Depending on your activity and temperature, you can survive only 3 – 5 days max without water. But long before you die of dehydration you’ll feel the ill effects.
by Leon Pantenburg
Hurricanes Harvey and Irma will long be remembered as the most damaging natural disasters to hit the Gulf and Atlantic coasts. But what many people will personally remember is how unprepared they were, and the shortages of drinking water.
For most people in the storm areas, the first time they thought about storing water was just before the storm hit.
And that’s too late. And if you’re one of the unfortunates desperately trying to acquire some water right before the stuff hits the fan, you have my sympathy. But there are simple things anyone can do to store plenty of water for a disaster due to natural events, or even a contaminated municipal water supply during calm times.
First, let’s talk about water storage. Ideally, everyone would have at least a month’s supply on hand. It takes a gallon of water per person per day, on average, for drinking and sanitation. [https://www.ready.gov/water] However, depending on activity, climate, cooking, or washing, the math goes up regarding your need for water.
Now, do the math for a family of four. Let’s plan for 2 gallons x 4 people per day, for 8 gallons a day. Eight gallons per day for a month is 240 gallons. You can fill convenient 5-gallon containers for a couple days of water storage. But, to prepare for a month, I prefer the food grade 55 gallon barrels like you find at your local Farm Store or on Amazon.
It’s safer to buy water storage containers than to clean out previously used beverage jugs. With any residual milk, tea or sugars, the water will grow bacteria in storage. I keep my smaller containers filled up and stored in closets, or the rarely used guest bath shower.
I keep our large barrels in the garage. It is recommended that you purify containers first, and then the water, with food-grade bleach, depending on the source of water. Read more about water purification and take this step seriously.
It’s wise to refill the jugs and barrels every few months to keep it fresh. Pour the stored water on the plants or lawn and start all over again. That’s a good activity to engage the kids and help them learn about water storage and their responsibility to help the family. Add that to their weekend chores. They’ll love it.
If you don’t have your large containers prepared, here are few last resort water collectors you may already have. Fill these before the power goes off and shuts down the water system. If you have any doubts about water purity, don’t drink it without boiling it first.
- Go dumpster diving and find any cans, bottles, paper cups, milk cartons etc.
Anything that will hold water should be filled as long as the water is still running. Check out your trash can or recycling bin. You can use the water saved in these dubious containers to flush the toilet or wash. Speaking of toilets, flush them only when necessary. Remember the old water saving cliche’: “If it’s yellow, let it mellow. If it’s brown, flush it down.”
- Fill all your clean pots and pans. This will be your drinking water.
- Sinks and bathtubs: These receptacles can hold a lot. A bathtub water storage kit may hold 40-60 gallons.
- Shut off your water heater and harvest that water. Here is how to do that.
- Convert big flower pots and trash cans into water containers. If you have some clay or plastic flower or plant pots around, line them with a plastic trash bags and fill with water. Line your trash can with a plastic trash bag and fill it. You can wash with this.
- If practical, dig a hole in the yard, line with a tarp and fill with the garden hose. Obviously, this is not going to work in flood areas, but there may be potential to use this technique in higher areas above the flood plain. Make sure the tarp is not coated with some hazardous chemical or coating. You could use this water for washing or flushing toilets, but it’s a last resort for drinking.
Your best chance for survival is when you are prepared to take care of yourself. And the best solutions for having water on hand is always to prepare before the emergency hits. But, in a pinch, there are many receptacles around the house that can be filled. Use your thinking cap and get to it!
I got this feedback and good advice from Tom: Good article. I recycle 2 liter and 3 liter soda bottles. Wash them, fill them and store them outside in the sun. I’ve lost about 5% to breakage. Some bottles have been out there for 5+ years through 100 degree summers and sub freezing winters, with no ill effects. No algae or spoilage thanks to solar disinfection (SODIS). When I go camping or hunting I grab as many bottles as I think I’ll need and restock as necessary. Emergency plans are to line trash cans with contractor trash bags and fill all I can. Long term, I’ve designed and made a prototype filtration system using sand, activated charcoal (AC) run through PVC plumbed system. I can bypass the AC and use gray water for irrigation and AC filtered water for drinking. Water purification is the easy part, storing and accessing water in a semi-arid environment is the challenge. Conservation and recycling are the challenges. Total on hand is about 400 gallons with a capacity of about 800 gallons.
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