As mentioned previously, water is probably the most necessary element for
human life, with the exception of oxygen.
When planning your water resources for survival you need to deal with three
Storing waterFinding & obtaining waterPurifying water
For your in-home cache or survival retreat stash, you should count on two
gallons of water per-person per-day. While this is more water than necessary to
survive (except in hot climates or after strenuous exertion) it ensures water is
available for hygiene and cooking as well as drinking.
Sarges personal in-home stash has enough water for a week, and he
lives near a stream & in an area where it rains frequently!
Commercial gallon bottles of filtered/purified spring water often carry
expiration dates two years after the bottling date. A good rotation program is
necessary to ensure your supply of water remains fresh and drinkable (see the previous section on food for information on rotation).
Sarge purchases cases of six one-gallon jugs, which frequently go on sale
for just under 50 cents per gallon. The heavy-duty cardboard boxes stack easily
and protect the jugs from rupturing.
If you prefer to store your own water, don’t use milk cartons; it is
practically impossible to remove the milk residue. Bleach bottles are
recommended by others, and although Sarge has never used this method, bleach manufacturers do not recommend it.
If you have a spare refrigerator in the basement or the garage, use PET water
bottles (the kind soda or liters of water come in) to fill any available freezer
space. In addition to providing you with fresh, easily transportable drinking
water, the ice can be used to cool food in the refigerator in the event of a
power failure. Sarge has found that these bottles, which are clear and
have screw-on caps like soda bottles, will withstand many freeze-thaw cycles
without bursting or leaking. (The bottom may distort when frozen, but this isn’t
a big problem.) For self-storage of large amounts of water, you’re probably
better off with containers of at least 5 gallons. Food-grade plastic storage
containers are available commercially in sizes from 5 gallons to 250 or more.
Containers with handles and spouts are usually 5 to 7 gallons, which will weigh between 40 and 56 pounds. Get too far beyond that and you’ll have great
difficulty moving a full tank.
15 gallon and 30 gallon containers used for food service – such as delivery
of syrups to soda bottlers and other manufacturers – are often available on the
surplus market. After proper cleaning, these are ideal for water storage as
long as a tight seal can be maintained. 55 gallon drums and larger tanks are
also useful for long-term storage. But make sure you have a good manual pump on hand!
Solutions designed to be added to water to prepare it for long-term storage
are commercially available. Bleach can also be used to treat tap water from
municipal sources. Added at a rate of about 1 teaspoon per 10 gallons, bleach
can ensure the water will remain drinkable. Sarge recommends rotating the
water in storage tanks every year.
Once you are in a survival situation where there is a limited amount of water,
conservation is an important consideration. While drinking water is critical,
water is also necessary for rehydrating and cooking dried foods. Water from
boiling pasta, cooking vegetables and similar sources can and should be retained and drank, after it has cooled. Canned vegetables also contain liquids that can be consumed.
To preserve water, save water from washing your hands, clothes and dishes to
Short Term Storage
People who have electric pumps drawing water from their well have learned the
lesson of filling up all available pots and pans when a thunderstorm is brewing.
What would you do if you knew your water supply would be disrupted in an hour?
Here are a few options in addition to filling the pots and pans:
The simplest option is to put two or three heavy-duty plastic trash bags (avoid those with post-consumer recycled content) inside each other. Then fill the inner bag with water. You can even use the trash can to give structure to the bag. (A good argument for keeping your trash can fairly clean!)Fill your bath tub almost to the top. While you probably won’t want to drink this water, it can be used to flush toilets, wash your hands, etc.
If you are at home, a fair amount of water will be stored in your water pipes
and related system.
To get access to this water, first close the valve to the outside as soon as
possible. This will prevent the water from running out as pressure to the entire
system drops and prevent contaminated water from entering your house.
Then open a faucet on the top floor. This will let air into the system so a
vacuum doesn’t hold the water in. Next, you can open a faucet in the basement.
Gravity should allow the water in your pipes to run out the open faucet. You can
repeat this procedure for both hot and cold systems.
Your hot water heater will also have plenty of water inside it. You can
access this water from the valve on the bottom. Again, you may need to open a
faucet somewhere else in the house to ensure a smooth flow of water. Sediment
often collects in the bottom of a hot water heater. While a good maintenance
program can prevent this, it should not be dangerous. Simply allow any stirred
up dirt to again drift to the bottom.
FINDING & OBTAINING WATER
There are certain climates and geographic locations where finding water will
either be extremely easy or nearly impossible. You’ll have to take your location
into account when you read the following. Sarges best suggestion: Buy a
guide book tailored for your location, be it desert, jungle, arctic or temperate.
Wherever you live, your best bet for finding a source of water is to scout out suitable locations and stock up necessary equipment before an emergency
befalls you. With proper preparedness, you should know not only the location of
the nearest streams, springs or other water source but specific locations where
it would be easy to fill a container and the safest way to get it home.
Preparedness also means having at hand an easily installable system for
collecting rain water. This can range from large tarps or sheets of plastic to a
system for collecting water run off from your roof or gutters.
Once you have identified a source of water, you need to have bottles or other
containers ready to transport it or store it.
And while you may think any water will do in a pinch, water that is not
purified may make you sick, possibly even killing you. In a survival situation,
with little or no medical attention available, you need to remain as healthy as
possible. And a bad case of the runs is terribly uncomfortable in the best of
Boiling water is the best method for purifying running water you gather from
natural sources. It doesn’t require any chemicals, or expensive equipment – all
you need is a large pot and a good fire or similar heat source. Plus, a rolling
boil for 20 or 30 minutes should kill common bacteria such as guardia and
cryptosporidium. One should consider that boiling water will not remove foreign
contaminants such as radiation or heavy metals.
Outside of boiling, commercial purification/filter devices made by companies
such as PUR or Katadyn are the best choices. They range in sizes from small pump filters designed for backpackers to large filters designed for entire camps.
Probably the best filtering devices for survival retreats are the model where
you pour water into the top and allow it to slowly seep through the media into a
reservoir on the bottom. No pumping is required.
On the down side, most such filtering devices are expensive and have a
limited capacity. Filters are good for anywhere from 100 to thousands of
gallons, depending on the filter size and mechanism. Some filters use
fiberglass and activated charcoal. Others use impregnated resin or even ceramic
Pour-though filtering systems can be made in an emergency. Here’s one example that will remove many contaminants:
Take a 5 or 7 gallon bucket (a 55-gallon drum can also be used for a larger scale system) and drill or punch a series of small holes in the bottom.Place several layers of cloth on the bottom of the bucket, this can be anything from denim to an old table cloth.Add a thick layer of sand (preferred) or loose dirt. This will be the main filtering element, so you should add at least half of the buckets depth.Add another few layers of cloth, weighted down with a few large rocks.Your home-made filter should be several inches below the top of the bucket.Place another bucket or other collection device under the holes you punched in the bottom bucket.Pour collected or gathered water into the top of your new filter system. As gravity works its magic, the water will filter through the media and drip out the bottom, into your collection device. If the water is cloudy or full of sediment, simply let it drop to the bottom and draw the cleaner water off the top of your collection device with a straw or tube.
(If you have a stash of activated charcoal, possibly acquired from an acquarium dealer, you can put a layer inside this filter. Place a layer of cloth above and especially below the charcoal. This will remove other contaminants and reduce any unpleasnt smell or taste.)
While this system may not be the best purification method, it has been
successfully used in the past. For rain water or water gathered from what appears to be relatively clean sources of running water, the system should work fine. If you have no water source but a contaminated puddle, oily highway runoff or similar polluted source, the filter may be better than nothing, but it’s not a great option.
Once the system has been established and works, you must remember to change the sand or dirt regularly.
Chemical additives are another, often less suitable option. The water
purification pills sold to hikers and campers have a limited shelf life,
especially once the bottle has been opened. Sarge considers these good
for the cars emergency kit, or short term emergency pack, as long as they are frequently replaced.