A lot of people don’t realize how susceptible our water supply is to disaster. Even during small emergencies like storms or blizzards, the power can go out – which means that the water treatment facilities stop working. During large disasters, the water supply stops completely. This is why it is so important to have a supply of emergency water.
You can go 3 weeks without food, but only 3 days without water before dying. Before you get to the point of death, you will already be delirious with thirst. Don’t let this happen to you!
And don’t put you or your family in a situation where you drink dirty water because you have no alternative. Gastrointestinal infections lead to death through diarrhea and dehydration!
Recommended Amount of Emergency Water to Store
The average American uses 100 gallons of water per day! Yes, we really use this much water by flushing the toilet, taking long showers, and wasting water by forgetting to turn off the taps.
You don’t have to stockpile 100 gallons of water per day though. For minimal requirements in a disaster situation, here is how much water you need:
Emergency Water Per Person, Per Day
- ½ gallon drinking water per person, per day
- ½ gallon for food preparation per person, per day
- ½ to 1 gallon for cleaning and hygiene
= 2 gallons per person, per day
For a 30 day stockpile of water, you’d need about 60 gallons per person. MINIMUM.
Ideally, you will stockpile much more water than this.
Water is the elixir of life. You can never have too much emergency water!
Image credit: “Army National Guard Spc. Jacquelyn Smith” (CC BY 2.0) by simminch
Containers for Your Emergency Water
The easiest way to stockpile water is to buy bottled water. I do NOT recommend buying water though. It is expensive and wasteful. Instead, start saving all of your plastic bottles from soda, milk, etc. Clean these out and fill them with tap water.
Make sure you do a good job of cleaning out the bottles. Little crusts of milk easily get stuck under the plastic lid liner. Remove these so you can clean them thoroughly. I use a toothbrush to scrub the caps of water bottles before putting my emergency water in them for storage.
Emergency Water Containers
- Use non-corrosive, food-grade plastic bottles for storing water. Soda bottles and milk jugs are fine.
- The lid must be tight fitting.
Emergency Water Storage
Water never goes bad. But the plastic bottle holding the water can go bad! This is why you need to rotate your water stockpile.
Over time, the plastic bottle will start releasing chemicals. These plastic chemicals won’t necessarily kill you, so you could still drink very old water in an emergency situation. However, the water won’t taste great.
To ensure your water is getting rotated properly:
- Tap water should be rotated every 6 months and store-bought water every 12 months.
- Use a labeling system to write the date of the water on the bottle.
- Regularly use and refill your water supplies so they are continuously getting rotated.
- Keep your emergency water in a cool place away from direct sunlight. Otherwise chemicals from the plastic can leach faster.
Using Tap Water during Emergencies
When the power goes down, water treatment plants also stop working. You may still have running tap water, but it won’t be safe to drink. In these emergency situations, the local government will probably issue a “boil alert.”
But if the power is off, many people don’t have a way to boil their water! This is why you will need an emergency stove or another emergency method of treating water.
Ways to Treat Water in Emergencies:
- Boiling for at least 1 minute
- Water purification tablets
- Chemical filters
- UV filters
- Bio filters
- Mechanical filters
*Note that these water purification methods are listed in order of effectiveness. You should never use a camping water filter or a home water filter (like one of those Brita filters) in emergency situations.
Camping water filters are great for the mountains because they remove parasites. However, a camping water filter or other mechanical filter will NOT REMOVE VIRUSES. All of those viruses from the sewage in your tap water? They will still be there if you don’t boil or purify your water in some way. Here are some of the best water filters and purifiers.
How to Treat Water with Bleach:
- Use unscented household bleach (5.25% to 8.25% chlorine).
- If the water is cloudy, filter it first. A coffee filter can be used in an emergency.
- Add 5 drops of bleach per quart (1.4 teaspoon per gallon) of water.
- Mix and let stand 60 seconds before drinking.
Sustainable Emergency Water Sources
As a beginner to emergency preparedness, focus on getting your 30 day stockpile of water built up first. From there, you can start thinking about a sustainable source of water.
It may not seem like something you would have to worry about, but there is a very-real risk that our water supply could go out for the long term. For example, an EMP event from a terrorist attack or solar flare could cause a grid outage for years. A month’s supply of emergency water won’t help you then!
Here are some of the most sustainable, long-term emergency water supplies.
- Rainwater Harvesting: Collect the water which falls on your roof and use your gutters to channel it into rain barrels. Read more on rainwater harvesting methods here.
- Ponds and Streams: If you are looking for an emergency location (aka bug out location), then look for one near a source of water.
- Private Well: A pricier investment, but one that allows you to become self-sufficient.
- Pool: This water can be used for hygiene or treated and used for cooking and drinking. Your pool will also naturally collect rainwater, though steps will need to be taken to prevent evaporation if you plan on using it for your emergency water.