Thursday, November 4, 2010

Emergency Water Sources and Water Storage

Water. Besides clean air, it’s the most important thing that you need to live. 4 minutes without air. 4 days without water. 4 weeks without food. That’s how long you can survive without these basic necessities. Because water is so important for survival, it is worth taking some time to evaluate your emergency water storage and usage plans.

First, take into account how much water storage capacity you currently have on hand. Include your bathtubs, sinks, hot water heaters, laundry machine, even the tank above your commode can serve as an emergency water supply. Add in any improvised water storage containers that are able to contain safe drinking water. When an emergency is imminent, you will often have a few minutes to fill up improvised water storage units such as the bathtubs, sinks, and clothes washing machine. To improve water cleanliness, bladders such as the Water Bob can be placed in your bathtub. Large water bladders such as this provide an air-free sealed container that keeps out dust and other particulates that can cause the water to turn sour over time. Smaller containers like this 5 gallon water bladder are more convenient than a large barrel or water bladder and have a carry handle that makes them easy to transport. Pre-fill these water bladders and store them in your freezer so that the next time a disaster strikes you will have plenty of water. The frozen jug can be used to keep food cold, and as it melts you will have fresh cold drinking water when you need it.

If an emergency is imminent, it is usually prudent to turn off the water supply to your house (unless supplied by a well). Public water supplies can be contaminated by either flooding or prolonged power outage. If this happens, your water supply could also become quickly contaminated. After shutting off the water you can recover the water held in your plumbing lines by opening the faucet with the highest elevation (usually a shower on the second floor) and then collecting the water by turning on the spigot or faucet at the lowest elevation and collecting that water in a clean storage container. Make sure you have sufficient containers, as the average household plumbing can contain as much as 10 gallons of water, possibly more in larger homes. In some cases water heaters located in an attic or second floor may also back-flow (siphon) into the plumbing and be able to be collected at the lowest spigot. If this is a possibility disconnect the hot water supply valve or turn off your water heater and let it cool (about 4 hours) before draining it into your water storage containers prior to draining the household plumbing lines.

Even if your house is served by a well instead, it’s still a good idea to fill up bathtubs and other water containers since the electricity that powers your well pump may not be available when an emergency strikes. An alternative is to have a generator or other power backup that you can use to power your well.

In some cases, with water taken from a container whose cleanliness is questionable or scavenged from a foreign source for example, you will need to treat the water to kill off any microorganisms that may be there. A personal water purification bottle such as the Katadyn MyBottle can be used to purify water consumed on an individual bases. Each filter will last for approximately 30 days of continual use for a person consuming an average of 3 quarts of water a day. Alternatively, water purification tablets can be used, but it should be noted that while these tablets do kill microorganisms they do not eliminate harmful chemicals. Water should never be consumed from a container that once held any sort of chemical, petroleum product, or cleaning supply.

Most people don’t realize how much water storage they actually have on hand. Even the most spartan economy apartment has 10 gallons or more of water storage just in the plumbing fixtures such as sinks and toilets. Add in a little bit of planning by keeping some additional water storage systems on hand in case of emergency and you should be able to store plenty of water to weather the storm.

For more information on emergency water filters, see our article on Water Purification