rita Bingham, Passport to Survival, 1999, pg 70
Clearly there is a need for me to get my water storage in order. But there is more to water storage than you might think and just like those effected people in Portland many questions come to mind. How much do you really need for your family? What should you store it in? Where can you get water in an emergency? If you have to use water that might be unsafe – how is it purified?
How Much Drinking Water Does Your Family Need?
According to the U.S. Geological Survey’s typical water use chart, the greatest drinking water hogs in a 4-member private home include:
- The bath (a full tub equals 36 gallons per person)
- The dishwasher (a typical dish washing machine consumes between 6 and 16 gallons of water/ month)
- Dish washing by hand (with up to 27 gallons of water being wasted by just cleaning the dishes by hand every month)
- The washing machine (with between 25 to 40 gallons of water being consumed on keeping your clothes clean through a clothes washer, water use depends on how water efficient the washer is, with older models being the LEAST efficient)
- The toilet (between 1.6 and 4 gallons per flush)
In case of an emergency forget about taking a relaxing bath, cleaning the dishes (use disposable plates and cutlery instead), or flushing the toilet (here’s a PreparednessMama’s tutorial on building a twin-bucket emergency toilet for your family.)
In an emergency, the top priority is SURVIVAL… with as little as you can. So, how much drinking water a family of four needs to survive? Experts claim one gallon per person per day, with two quarts (or half gallon) being used for drinking only. That number may vary, though, depending on the level of activity, weather, environment, and other conditions such as sick people, nursing moms, or small children.
One gallon of water per day might not seem like much but it is the absolute minimum. The best route would be to keep track of your family’s daily liquid intake and tailor your water storage capacity based on that.
A great starting point would also be “The Prepper’s Water Survival Guide” by Daisy Luther, a hardcore prepper mom who’s been there, done that. (You can read my personal review of this stellar book here.)
Non-Conventional Drinking Water Emergency Sources in Your Home & Backyard
If you have run out of water and you’re really desperate, you can tap several water sources in your own home you probably didn’t even know about. Theses are safe water sources and the water is (mostly) safe to drink, but in some cases it might need a quick treatment.
- Toilet ‘flush’ tank: Yes, you can safely drink the water in your toilet’s tank, not the bowl (yuck). Depending on how old and well-maintained your flush tank is, the water might need to be boiled and/or chemically treated first. If the tank has some brownish stains on its walls, the water is still safe to drink. The coloration is a sign of iron and rust coming from the pipe system. The water should be ok to drink. Nevertheless, to err on the side of caution, always assume that the water in your flush tank is contaminated, so boil it and disinfect it first.
- Water heater tank. You water heater might hold from 20 to 60 gallons of fresh clean water (unless there was a flood in your home and the water stored in the heater has been compromised. To get the water out, make sure that you unplug your heater if it’s electric or turn the gas or oil burners off first. Get the water in a clean container, and if you believe that dirty water from a flood has contaminated the tank boil and disinfect the water in it as well. What’s more, if you area has been flooded, the first thing to do is to unplug the heater from the contaminated municipal water supply source first in order to keep flood water out from your heater.
- Melted ice and ice cubes from your trusty freezer. The melted ice in your freezer is safe to drink with some limitations. Depending on what you have stored in your freezer and on how clean your freezer is, the water might or might not need sterilization. Test this water’s purity before drinking it and to stay on the safe side, boil and disinfect it first.
- Rainwater. You can collect rainwater in a clean container or sterilized collection system. If you’re a die-hard prepper, you probably have in place a rainwater collection system through your house’s gutters. If you’re not, you can still improvise with a tarp, lots of pots (which is not the most efficient rainwater harvesting method), and even a trash can. But is rainwater safe to drink? It depends on your type of rainwater collection system, the levels of air pollution in your area, and more. To stay safe, boil and chlorinate it first. But to get rid of heavy metals in rainwater you will need to distil it instead.
- Water from the swimming pool. While the water in your swimming pool is not safe to drink due to the many chemicals you throw in it to keep it clear, you could use this water for your personal hygiene, for washing the dishes, flushing the toilet, and so on.
- Liquid from your homemade cans and jars. Your canned fruit, veggies, soup and whatnots contain plenty of water that is safe to drink in case of an emergency. Just steer clear of canned veggies in brine or vinegar solution, and you’ll be safe.
What water from your home and backyard is absolutely not safe to drink? Any type of water with an odor, dark color, or floating particles is not safe to drink. Salt water will lead to death from dehydration because your kidneys would need extra water to get rid of all of the salt in the salt water, and the extra water will be taken from your body’s already depleted stores. Saltwater should be distilled first to make it drinkable.
A very cost-effective way of distilling salt water (or any type of water you are not sure about its safety) is a solar still. There are countless of online tutorials on how to make one oneself, but its effectiveness largely depends on the materials used and quality of build. The best route is to ask a seasoned prepper that has built a highly efficient solar still and knows what he or she’s talking about. Trial and error is the other route.
Other types of water you should never drink even in case of an emergency is the condensate from your AC system or dehumidifier. That water is jam-packed with bacteria and other pathogens boiling may not get rid of. Also, you should not drink the water from the toilet bowl (for obvious reasons), swimming pool or spa (because of all the added chemicals), waterbeds (the added pesticides and fungicides make the water unsafe to drink) or contaminated private wells.
Few people know that the water in a flooded well is no longer safe to drink. You should test the purity of water after a major flood and sterilize the well if the water contains unsafe levels of contaminants. Search online for “well shock” and “well chlorination shocking” methods or ask a professional to do it.
Today’s Challenge: How much are you really drinking? Determine how much water storage you need for your family.
- Keep track of your daily liquid intake – write down how much you use every time you take a drink of: water, milk, juice, soda pop, sports drinks, coffee/tea and any other liquid.
- Keep track of how much water you use for bathing, clothes washing and cooking.
- Multiply by the number of people in your family.
- Is one gallon, per person /per day, enough for you?
- Download the Water Storage Handout and learn more about water storage containers, sources of water, purification options, and where to keep it all.
- Inventory your water storage and put away at least one day / per person in your home.
BETTER: Learn and practice three ways to purify water.
BEST: Learn a method for collecting rain water or how to set up a solar still. Ask a Boy or Girl Scout for help.
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