Beyond the Emergency Fund: Water, Water Everywhere, but Not a Drop to Drink

By Staff

This article is the first in a five-part series on preparing your household “Beyond the Emergency Fund.” For five consecutive Mondays, we’ll look at a variety of preparedness methods such as food and water storage, alternative power sources and ways to prepare for specific types of household emergencies.

On the scale of household emergencies, being without fresh drinking water has to be right at the top. While most people can survive weeks with little or no food, none of us can go more than a few days without water. In extreme conditions, such as the heat wave many have been suffering through this summer, that survival time is even lower as excessive sweating robs our bodies of even more fluids and minerals.

Storing Water – Inside Storage

Short of building your own water filter, most of us have to resort to storing water. There are a number of ways to store water, but making it safe to drink is another matter. How much water should you have on hand? A good rule of thumb is a gallon per person per day.

Every paycheck, we’ve been ordering a couple Reliance Products Desert Patrol 3 Gallon Rigid Water Containers. At 3 gallons, it is not so heavy that my wife and kids couldn’t lug a couple in an emergency, or if I wasn’t there or was out of commission. These rigid style containers are more durable than gallon water jugs, so they are less likely to leak.

Another idea to consider is to have a back-flow valve added to your hot water heater. If you lose water pressure, this valve prevents water from draining out of your tank and back into the local water supply. I recommend a professional installation by a plumber, because an improper installation could cause bigger problems.

In a pinch, you could tap your water heater as a water source, but I would recommend filtering and/or boiling the water to filter away any materials from corrosion inside the tank, and reduce the chance of bacteria being present.

If you know an emergency is coming (hurricane, flooding rains, etc.) that might negatively affect your public water system, a product such as a Water Bob can be used to collect and store water in your bathtubs. These things hold about 100 gallons of water, and I suggest filling all bathtubs in your home ahead of an emergency. Covering the Water Bob with towels, and keeping the room dark will help prevent light from hitting the water (limiting bacteria growth).

Storing Water – Outside Storage

We are in the process of adding gutters to our home. When the installation is complete, we plan to hook two of the gutters at each end of our home to 65-gallon rain barrels. The rain barrels’ primary purpose will be to irrigate our square foot garden and other plants, but the barrels will also serve as a backup water supply. Again, it’s important to note that standing water must be treated and/or boiled to be made safe for human consumption.

It’s worth noting here that boiling water requires a heat source. While I plan to cover this in much more detail later, a very basic household emergency kit should include the equipment and fuel to boil water.

Just remember, in time, all fuel sources run out. Propane tanks and hand-held lighters eventually empty. Electricity could be cut. Matches get used up. You may have to think more primitive to be ultimately prepared. A large magnifying glass trained on paper or dried leaves can start a fire. A flint strike can throw sparks hot enough to start fire. And of course there is the old stick-rubbing exercise that never seems to work in real life emergency scenarios.

If boiling water is not practical, or you lack a heat source, there are products available to treat water to make it potable. Polar Pure Water Disinfectant is one such product, but there are many options available. Coffee filters are also good to have on hand for filtering out any sediment found in your water supply.

This post has primarily focused on storing drinking water for emergencies, but there are plenty of other uses for water around the house (and ways to find it). There’s cooking and cleaning and – flushing. What’s that little rhyme we’re taught if the water is turned off? If it’s yellow, let it mellow. If it’s brown…I digress.

As I was saying, items like rain barrels are nice to have around for catching rain water to use for crop irrigation, and for other household uses (yes, like flushing). In addition to your rain barrel, you might investigate building a solar still in your own backyard to collect distilled water for drinking. This is actually a fairly safe way to create your own drinking water in a pinch, assuming your collection methods are all sanitary, and there are no toxins in the moisture trapped below your still.

Remember the old rule of thumb: Humans can live 3 days without water, if sheltered, and 3 weeks without food. When survival planning, start with the worst care scenario first and build out from there. Have shelter? Check. Have three days of water for every person in your household (including pets)? Check. Have a one-month supply of water, or a reliable method of collecting water from the environment? Well, that might take some time and money. But the peace of mind is worth the investment.