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Are You Ready Series: Emergency Water Supply

We use water for everything from food preparation to cleaning the dishes, cleaning our bodies, brushing our teeth and for drinking. When our water supply is interrupted, we must rely on the supplies we have for survival.

We use water for everything  from food preparation to cleaning the dishes, cleaning our bodies, brushing our teeth and for drinking.

In the event of a natural emergency the municipal water supply or your well could be damaged and you could be without water for days or even weeks. Water is one of the first items to disappear off the store shelves when a disaster threatens.  Usually, before, during and after a disaster, stores will not be able to keep water stocked due to the high demand.  Without water to drink, dehydration sets in, the body starts shutting down and then … well it isn’t good.

A human can die in a few days without any water. Having an immediate water supply and filtration systems or a means to purify water for drinking is a top priority when it comes to storing supplies in the event of an emergency.

Many preppers have other types of drinks stored such as juice and sodas. Although these are nice to have, have an ample supply of potable water. Drinking water is the best way to keep the body hydrated. Caffeinated beverages such as coffees and teas only make the body want for more water and carbonated beverages also dehydrate the body.

Potable water is water safe for human consumption.  It is free of disease causing microorganisms, poisonous substances, minerals, organic matter, chemical, biological and radioactive substances.

How Much Water Do I Need?

Disaster officials suggest having a 2 week water supply per household. Ensure you have have 1 gallon of water per person per day. If there are children, nursing mothers, elderly people or pets in your care, more water should be appropriately accounted for.  Very hot temperatures can double the amount of water needed, so take this into account as well.  If medical emergencies arise, additional water would be needed. Some preppers like to play it safe and store 2 gallons per person/per day to ensure they have enough for their family and to be used for other purposes. 

Emergency Tip: Using disposable cups, plates and utensils will cut down on using water for cleaning.

Safely Storing Emergency Water

Keep your emergency water supply safe.  When storing water follow these tips:

  • Keep emergency water in a cool, dark place in your home, each vehicle, and your workplace.
  • Like your food storage, rotate your water supply to ensure freshness.
  • Although bottled water can be stored indefinitely (even after the “best buy” stamp), according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the bottled water’s appearance, smell or taste may change somewhat, but the water will still be safe to consume.
  • It’s possible to keep water in food-grade containers intended for water storage. Containers must be thoroughly washed, sanitized, and rinsed.  Only store clean, ready-to-drink water. Tap water will probably need to be purified. Ask public health authorities or your water provider whether tap water should be used and how to treat it.  Do not use milk or juice containers for storing water.  Even if you try to thoroughly clean these plastic containers, left over sugars and proteins provide perfect places for bacteria to grow.
  • Plastic soft drink containers can be used in a pinch. Clean and sanitize containers before they are used.
  • FEMA advises when storing water in bottles to fill the sanitized bottle to the top with regular tap water. If the tap water hasa been commercially treated with chlorine, you do not need to any further treatment. If the water comes from a well or other water source that is not treated with chlorine, treat water accordingly purification methods.
  • Only store clean, ready-to-drink water.

Water Storage Tips:

  • Water can be stored in any food grade container provided that it has been properly cleaned and sanitized. Milk jugs are the only exception. The leftover sugars and proteins from the milk are very difficult to remove thus creating a breeding ground for bacteria to grow.
  • Save your plastic bottles now and freeze the water. If a disaster strikes and knocks out electricity, the frozen bottles can be moved to the refrigeration to keep perishable food items cold. Once thawed, you have drinking water.
  • Water bricks and the Water Bob are also effiicient ways to store water for emergency use.

Protect Your Water Sources

If there are reports of broken water or sewage lines or if local authorities advise you there is a problem, steps should be taken to protect your water sources.

To close the incoming water source, locate the incoming valve and turn it to the closed position. Be sure you and other family members know how to perform this important procedure.

How Do I Find More Water?

When water runs out, the race is on to find available and safe drinking water.  There are places around the house where safe drinking water can be found.

Safe Sources

  • Melted ice cubes
  • Water drained from the water heater (if the water heater has not been damaged)
  • Liquids from canned goods such as fruit or vegetable juices
  • Water drained from pipes
  • To use the water in your pipes, let air into the plumbing by turning on the faucet in your home at the highest level. A small amount of water will trickle out. Then obtain water from the lowest faucet in the home.
  • To use the water in your hot-water tank, be sure the electricity or gas is off, and open the drain at the bottom of the tank. Start the water flowing by turning off the water intake valve at the tank and turning on the hot water faucet. Refill the tank before turning the gas or electricity back on. If the gas is turned off, a professional will be needed to turn it back on.
Tip: If you remove water from the hot-water tank, play it safe and treat the water.

Unsafe Sources

  • Radiators
  • Hot water boilers (home heating system)
  • Water beds (fungicides added to the water or chemicals in the vinyl may make water unsafe to use)
  • Water from the toilet bowl or flush tank
  • Swimming pools and spas (chemicals used to kill germs are too concentrated for safe drinking but can be used for personal hygiene, cleaning, and related uses)
Source – www.fema.gov

Rain, clean snow, lakes, ponds and other natural water sources are another type of water source to find drinking water.  However, the water must be treated in order to drink.  The U.S. EPA states that 90% of the world’s natural water supply is contaminated.  Drink water that you know is not contaminated.  If any water looks suspicious, put it aside and drink the good water first.  If the suspicious looking water is going to be used, it should be treated.

When to Treat Water

Water is only as safe as it’s source.  When their is any doubt about the quality of water to drink, treat it.  It is better to be safe than to have the possiblity of ingesting unsafe drinking water.  Treating the water will eliminate any microorganisms and the possibiliy of contaminants in the water.  Microorganisms such as protozoas, bacteria and viruses can make a person very ill.  Some cases of water contamination have even caused death.  If someone suspects they have ingested contaminated drinking water, some of the symptoms include:

  • Severe Gas
  • Diarreah
  • Vommiting
  • Severe Abdominal Cramps
  • Headache
  • Weakness Due to The Above Symptoms

Epidemics such as Cholera and Typhoid have begun as a result of contaminated drinking water.  Making sure the water is safe is not only safe for the person consuming it, but also for the people in your local area.

There are three types of treatments for water:


Boiling is the easist and safest method of treating water. Boil the water to a rolling boil for 1 full minute, keeping in mind that some water will evaporate. Let the water cool before drinking.   Boiled water will taste better if you put oxygen back into it by pouring the water back and forth between two clean containers. This also will improve the taste of stored water.


Distillation involves boiling water and then collecting only the vapor that condenses. The condensed vapor will not include salt or most other impurities. To distill, fill a pot halfway with water. Tie a cup to the handle on the pot’s lid so that the cup will hang right-side-up when the lid is upside-down (make sure the cup is not dangling into the water) and boil the water for 20 minutes. The water that drips from the lid into the cup is distilled.

Here are a few youtube videos that would be helpful in creating a distiller for water:

Homemade Water Distiller

Solar Powered Water Distiller

Chemical Treatment

If boiling water is not a possibility, then chemical disinfection is advised for water purity.

Using Bleach

  • Filter the water using a piece of cloth or coffee filter to remove solid particles.
  • Bring it to a rolling boil for about one full minute.
  • Let it cool at least 30 minutes. Water must be cool or the chlorine treatment described below will be useless.
  • Add 16 drops of liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of water, or 8 drops per 2-liter bottle of water. Stir to mix. Sodium hypochlorite of the concentration of 5.25% to 6% should be the only active ingredient in the bleach. There should not be any added soap or fragrances. A major bleach manufacturer has also added Sodium Hydroxide as an active ingredient, which they state does not pose a health risk for water treatment.  Make sure the bleach is fragrance free before it is used.
  • Let stand 30 minutes.
  • If it smells of chlorine. You can use it. If it does not smell of chlorine, add 16 more drops of chlorine bleach per gallon of water (or 8 drops per 2-liter bottle of water), let stand 30 minutes, and smell it again. If it smells of chlorine, you can use it. If it does not smell of chlorine, discard it and find another source of water.

Iodine tablets

Iodine must be stored in a dark container so that sunlight does not ruin the tablets.  Iodine has been shown to be more effective than chlorine treatments and inactivate Giardia.  Follow the recommended instructions suggested by the manufacturer.  Beware, some people are allergic to iodine and would not be able to use this form of water purification. Persons with thyroid problems or on lithum, women over fifty, and pregnant women should consult their physician prior to using iodine for purification. Also, some people who are allergic to shellfish are also allergic to iodine. If someone cannot use iodine, use another method.  Camping Trick: If a person adds a Vitamin C tablet to the water, the choline taste vanishes.  Make sure the purification treatment has finished before adding the Vitamin C.

Chlorine tablets

Chlorine can be used for persons with iodine allergies or restrictions.  Follow the instructions recommended by the manufacturer.  Chlorine can be used for persons with iodine allergies or restrictions.  Camping Trick: If a person adds a Vitamin C tablet to the water, the choline taste vanishes.  Make sure the purification treatment has finished before adding the Vitamin C.

Micropur tablets

They are the only disinfection system effective against viruses, bacteria, cryptosporidium, and Giardia.  Follow the instuctions recommended by the manufacturer.  These tablets have no residual chemical taste. 1 tablet is used to purify 1 quart of water.

Wells and Aquifers

If there is time before the emergency disaster, attempt to plug or cap the well to reduce the potential for damage and contamination.

Water Wells – What To Do Before A Flood

After the disaster, go to the well or aquifer and check for thepossiblity of contamination and investigate the area to access the situation.  Check the following:

  • Surface water running into or collecting near the Well.
  • A defective or improperly installed Well Casing, cover or pipe connection which would allow surface water, animals, insects or plant material to enter the Well.  (Well casing not sealed).
  • Nearby septic systems or manure piles, which as within 30M (100 ft) of the well.
  • Openings in the well seal.
  • Well casing not being deep enough.
  • If any of these has occurred, treat any water that comes from the well.
  • A source of contamination not related to the Well Construction.
Source – www.cdc.gov

Water Pumps and Filters

Anytime that water for the home has been interrupted, it is a good idea to use a good water pump to prevent from ingesting harmful parasites.  If you are out in nature and need to purify water, try and find a running water source as opposed to a standing water source.  Using a water purification tablets in conjunction with a water pump is a good way of making sure that water is potable and ready to drink.  Water pumps have been known to not remove viruses and at times giardia cysts, therefore  if at all possible, treat the water if there is any doubt.

Water pumps come in all shapes and sizes.  The better the water pump, the better the water is not always the case.  Here are some things to look for when purchasing a water filtration system.

  • Find a filtration system that captures bacterias and have effective filters to capture cryptosporidium and giardia.
  • Output or how long it takes to produce an amount of water and how how much physical effort is involved from pumping.
  • Try and find a filter that can attach directly to your bottle.

Read about reviews of the different types of water filters to find the best one that fits your needs.

When preparing for longer term storage, consider starting a home water conservation system. Use water barrels to collect rain water.  This is a very effective method of collecting large amounts of water.  Rain collection barrels come in a variety of sizes.  Treating the water can preserve it for up to five years.  The water barrels can be placed strategically around the home to collect water cascading from the rooftops.  This method provides water in a nearby location for the family to use at their disposal.

Water is essential to maintaining health and body regulation.  If these water suggestions are used appropriately, you and your family will have “some quality H2O.”


Related Articles

Military Water Supply – E book

Disinfecting Water After a Disaster – E book

This article was originally published at Ready Nutrition™ on November 16th, 2009