The importance of storing water cannot be understated. Water systems and wells may be compromised in a disaster. An earthquake may break water mains. Floods and tsunamis may cause water systems or wells to become contaminated with sewage or other contaminants. Almost any natural disaster could result in the loss of power to pumping stations needed in municipal water systems. It may be days or weeks before safe water may be available. Even a financial crises or disaster may lead to rolling blackouts with the concomitant interruption of water service. Thus, a disaster preparation plan should include water storage for at least three days and, if possible, for a couple weeks or more; and the means for purifying and/or filtering additional water.
There are many sources of information on locating, purifying, and storing water, including the web-sites for FEMA and the Red Cross. There are also several survival and disaster preparation books that discuss the subject. However, hands-down, the best and most complete information on the subject is probably Cody Lundin's book, When All Hell Breaks Loose. Lundin devotes 70 pages of his book just to this subject.
How Much Water Do You Need?
You should store at least one gallon of water per person per day. A normally active person needs at least one gallon of water daily just for drinking however individual needs vary, depending on age, physical condition, activity, diet and climate.
To determine your water needs, take the following into account:Besides the fact that the recommendation is self-contradictory (it first says you need a gallon a day for drinking, but only recommends you store a gallon per day for drinking and sanitation), Cody Lundin notes that this amount is woefully inadequate. He writes:
- One gallon of water per person per day, for drinking and sanitation.
- Children, nursing mothers and sick people may need more water.
- A medical emergency might require additional water.
- If you live in a warm weather climate more water may be necessary. In very hot temperatures, water needs can double.
- Keep at least a three-day supply of water per person.
A person at rest, doing nothing, loses from two to two and half quarts of water every day. If your home is located in a hot part of the country, be forewarned that you and your family will much more water than this. ... In extreme hot temperatures, it's possible to lose a gallon of water an hour in sweat.He notes that the average American uses 116 to 220 gallons of water per day (although, most of this is for watering lawns and flushing toilets), but that the average African family only uses five gallons per day (I presume that this is per person).
Lundin recommends storing a minimum of 1 gallon per person per day just for drinking, and at least three gallons per person per day in arid climates. I think the five gallons per person per day is probably a reasonable starting figure for drinking and sanitation needs.
The next question is for how many days you should plan for. I think 3-days is too little of time, but it represents the minimum you should probably consider--essentially a bare minimum time to allow rescue workers to arrive or power to be restored. However, in the event of a real disaster, two weeks is more realistic. For instance, this article indicates that following Hurricane Katrina, 10% of the survivors were without water for 6 days or more. Boston T. Party states in his book, Surviving Doomsday, that because of sewage contamination of filtration plants after floods in 1993, some residents of Des Moines, Iowa, were without water for 30 days.
Lundin recommends two weeks, and 3 or 4 weeks if possible. After this, if regular water service has not been restored, you will need to figure out how to get more water.
How to Store the Water
The best method of storing water is probably going to vary according to circumstances and your needs. Obviously, a multi-thousand gallon tank or cistern would be ideal if you could afford it and had room for it. However, this is probably not going to be realistic for most people.
Although Cody Lundin and other experts describe various types of containers for storing water, for most people there are only a few realistic options. These are forced by a few constraints: (i) the container must be sealed and able to safely store the water for an extended period of time, which will generally require a food-grade plastic container; (ii) the container(s) must be inexpensive enough that you can afford to get the requisite number of containers; and (iii) you must be able to store the containers in the available space.
The two most commonly used methods for accomplishing this are large (55 gallon) plastic drums and plastic 2-liter soda bottles. If you have a water cooler, you may also want to consider using the 5 gallon water bottles commonly used for the coolers as this gives an easy method for dispensing water. Do not use old plastic milk jugs or juice bottles.
Water drums are available as either opaque (blue) or non-opaque (white). Opaque drums are generally recommended because it inhibits the growth of algae. However, if you keep your water storage in dark place, such as a basement, or rotate your water every 6 months or so, this probably won't be an issue. Non-opaque (white) water drums are commonly used in the food industry, and you can sometimes pick up used ones from places such as soft-drink distributors. If you decide to use a 55-gallon drum, make sure that you also get a siphon pump so you can get the water out.
The biggest disadvantage of the 55 gallon water drum is the weight. Filled up, they will weigh over 450 lbs. This means that (i) you won't be able to easily move it once its filled, so fill it where you intend to use it; and (ii) the flooring must be able to support the weight, which typically will require a concrete floor. If you store your container over a concrete floor, you must use a pallet or boards to get the container up off of the concrete. Contact with concrete can cause chemicals to leach into the container and water, as well as degrade the plastic.
I would note at this point that I've also seen smaller capacity water containers that are triangular so they can sit into a corner. If you are short on space, but have a floor that can carry the weight, this may be an option.
Two-liter bottles are ubiquitous, tough, "food-grade," and easily stored in cabinets, on shelves, under beds, etc. Just be sure that the cabinets or shelves can hold the weight, and periodically check for leaking.
Prepping the Containers
The I Will Prepare blog recommends a couple of methods for cleaning the drums:
Used water barrels often come pre-sanitized. To be on the safe side, you should clean your own.Two-liter bottles are easier. Note: FEMA recommends that you only use two-liter bottles that have been used for soda-pop, and not those used for juices or other drinks. Simply rinse out the bottle and cap when you are done and fill immediately, or let air dry.
Using dish soap can be a big mistake. You will be filling and refilling the barrel dozens of times trying to get rid of all the bubbles.
Try this method:
Fill the barrel 1/4 full of water. Add a box of baking soda and a 1/2 gallon of vinegar.
Close the bung caps. The resulting foaming action will clean the toughest mold or algae growth inside (If there is any). Turn the barrel on its side an let the kids roll it around the backyard for a while. Have a barrel that has been sitting empty for a long time or just needs extra cleaning? Let the Water/Baking Soda /Vinegar solution sit overnight. Rotate it a couple times so all sides get cleaned….including upside down to clean the underside of the lid. Empty the contents and rinse a couple times with water to remove the Water/Baking Soda /Vinegar solution. Fill as outlined below.
Fill the barrel 1/4 full of water. Add cup of bleach
Close the bung caps. The bleach water solution will kill anything growing inside the barrel (If there is any). Turn the barrel on its side an let the kids roll it around the backyard for a while. Have a barrel that has been sitting empty for a long time or just needs extra cleaning? Let the Water/Bleach solution sit overnight. Rotate it a couple times so all sides get cleaned….including upside down to clean the underside of the lid. Empty the contents and rinse a few times with water to remove the Water/Bleach solution until the inside of the barrel no longer has a strong bleach smell. Fill as outlined below.
Filling the Water Containers
Only use tap (i.e., potable) water to fill your containers. The 2-liter bottles can be filled from your kitchen tap, but you will need to use a hose to fill the water drums. However, the I Will Prepare blog warns about using standard garden hoses:
Most garden hoses are now made with recycled materials and now carry a tag similar to the following:She recommends using a new PVC recoil hose, an RV/Marine drinking water safe hose, or a flat garden hose with new materials. Only use this hose for filling the water drums and store it carefully away.
WARNING: "This hose is NOT intended for drinking water use. This product contains chemicals, including Lead, known to the State of California to cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm. Wash hands after use".In the sun, the chemicals in the hose can leach into the water still left in the hose . Smaller amounts could leach into the running water as it passes through the hose. You may want to consider an alternative hose when filling your water barrels for drinking purposes.
As noted above, the drums will be over 450 lbs when full, and so you will need to fill them in their final location and position.
Disinfecting the Water
If you are filling your drums or water containers using water from a chlorinated municipal water supply, it should not need any additional treatment prior to storage. (See here).
If you are using a clean water source, but it is not chlorinated, Lundin gives the following information from the water superintendent of Prescott, Arizona, for chlorinating safe water: 1/3 cup (2 and 1/2 oz, or 14-1/2 teaspoons) of chlorine bleach for 1000 gallons of water. The Church web-site indicates:
Non-chlorinated water should be treated with bleach. Add 8 drops of liquid household chlorine bleach (5 to 6% sodium hypochlorite) for every 4 liters (one gallon) of water. Only household bleach without thickeners, scents, or additives should be used.Boston T. Party has suggested using one table-spoon (1/2 oz.) of hydrogen peroxide per gallon of water.
If you are not sure as to the safety of the water, you will need to use enough bleach for emergency disinfection of water. For instance, Clorox provides the following instructions on their web-site (click on the Outdoors tab):
When boiling off water for 1 minute is not possible in an emergency situation, disinfect water by:This web-site has lengthier instructions from Clorox:
1. Remove suspended particles by filtering or letting particles settle to the bottom. Pour clear water into a clean container.
2. Add 8 drops of Clorox® Regular-Bleach to one gallon of water (2 drops to 1 quart). For cloudy water, use 16 drops per gallon of water (4 drops to 1 quart).
3. Let treated water to stand for 30 minutes. Water should have a slight bleach odor. If not, repeat and wait another 15 minutes. The treated water can then be made palatable by pouring it between clean containers several times.
Boiling Is BestThe Federal government has published a fairly comprehensive table for disinfecting various quantities of water, available as a PDF here.
Short of using a very high-quality water filter, this is the most reliable method for killing microbes and parasites. Bring water to a rolling boil and keep it simmering for at least several minutes. Add one minute of boiling to the initial 10 minutes for every 1,000 feet above sea level. Cover the pot to shorten boiling time and conserve fuel.
Liquid Clorox Bleach
In an emergency, think of this (one gallon of Regular Clorox Bleach) as 3,800 gallons of drinking water.
When the tap water stops flowing, Regular Clorox Bleach isn't just a laundry-aid, it's a lifesaver. Use it to purify water, and you'll have something to drink.
It's the same in any natural disaster. As the shock wears off and the days wear on, the biggest demand is for drinking water. Time after time, relief crews hand out free Clorox Bleach with simple instructions: use it to kill bacteria in your water and you'll have purified water to drink. Here are the general guidelines.
First let water stand until particles settle. Filter the particles if necessary with layers of cloth, coffee filters, or fine paper towels. Pour the clear water into an uncontaminated container and add Regular Clorox Bleach per the below indicated ratio. Mix well. Wait 30 min. Water should have a slight bleach odor. If not, repeat dose. Wait 15 min. Sniff again. Keep an eyedropper taped to your emergency bottle of Clorox Bleach, since purifying small amounts of water requires only a few drops. Bleach must be fresh for best use and results. See below suggestions for storage bottle replacement.
Don't pour purified water into contaminated containers. Sanitize water jugs first.
Without water and electricity, even everyday tasks are tough. In lieu of steaming hot water, sanitize dishes, pots and utensils with a little Clorox Bleach. Just follow the directions below to keep dishes clean.
Whether you use Clorox Bleach in an emergency or for everyday chores, it's always an environmentally sound choice. After its work is done, Clorox Bleach breaks down to little more than salt and water, which is acceptable anytime.
Ratio of Clorox Bleach to Water for Purification
2 drops of Regular Clorox Bleach per quart of water
8 drops of Regular Clorox Bleach per gallon of water
1/2 teaspoon Regular Clorox Bleach per five gallons of water
If water is cloudy, double the recommended dosages of Clorox Bleach.
Only use Regular Clorox Bleach (not Fresh Scent or Lemon Fresh). To insure that Clorox Bleach is at its full strength, rotate or replace your storage bottle minimally every three months.
Clorox Bleach Sanitizing Solution
To sanitize containers and utensils, mix 1 tablespoon Regular Clorox Bleach with one gallon of water. Always wash and rinse items first, then let each item soak in Clorox Bleach Sanitizing Solution for 2 minutes. Drain and air dry.
I would recommend rotating your water supply (i.e., emptying and refilling your containers) every 6 to 12 months.