FEMA’s Take on Emergency Water Storage

I was honored to be a guest expert on Debbye Cannon’s 20/20 Preparedness Show this morning.  Debbye was a delightful host and we discussed some great ideas about emergency lighting and other preparedness topics. You can listen to the interview on her site by clicking here.

In the course of our conversation water storage was established as high on the priority list. Debbye mentioned that a local preparedness expert commented that FEMA has come out and stated that we should not be storing water in used containers. Commercially bottled water or new containers designed specifically for water storage are the only safe methods. This peaked my curiosity. As you know, I’m all about safety, but I’m also about real people, living real lives, doing the best they can with the resources they have to prepare for emergencies.

I decided to go right to the source. FEMA and The American Red Cross have produced a pamphlet entitled Food and Water in an Emergency to help the general public understand how to store food and water for emergencies. It turns out that is not exactly what FEMA recommends. On pages 7-8 it states:

PREPARE AND STORE AN EMERGENCY SUPPLY OF WATER

To prepare the safest and most reliable emergency supply of water, it is recommended that you purchase commercially bottled water. Keep bottled water in its original container, and do not open it until you need to use it. Store bottled water in the original sealed container, and observe the expiration or “use by” date.

If You Are Preparing Your Own Containers of Water…

It is recommended to purchase food-grade water storage containers from surplus or camping supplies stores to use for water storage.

If you decide to re-use storage containers, choose two-liter plastic soft drink bottles – not plastic jugs or cardboard containers that have had milk or fruit juice in therm. The reason is that milk protein and fruit sugars cannot be adequately removed from these containers and provide an environment for bacterial growth when water is stored in them. Cardboard containers leak easily and are not designed for long-term storage of liquids. Also, do not use glass containers, because they are heavy and may break.

Preparing Containers

Thoroughly clean the bottles with dishwashing soap and water, and rinse completely so there is no residual soap.

Additionally, for plastic soft drink bottles, sanitize the bottles by adding a solution of 1 teaspoon of non-scented liquid household chlorine bleach to a quart (1/4 gallon) of water. Swish the sanitizing solution in the bottle so that it touches all surfaces. After sanitizing the bottle, thoroughly rinse out the sanitizing solution with clean water.

Filling Water Containers

Fill the bottle to the top with regular tap water. (If your water utility company treats your tap water with chlorine, you do not need to add anything else to the water to keep it clean.) If the water you are using comes from a well or water source that is not treated with chlorine, add two drops of non-scented liquid household chlorine bleach to each gallon of water.

Tightly close the container using the original cap. Be careful not to contaminate the cap by touching the inside of it with your fingers. Write the date on the outside of the container so that you know when you filled it. Store in a cool, dark place. Replace the water every six months if not using commercially bottled water.

That is FEMA’s official stand. Now it’s time for my personal opinion on water storage.

Commercial Water Bottles Copyright Your Family Ark LLCIn a perfect world with unlimited resources, commercially bottled water and new water barrels are the answer. Water would also be rotated regularly. But I live in a world where “good enough is perfect.”

It is unrealistic, and unnecessary, for most of us to store our emergency water storage in commercially packaged water bottles. This produces a lot of waste and they must be rotated through. Water bottles are intended to be disposable and will break down rather quickly. Most “use-by” dates are only 12-24 months out. That being said I always have a few cases on hand for convenience, but they are a very small part of our water storage plan.

PETE Bottle Water Storage Copyright Your Family Ark LLCCleaned PETE bottles (soda or juice bottles) are made of safe, durable plastic and are a great way to store water for free. I have stored water using these bottles for many years without incident.

Glass canning jars contribute to our water storage. All jars are washed and sterilized, then returned to the shelf full of water. Yes they are heavy, but so is water. Yes they can break, but they will break whether they are full or empty. Storing the jars full means they are ready to be used and contribute to our emergency water storage without requiring additional space.

Basement Water Barrel Storage Copyright Your Family Ark LLCIf money was no object, all of our water barrels would be new. We do have a few that we purchased brand new, but most of ours are used. We are careful that they are food grade and the previous contents were safe to consume. Some of our barrels still have a faint lemon-lime or Coke odor. Each time we rotate the water it becomes a little less noticeable. However, the water is still safe to drink.

We could not afford to invest hundreds of dollars in new water containers, but we have enough water to see our family through a crisis. The stored water is safer than anything we might be able to obtain from local sources during an emergency. Run the water through a filter before drinking it if you are concerned about taste or safety.

Water storage is a critical part of your family emergency plan. You can survive less than 3 days without water. Drinking contaminated water can result in serious illness and death. We encourage you to store as much water as your situation allows. You may be very grateful you did.