A sudden disruption of our safe, municipal drinking water supplies may be caused by numerous events. Water is a basic necessity for human survival. Have you considered where you may be able to obtain safe drinking water when disaster strikes?
Stored water is always going to be the safest source of water in an emergency. However, storing large amounts of water may be impractical for many people. Once your stored water runs out, where are you going to get more?
It is important to know where to find water and how to collect it when disaster strikes. Some of theses sources may surprise you. All of them have the potential to save your life.
Water Sources Inside Your Home
Commercially bottled water is a fantastic water source. It is clean, portable, and easy to store. We store our bottled water in a cool, basement storage room and it lasts for several years. Bottled water stored in a garage or hot car will need to be frequently rotated as heat accelerates the plastic leaching into the water, making it smell and taste bad.
If you are planning to store the bottles, be sure to purchase a higher quality bottled water in the thicker plastic. The thinner plastic water bottles are fine if you are rotating through your stock within a year.
Be sure to stock bottled water in your pantry for emergencies.
Ice is common in many freezers. It may be good source of water once melted.
When the power goes out, place the ice in a clean container to melt and salvage the precious water. You can put the container back in the freezer to help the other foods stay cold longer and still save the water.
Beverages such as fruit juices, pouch drinks, vegetable juices, sports drinks, milk boxes, and canned milk can provide part of your drinking water requirement.
Carbonated beverages do not meet drinking-water requirements. Caffeinated drinks and alcoholic beverages, including beer, dehydrate the body and increase the need for additional drinking water.
Canned fruits and vegetables, broths, and ready-to-serve soups can supplement other sources. Do not waste the drained liquid, it can be used both for drinking and in place of water in cooking. Canned fruit liquid can be used to make oatmeal or pancake batter. Try adding the vegetable liquid to condensed soups or use to boil noodles. Be creative and don’t waste a drop.
Water in Household Pipes
Water remaining in pipes may be collected by gravity flow even after the main supply to the house has been turned off in a multi-level home.
To collect the water in your pipes, introduce air into the plumbing by turning on the faucet in your home at the highest level. A small amount of water will trickle out. The clean drinking water is then collected from the lowest faucet in the house.
Toilet Flush Tank
Yuck! I am going to have to be pretty desperate to get over the psychological hurdle of drinking water from the flush tank on a toilet. The water in the flush tank may be “safe” to drink as long as it has not been treated with chemicals. There may be 3-5 gallons depending on the size of the tank. I would definitely purify this water before drinking or I would use the toilet tank water for hygiene purposes.
Do not use the water in the toilet bowl.
Hot Water Heater
Water heaters or hot-water tanks are a good source of water. Depending on its size, there may be 20-50 gallons of clean drinking water available for emergency use. You may want to prevent contamination of the water in your home by shutting off the main water valve as soon as an event occurs.
Water heaters are different so we recommend you become familiar with your own. Our water heaters are natural gas and may be designed a bit differently than yours. Be sure to practice so that you know how, and have the right tools to access your water when you need it.
Step-by-Step Instructions to Access Water from a Hot Water Tank in an Emergency
- Turn off the gas or electric supply to the tank. Natural gas is off when the handle is perpendicular to the pipe.
- Protect the water in the tank from outside contamination by turning off the water intake valve at the top of the tank.
- Open the temperature and pressure relief valve at the top or on the side of your tank. This will break suction and allow the water to flow.
- Use a screwdriver (or whatever tool is needed if there is not a handle) to turn on the drain valve faucet at the base of the tank. You can capture the water directly into a container or you may want to attach a hose.
Caution: Refill the tank with water before turning the gas or electricity back on!
Practice draining a few gallons of water from your hot water tank periodically. This is a good activity for each responsible member of the family. Our 12 year-old son is draining the water in the photo above. Now he has the knowledge and ability to capture water from the tank safely, even if we aren’t around.
Sediment builds up at the bottom of the tank and draining periodically will ensure that your water has less nasty particles in it when disaster strikes and it will make your water heater last longer. You do not need to shut off the power source or turn off the tank intake valve if you are only capturing a few gallons of water. Check your owner’s manual for detailed instructions.
Early Warning Preparation
Occasionally you may have advanced warning of trouble, such as in the event of a hurricane, tornado or flooding. Increase your fresh water supply by filling bathtubs, pitchers, pots, pans, containers, and buckets.
Then turn off the main water valve just prior to the storm or event. This will protect the clean water already in your water system. This may be a wise step even after an initial earthquake as the aftershocks may rupture already weakened water lines.
Water that you have correctly stored in your own home will almost always be your safest source of water in the event of a disaster where the municipal water supply is cut off. Visit our post How to Store Water for Emergency Preparedness to learn the best ways to store water in your own home.
Water Sources Around Your Home
Rainwater is usually clean as it falls from the sky. A makeshift rainwater catchment system can be easily created using existing rain gutters. A rain barrel may be a wise investment to simplify the process. We purchased a rain barrel at Sam’s Club and use it regularly to harvest water for watering the animals.
Gather the rainwater in clean containers. If the water comes in contact with the ground or any dirty surface, it should be considered contaminated. Visit our post Making Water Safe to Drink: 7 Disinfection Techniques to learn about disinfecting and purifying water for drinking.
Swimming Pool Water
Swimming pools and hot tubs are a good source for hygiene water. The chemicals or salts in the water can’t be boiled out. Do not drink pool water!
If the water from a swimming pool is your best option, it must be purified by removing the chemicals from the water. Distillation is your best option for making swimming pool water safe to drink.
The manufacturer of Black Berkey Filters claims that their filter will remove 99.9% of the chlorine in water. The following is a quote from the website:
“The Berkey water filter system can make chlorinated pool water safe for consumption. However, keep in mind that such a use will cause the elements to wear faster. So, you should only do so in the case of an emergency.”
AquaRain Customer Service replied:
“The AquaRain system is quite effective at removing chemical contaminants such as chlorine and it’s by products. The AquaRain does not remove any natural occurring minerals in your water, so it would not remove salt in the salt water pools some customers own. You really do not need additional instruction on using a pool as an emergency water source. Just get a collection vessel (5 gallon bucket works well) and pour directly into the AquaRain!”
Remember that not all filters will remove chemicals like chlorine and salt from the water. If you are counting on your swimming pool water as a backup source of drinking water, be sure that you purchase a water filter that is rated to remove chlorine and other chemicals. A high quality filter or distiller really is a wise investment.
Transpiration of Plants
You may be surprised to learn that you can extract water from plants by placing a plastic bag over the branch of a living bush or tree in a sunny spot. In as little as an hour, water will begin to condense on the sides of the bag. After, 4-5 hours of exposure you may be able to collect 1/3-1/2 cup of water.
Be careful which plants you extract water from as some may contain toxins. This is another great reason to keep plastic bags in your storage. Collection of water through plant transpiration is a slow process for a small amount of water harvested. However, this little tidbit of knowledge may just save you in an emergency someday.
Below Ground Solar Still
A below ground solar still is a modified version of the same concept shown above.We are using the sun to extract water from non-toxic plants. Dig a bowl-shaped hole in a sunny spot. Create a sump, a reservoir or receptacle for liquids, in the center of the hole that is large enough to hold the container you want to use to capture the water. Place clean, non-toxic, green plant material in the pit.
Cover the entire pit with a sheet of clear plastic and secure the edges to prevent the plastic from moving. Indent the center of the plastic by placing a rock or heavy object in the center just above the container in the bottom of the pit.
Condensation will soon begin to build up on the plastic. The shape of the still forces the condensation to collect in the container at the base of the pit.
Water Generating Units
If you have electricity, a water generating unit might be an option for you to consider. A water-harvester system is ideally suited for hot humid climates as they work by condensing the moisture in the air into drinking water.
Keep your eyes open as the technology for these units improve, making them readily available for home use.
Water Sources from Surrounding Areas
Always collect water from the cleanest sources available. Consider collecting and hauling water from municipal water sources in a neighboring city, if that is practical in your situation. Do you have a friend who has not been affected by the same incident who may be able to help supply you with clean water?
Private Well Water
Well water can be a source of good water in an emergency, unless it has been polluted. Purify the well-water before drinking if there is any concern that the water may have been contaminated.
A back-up generator and fuel can provide the power needed to access water from a private well. You may want to plan ahead with a non-electric pump to ensure that you can access the water if the electricity is out. An old-fashioned hand pump or a solar-powered well pump may be a valuable investment if you have access to a well.
Distribution of Fresh Water from Government or Humanitarian Agencies
In the aftermath of a disaster, water supplies may be sent from government or relief organizations to provide safe drinking water for those in need. This is a valuable resource which is desperately needed in many situations.
Standing in line to receive any type of assistance, especially water, can be extremely dangerous. People waiting for basic needs such as water are going to be thirsty, tired, cranky and desperate. Do the best that you can to be self-reliant so that you can avoid depending on this resource.
Local Bodies of Water
Spring water from an underground source is probably your safest source for drinking water. Flowing streams and rivers may be a good source of water. Be sure to consider what may be upstream from your collection location. Waste, fertilizers, pesticides and other pollutants often find their way into water systems.
Stagnant water in lakes or ponds may be contaminated with pollutants. Avoid water in marshes and swampy areas when possible. Flood waters are highly contaminated.
Consider any water that you are able to collect as contaminated and purify it. Visit our post Making Water Safe to Drink: 7 Disinfection Techniques to better understand the dangers that may be lurking in your water supply and for clear instructions on how to purify it and make water safe to drink.
There are times when you may not be able to locate the ideal fresh water source and you will need to be prepared to deal with what you have and make it safe to use.
Most of us have been spoiled with an abundant resource of clean, safe drinking water. It may be hard to imagine life without being able to turn on the kitchen faucet and watch clear water flow from the tap. Reality is that water could be gone in an instant, leaving you without a basic necessity to survive.
Stored water will always be your safest bet for drinking water in an emergency. If the crisis outlasts your water supplies, you may need to get creative and use some of the options and techniques we explored above. Carefully evaluate your potential resources and use them wisely.
Thanks for being part of the solution!