Water is a Top Preparedness Priority
In normal activity (times of low stress) the average person needs about a gallon of water a day. There will be times in an emergency situation when you must rely on sources other than pristine bottles of spring water or the storage cistern you have built in your backyard. Although these products come highly recommend, I’m not going to focus on the Big Berkey, or the Lifestraw, or the myriad of other devices available commercially. I’m going to stick to some basics that you can use anytime, anywhere.
The Most Simple and Least Expensive Ways to Purify Water
First off, let’s talk about boiling water. It may seem that the basics of boiling water has been covered, but it cannot be overemphasized. When you come upon that “virgin stream” out in the woods, understand: that virginity may not exist. A host of different pathogens come into play from many different sources. Some of these are as simplistic as animals urinating in the water upstream of your collection point. Also, many streams pick up sedentary water from pools or inlets that have algae and bacteria growing in them; this water is then transported to your location.
Bring your drinking water to a rolling boil for 15 to 20 minutes before consumption. At altitudes above one mile or 2,000 meters, you should increase the rolling time to three minutes. I have advocated in the past the 1-quart Army green plastic canteen system, simply because the canteen is extremely durable, and its pouch houses a steel canteen cup. This canteen cup is a lifesaver, simply because you can accomplish your boiling of water in it and transfer it to the canteen when finished. Augment the canteen system with alcohol prep pads to swab and cleanse the mouth and cap of the canteen.
Another point is turbidity of the water, and this is defined as what makes the water cloudier or darker and prevents light from penetrating through the water completely. It also holds the factor of particulate matter, that is small particles of dirt, debris, or sediment that can make your drinking experience very uncomfortable. A method to decrease turbidity is filtration, accomplished by cloths or handkerchiefs. I prefer the latter because you can clean them and see how clean they actually are by the whiteness of the cloth.
Boiling is the way to go, and you can use it in combination with chemical disinfection. Chlorine bleach (minus additives) can go a long way. 16 drops of chlorine bleach per gallon, and (therefore) 4 drops per quart of water. This is one of the reasons the Army canteen is useful, as you have a full quart, and it is easy to disinfect according to this ratio. The water purification tablets that are issued by the service are useful, even though the water doesn’t taste great. For any of these (including commercial tablets…follow the manufacturer’s instructions), allow the cap on your canteen/quart drinking bottle to remain loose. Sometimes detritus rises to the surface. Just slough this off, and let it sit for 15 to 20 minutes. THIS IS NOT A SUBSTITUTE FOR BOILING!
The reason for this is that many water-borne diseases like giardia and cryptosporidium tend to encyst and can survive a chemical disinfection, especially with chlorine. Most of your one-celled creepy-crawlies will bite the big one with it, but boiling is the only surefire method when you don’t have an advanced water filtration system available. Calcium hypochlorite (HTH, also known as “pool shock”) is another method to use. The concentrations are different per the manufacturer, but you can reconstitute it and make a slurry with a one-liter bottle and a teaspoon of the HTH. Then you follow the ratio for chlorine drops as provided above, keeping aware that it will deteriorate over time.
The HTH is useful because it is dry, and you can reconstitute it when you wish. Be advised that it is hygroscopic, which means that it readily absorbs water unless it is sealed off properly. Also, it can “off-gas” chlorine vapors, and chlorine gas is deadly when it proliferates in a closed space. Be advised that you should seal up your supply of HTH in good, sealable buckets or containers that are airtight. This will prevent off-gassing from occurring outward, as well as preventing any moisture from coming in and ruining your supply.
So boiling is the preferred method. Another thing worth mentioning are your meds to counteract any illness you may receive from improperly or ineffectively treated water. Metronidazole (Flagyl), usually available in 500 mg capsules is the medication of choice to fight Giardia (Giardia lamblia). Be advised: you cannot take it with any kind of alcohol…to include cough syrups, as well as beverages. You’ll be very violently ill. You can pack in some HTH with you, or some bleach in a sturdy brown bottle with dropper. The smaller the bottle the more manageable it is. See your doctor for a prescription and consult with him prior to taking any actions regarding such meds.
In our next installment of this series we will examine water sources for you, and some unconventional areas to procure water that you may not know about. Please make sure you boil it all. It’s better to accomplish the boil and wait for it to cool down than to take the chance with illness. Water is very important, but just as important as quenching your thirst is to do it with water that you know to be safe and potable. Keep fighting the good fight!