The Red Cross, CDC, and FEMA all recommend that you should stockpile 1 gallon of water per day for emergencies. They calculate that you will need ½ gallon of emergency water for drinking and another ½ gallon of water for cooking and cleaning. But, let me ask you…
Do you really think you could get by with just 1 gallon of water per day?
Most of us (in the United States at least) use an average of 70 gallons of water per day! Trying to go from 70 gallons to 1 gallon per day is going to be very difficult for the average person. I wouldn’t be surprised if some people with “a month’s supply of water” blew through their entire emergency water stockpile in just a day or two!
To be prepared for disaster, you’ll either need to:
- Stockpile a LOT more water
- Learn to conserve water
Since stockpiling 2,100 gallons of water (70 gallons per day x 30 days) isn’t a feasible option for most people, here are some tips on how to conserve water during an emergency.
Conserving Water When Flushing the Toilet
1. Let It Mellow
Sewer mains are often still functional even if the water is turned off so you can dump water down the toilet to flush it. However, there is no reason to waste your emergency water for flushing the toilet each time you go to the bathroom. Use the “If it is yellow, let it mellow” rule.
2. Get a Waterless Toilet
In many types of disaster situations, the sewer mains are flooded. If you try to flush your toilet with a bucket of water, the dirty water could back up into your home (usually into the basement or first-floor bathroom). This is why absolutely everyone should have an emergency toilet!
The simplest option is to use the two-bucket system. One bucket is for pee (which is mostly sterile and can be dumped in your yard). The second bucket is for poo. The poo bucket is lined with a plastic bag. You sprinkle a bit of shredded newspaper or kitty litter into the bucket after each use and tie up the bag at the end of each day or when it is full. Read How to Make a Bucket Toilet here.
Conserving Water during Food Prep
1. Presoak Dry Staples
When cooking dry foods like beans, legumes, or rice, always presoak it for at least 2 hours before cooking. The first benefit of this is that the food will cook a lot faster, thus saving you a lot of fuel. When you shorten the cooking time, you also reduce the amount of water which evaporates. Again, this might not seem like a lot but every drop counts in emergencies!
In addition to presoaking the obvious dry foods, you can also soak foods like pastas, packaged soups, and even your “cook in the pouch” emergency foods.
2. When Washing Produce
You probably won’t be eating too much fresh produce in a disaster situation. If you do have produce, such as food from your fridge which hasn’t gone bad yet, then just give it a quick rinse with clean water. Save the rinsing water to be reused. If you have produce from your garden, don’t even bother rinsing it. A bit of dirt isn’t going to kill you, but dehydration from lack of water could!
Conserving Water during Bathing and Handwashing
In everyday life, this is one of the areas where we waste a huge amount of water. Here are tips to conserve.
1. Use Baby Wipes or Take an Army Shower
Baby wipes are great for keeping yourself clean when you can’t take a proper shower. Alternatively, you can take an “army shower” by wetting down your dirtiest areas and wiping with a cloth.
2. Get a Camping Shower
It is really worth it to get a camping shower as part of your emergency supplies. These have much lower flow rates than a standard shower head so you can shower without wasting a lot of water. Since they are easier to use, you’ll probably use less water than if you had tried to shower by holding a plastic bottle over your head.
3. Use Biodegradable Soap
This rinses off better than standard soap so you won’t have to use as much water for rinsing.
Conserving Water when Washing Dishes
1. Stop Obsessing About Cleanliness
Most Americans are obsessed with cleanliness, especially when it comes to their dishes. If the dishes so much as have a water spot on them they’ll get put back through the washing machine!
Yes, there are germs on hand-washed dishes. But, as far as I know, no one has ever gotten food poisoning from using dishes which weren’t cleaned well! Maybe if you did a really bad job of washing a plate and let it sit for weeks, then bacteria might breed into dangerous amounts on it. However, if you make a point to use the same few dishes over and over, they will continuously be getting rinsed clean and safe.
2. Use Fewer Dishes
Just eat out of the pot or pan so you don’t create more dishes to wash. Healthy family members can also share drinking cups and eat from the same plates.
3. Use Disposable Plates
This means that you won’t have to wash dishes, but you will end up creating a lot of trash. So, remember to have lots of trash bags stockpiled too.
4. Get a Camping Kitchen
Camping kitchens are great during emergencies because many of them are designed to reduce the amount of water used. It will also be easier to collect and reuse the dirty dish water.
Here is where you will really be able to save a lot of water during SHTF emergencies. Instead of letting all that water go down the drain, find a way to reuse it.
Greywater recycling is finally starting to get some attention, but most people are still grossed out by the idea. But think about it rationally. You don’t need the same level of water cleanliness for all tasks. Yes, water for brushing your teeth should be clean. Water for flushing the toilet? No.
In everyday life, greywater recycling is as simple as unscrewing your sink’s drainpipe and putting a bucket underneath. When the bucket gets full, you use it for things like watering plants and flushing toilets.
In an emergency situation where the water is off, you might not be using your sinks at all. Make sure you have lots of buckets and basins stockpiled. Perform tasks like washing your hands, washing dishes, and washing clothes in these. Then you can easily reuse the water.
Tips for reusing greywater
- Only use biodegradable products: You don’t want substances like borax, chemical detergents, or bacon grease in water which you plan on reusing.
- Don’t let greywater turn into black water: If the greywater sits too long, it can start to grow mold and fester bacteria.
- There are lots of uses for greywater: Greywater can be used for flushing or watering plants. Additionally, less-dirty greywater can be used for clothes. You can also boil greywater to sterilize it and then use it for cleaning the home or washing dishes.
I highly suggest that you run an “Emergency Water Drill” in which you practice going without running water for at least 3 days. This will give you an idea of how much water you really need to stockpile in order to be prepared for emergencies where the water goes down.