“Water is the driving force in nature.” – Leonardo Da Vinci
It has been said that humans can live three minutes without oxygen, three days without water, and three weeks without food. Aside from having good air to breathe, it seems that water would be the next most important thing in a survival situation or an emergency.
Water is surprisingly easy to find on this pale blue dot we live upon. However clean, safe water to drink that will not make one sick is becoming much harder to find in its natural state. When one is discussing a survival situation or a state of emergency, then clean, safe water becomes much more difficult to find.
Let us begin with a simple question:
How much water does one need in a day?
The simple answer is… it isn’t that simple. Experts recommend 1 gallon per person per day (minimum) for drinking and sanitation. At bare minimum, one person needs 2 quarts (1/2 gallon) of pure water for drinking each day to maintain healthy body function.
Hot climates and summer temperatures will require you to drink more water. A medical emergency can require water to clean and/or sterilize instruments and wounds. Nursing and pregnant women need additional water, too. If you have dehydrated foods or dry goods such as beans and rice as part of your emergency food supplies, then you will need additional water.
So, to answer the ‘simple’ question – a little over 1 gallon per person per day, bearing in mind that the Reader’s personal plans might require one to adjust stored water according to cooking needs.
Sanitation and Storage
Do not use anything which has contained milk or juice, there are bacteria in both liquids that cannot be easily cleaned from the plastic and it causes bacteria to grow inside your stored water. That’s not just gross… it’s deadly. Use soda bottles which have been rinsed and sanitized.
To sanitize such a bottle, pour in one cap full of chlorine bleach and slosh it around so that it touches all the interior surfaces of the bottle. Rinse well and let dry, then fill the bottle with tap water. If your water is treated with chlorine before it arrives at your house, then simply screw on the original bottle cap and store. There is no need to treat it further.
Since in this scenario we are using 2-liter bottles, each bottle contains 0.52 gallons of water. You need 2 of these stored bottles/person per day. If the Reader is on well water, or is using water from an unknown source (or is in a survival situation) methods for purifying water are discussed below.
Experts recommend changing stored water every six months. Water stored in such bottles is also very portable. Throw a few into your jump bag, vehicle, etc. and you’re ready to flee from the disaster area or whatever the case may be that requires one to leave your ‘safe location’. A plastic bottle is very resilient. It can take a lot of abuse without breaking or leaking.
As soon as one bottle is filled and lifted it will become apparent that water is heavy. Three gallons of water is very heavy! There is some good news, however. Only water for drinking must be purified. Sanitary uses and such can use less-than-drinkable water.
And here is some more good news – One need not carry around 28 pounds of water. With heat, or chlorine bleach, or iodine water can be treated to make it drinkable.
HEAT – Simply filter out as much dirt, debris, etc. by pouring the water through a cloth (pack a couple of handkerchiefs in your emergency pack). Then all one need do is to boil the water.
The standard is to boil for ten minutes and the water will be safe to drink. If fuel is scarce, boil for 1 minute. Science says that simply bringing the water up to a rolling boil is enough.
One thing about boiled water: When it cools most people find that boiled water tastes ‘flat’. If the cooled water is placed in a bottle and shaken vigorously the water is aerated again and the taste returns to a more normal state.
CHLORINE BLEACH – Use only bleach free of dyes or perfumes. Again, filter out as much dirt/debris/ etc as possible. In addition to the handkerchief method, some people use a wad of cotton balls stuffed into the end of a funnel.
TIP – A ‘funnel’ can be made by cutting the top off of a 2-liter bottle. Poke several holes in the cap and the cotton will not fall out from water pressure. Use the remaining bottom of the bottle to catch the filtered water. Once the water is filtered, then simply add 5 drops of bleach per liter/quart. For a full 2 liter bottle of filtered water that means 10 drops of bleach. For a gallon jug that is 20 drops.
The water will smell like chlorine. Mix thoroughly. Let sit 60 minutes. It is as simple as that.
IODINE – In each medical kit, it is recommended that 2% tincture of iodine be included. When we discuss ‘iodine’ for water purification purposes, this is the iodine we are talking about.
Since the Reader already should have it in the First Aid kit, you can pat yourself on the back for choosing a double-duty item. It will help when you taste the water later. At least you will be able to have felt a sense of pride beforehand. We want to say right now that iodized water tastes dreadful.
For you brave souls who choose this method, here it is:
This method works best with water over 68 degrees F. 5 drops per liter/quart if the water is clear. 10 drops per liter/quart if it is cloudy. Shake and enjoy.
TIP – After the iodine has purified the water, one can add Vitamin C or drink mix that contains Vitamin C (like Tang). The Vitamin C eliminates much of the Iodine taste and the brownish color.
WARNING – Be advised – some people are allergic to iodine and cannot use it for medical or drinking purposes. Some folks allergic to shellfish are also allergic to iodine. Those with thyroid problem or who take lithium also should be careful and discuss using iodine with a doctor beforehand.
NOTE – None of the above methods deals with contamination from poisons, chemical toxins, oil, radiation and such. These methods simply make funky water okay to drink.
Commercial Water Filtration Devices
Brita(tm) filters, or some other commercially available filter products are another option for those Readers whose budget allows such things. Different tablets can be found in the sporting/camping areas of big box stores. There is also the ‘Lifesaver Bottle’, and ‘Lifestraw’.
If the supply of water to your ‘safe location’ is interrupted or if for whatever reason one finds oneself in need of water without any close at hand, then relax. There are many sources of water one just has not thought about yet.
The back of the toilet tank in almost any dwelling contains decent water. Another ready source in a home is the water heater. There is a valve near the bottom to drain it. Check the ice maker or trays in the freezer, too. Many people keep a jug of water in the fridge itself.
If none of those sources yield enough water one should check to see if the dwelling has rain barrels installed at the bottom of the gutter downspouts. You may get really lucky and find a swimming pool. Check to see if there are pet or livestock watering areas nearby.
If none of those yield enough water, then one will need to find a stream, creek, river or lake. Finding these sources may take a bit more time and knowledge. If you have a map handy and know how to read it, then you are way ahead of the game.
TIP – Get a map of your area and keep it in a ziplock bag. Add a compass to the bag. Learn how to use both items.
If you do not have a map… again, relax. Creeks and rivers generally follow valleys. Animals are experts at finding water, so keep your eyes open for animal tracks or animals themselves and watch where they are headed. Thick, green vegetation is a sign of water, as is muddy ground. If you find a muddy area, you may be in luck. Dig a hole 1 foot deep and 1 foot wide and wait. It will often fill with groundwater. Granted, it will be muddy water, but using the above filtration methods and purification methods will make it just fine. Another often missed source of water is rain.
If it looks like rain or is raining you must use everything you have to collect as much as possible. If the Reader has a poncho or a roll of plastic sheeting like we recommended in the Disaster Kits article, it can be suspended to catch and funnel rain water into a container.
There are many more ways to find water in the wild than can possibly be listed in this article. Preparing ahead of time instead of resorting to bushcraft and ‘survival’ techniques is always best, but we each have no way of knowing what will befall us. In times of stress the mind has a habit of refusing to work creatively. These tips can help you survive in some worst cast scenarios.