Article By: MooMamma
A well-known stanza from the poem, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, by Samuel Taylor Coleridge reads:
Water, water, everywhere,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, everywhere,
Nor any drop to drink.
Every time I read an article or blog post about safe water storage, filtration, and purification I think of that verse.
What would it be like to be in an emergency situation and have water all around you, but have none of it safe to consume?
That is why it’s recommended that all families have enough stored water to last a minimum of three days. The three day mark is part of what’s considered a 72-hour kit.
Personally, after seeing the rapid response from federal assistance groups during the Katrina hurricane disaster our family has made preparations to have safe water for a period much longer than three days.
How much water should you store?
The rule of thumb is to store one gallon of water per person per day. So for our family of five we would want to have on hand at least five gallons per day.
How do you store water? Some people buy bottled water and store it. Others buy water packaged in small mylar bags, like these. Another option is to store used plastic juice bottles and store your water in those. We managed to purchase some large 55 gallon drums that had previously stored hog casings. A local sausage factory sells the containers after cleaning them out thoroughly. They’re made of heavy food-grade plastic and are very durable. (as a side note we also used these drums to make rain barrels) Plastic milk jugs and similar water containers are not ideal for long-term storage of water because the plastic breaks down rather quickly and leaks are common.
In addition to storing water, though, you also want to have methods on hand for purifying water. In emergency preparedness there is a rule that goes something like this: 2 is one and 1 is none. You always want a back-up. Back-up in your stored items, your tools, and your plans ensures that when you need it, you’ll have at least one.
So what are some methods of water purification?
The basic chemical method is to add chlorine bleach to the water, so many families store chlorine bleach in addition to storing water. It should go without saying that you want PURE chlorine bleach in about a 5.25% solution. You don’t want any added fabric softeners, scents, etc. in the bleach. To purify a gallon jug of water you’d add about 16 drops of chlorine bleach (or 1/8 tsp.) to disinfect the water. After you add the bleach there should be a slight chlorine smell. If the water doesn’t smell of chlorine, add another dose of bleach. If it still doesn’t have the light chlorine odor, then discard the water as either your bleach has degraded or the water is too contaminated to adequately purify with chlorine. That’s right – ordinary laundry bleach degrades at a rate of about 20% each year until totally degraded to salt and water. If you have bleach that’s been stored for over five years, you don’t have bleach – you have a salt and water solution.
Another option for water purification is to use calcium hypochlorite. Calcium hypochlorite is available as swimming pool chlorine tablets or a white powder known as “pool shock.” Dry calcium hypochlorite is very shelf stable and easy to store. To use it you’ll first make a chlorine solution by dissolving one heaping teaspoonful of calcium hypochlorite in two gallons of water. Do NOT drink this! This is your chlorine solution, not your purified water. Then add one part of the chlorine solution to 100 parts of water. Let that purified water sit for at least 30 minutes before drinking.
Iodine is also an approved chemical method of water purification. The sort of iodine solution you keep in your medicine cabinet is the type we’re talking about here – a 2% tincture of iodine. Just add 5 drops per quart if the water is clear and 10 drops per quart if the water is cloudy. There are some draw-backs to this method, though. It works best when the water is warm – 68 degrees F or warmer. Also, many people should not use water purified with iodine – pregnant women, people with thyroid problems, people taking lithium, women over 50, and people with shellfish allergies are advised to consult their physician before using iodine treated water. Iodine is also the purification ingredient in most backpacking tablet purification kits, so check your kit if you have one packed in your bug out bag and you fit one of the above-mentioned groups.
What about filtering water?
In addition to the chemical purification methods, filtration is a method to purify water. There are many commercially produced filtration systems out there. Some of the highly recommended systems include the Katadyn systems and the Berkey water filtration systems. We keep a Big Berkey in our kitchen to filter our daily water. It’s economical and the water tastes great! We also pack Katadyn water filtration systems for when we go camping. For emergency preparation you’ll want to store additional filters for these systems if you plan to use then in long-term situations.
There are also simpler methods of filtration that don’t involve commercial systems. For some situations just straining water through a piece of cloth like a bandana and then boiling the water for five minutes would work fine. Some caution must be exercised when using this method, though, as boiling water will actually concentrate some contaminants such as lead, mercury, asbestos,pesticides, solvents, and nitrates in the water since the purer water evaporates off in the boiling process.
More complex water filtration systems can be built if you’re anticipating a very long-term situation without purified water. Some good sources to build these systems are books such as Simple Methods for the Treatment of Drinking Water; Surface Water Treatment by Roughing Filters – A Design, Construction and Operation Manual; and Slow Sand Filtration