Several years ago, when I was single and living alone in an apartment near the windy Columbia River Gorge, I experienced my first ice storm. It doesn’t snow often in Oregon, but when it does, and the temperature fluctuates between above freezing and below freezing, it’s usually a problem. Ice accumulates on roads, making it impossible for most people to drive, and it accumulates on trees and telephone wires sometimes causing them to break under the added weight. You know what else sometimes breaks? Water pipes.
So here I was, all by myself, the icy wind blowing so hard I could almost feel it through the apartment walls. Work was canceled due to the fact that no one could get there, and I was trapped inside for nearly a week. Thankfully, I had enough groceries to get me by. Then one day, the water stopped working. I had never thought about the possibility of the water pipes breaking. I just didn’t think about stuff like that. After a moment of panic (because I drink A LOT of water), I realized I had a gallon of water in one of my cupboards. A one day supply of water. Lucky for me, that was enough, as the water situation was fixed within a day. But what a wake up call!
(Technically, if I had gotten desperate, I could have chopped up some of the ice outside and melted it, but nature doesn’t always provide potable water in emergencies.)
Water should be the first thing you put into your home emergency storage. Most humans cannot survive past three days without water. That’s a very short time. Don’t make the mistake of assuming you have water because you live near a natural water source because they are often contaminated during disasters, or may be inaccessible. Besides, you really aren’t going to want to be hunting down water in subzero temperatures, or right after your family’s just experienced an earthquake or something. There are hidden sources of water in your home (the toilet tank and water heater, for example) but these are not ideal forms of water storage.
3 Day Supply of Water MINIMUM
This is where you start. You will want a minimum of three days worth of water for everyone in your household. Most people will need a half gallon for drinking per day, plus an additional half gallon for cooking, washing and grooming needs. Therefore, it is recommended to store one gallon of water per person, per day. That’s three gallons for one person–minimum. After you have your 3-day supply, you will then want to work up to two weeks, then 30 days.
Don’t forget additional water for pets, baby formula, preparing dehydrated foods, etc. If gardening or sprouting is part of your food storage plan, you may want to consider what your water needs will be for those. Don’t waste water on washing during a crisis. Have disposable items on hand for emergency use.
How to Store Water
You want to use food grade containers, ideally ones that were made especially for water storage. Some recommend bottled water; however, these need to be rotated every 12 months, which can get pretty spendy. At the expo I attended, the water storage instructor recommended diversifying your water, and using BPA-free polycarbonate water jugs. According to her, quality polycarbonate (i.e. don’t buy ones made in China or Mexico) will last up to 20 years or 50 washes…whichever comes second. It is heat resistant and the least likely to leach. Quality water jugs will not break if you drop them. Do not use old milk or juice containers–they can contain microscopic bits of milk or juice that can induce bacterial growth.
You will have to rotate your water. The big blue water barrels and aqua-pak shown here need to be rotated every 6-12 months. Polycarbonate needs to be rotated every five years (note on polycarbonate–buy the ones with white caps–the blue caps are not reusable). When you rotate your water, you can use the old water for your garden. Then you will want to rinse with hot water as well as you can. If there is build up in the container you may want to use dishwashing soap, then make sure you rinse really well. Allow to completely air dry before refilling.
If your storage container does not have a spigot, you will want to use a siphon to get the water out. Use only a food grade siphon like this one.
Store water in a place that is least likely to cause damage if there is a leak, but try not to store it outside. If you do, you will have to take extra measures to protect your water, such as not filling all the way if there is the possibility of it freezing. Most people store in the garage. However, be sure not to store directly on cement. Apparently cement has the magical ability of corroding the plastic and sending cement chemicals into your water. You can store it on a shelf or put a wooden plank under the water.
Water Purification System
At some point, extended water storage gets to be a little unreasonable. Most emergencies won’t last beyond 30 days, but there is the possibility of being without clean drinking water for longer than that. That’s why it’s a good idea to have some sort of water purification system. This can include special filters, water purification drops, even a distillation system (although I would read this if you are thinking of distilling water). I’m not exactly an expert on water purification, so I’ll leave it at that.
When I was dating my husband, he said that you should always store water in your car. This might be one of the smartest things ever. I drive places all the time. I always try to bring my water bottle with me because I get thirsty a lot. But sometimes I forget. What if I forgot my water and we got stranded somewhere? Or say you are driving through a hot dessert and your car overheated? That’s just basic every day preparation, but what if there was a sudden emergency in your area and you had to be evacuated quickly and then got stuck in traffic for hours?
You can keep bottled water in your car, but those bottles are not designed to be heat resistant. I really like the Datex water pouches because they are designed to be heat resistant and last for five years. I also like this portable filter bottle because if you happen to be by a water source then you can fill it up and drink clean water. This could be very practical when hiking or camping. Some emergencies happen while hiking and some emergencies force people into camping situations. Another example is if there is a flood. Floods cause drinking water contamination but there is plenty of water that you could filter. To help your filter last longer you can pre-filter any dirt out with a coffer filter, paper bag, cloth, etc.
I want to get one of these filter bottles shown in the video below because the filters last through 150 gallons. That’s pretty good! (Update: I found the best price on the Seychelle water filter bottle here, with free shipping, too. Note: There is one that comes with two filters and one that comes with one filter.)
You might have noticed I linked to the Simple Safety site a lot. Marcie Maynes, the president of Simply Safety, is the one who taught two of the emergency preparedness classes I attended, and covered water storage. I realize this would make her seem biased in recommending these products, but I sensed that she sells them because she believes they are the best option.
Personal Preparation for Using Less Water
This isn’t something I learned at the expo, but it’s something that I do think about a lot. I remember many years ago I had this friend that I was sort of dating. He told me he hadn’t showered in a couple of days and that he no longer used soap or shampoo. The reason? So his body would be adjusted to less bathing and he could go camping without needing a shower. Brilliant! I had thought he was a little nuts, but over time I’ve seen the wisdom in this.
Let’s face it, when you have a limited supply of water, you are not going to be taking a shower and use up your 30 day supply of water in one shot. You don’t want to be gross, either. If your body is adjusted to less bathing, it makes things that much easier. You can also use a body brush as I suggested in this post to help freshen up without the use of water. To deal with greasy hair, you can use a dry shampoo.
You can experiment with other ways of conserving water in your daily activities. We take our running water totally for granted. I’m not saying you have to be super strict about your water usage every day, but at least learn a few water saving skills such how to wash a pot without a sink-full of water or how to water your garden with less. This happens to be good for the environment as well as good practice for a water shortage, so why not?