If you turn on the tap and nothing happens, are you prepared? Anything from a water main break to a long-term power outage can leave us high and dry. A healthy human adult can only go three days without drinking water.
When a major emergency occurs, you might not have time to fill your bathtubs and sinks with what’s left in the pipes. Do you have a water heater tank in your home? If you’ve got an on-demand unit or a central, multi-unit system, you’ve reduced your options by at least 30 gallons, and the water in your toilet tanks will only last you so long.
Clearly, you don’t want to leave your water security to chance. How prepared is your household?
What’s Your Water Usage?
As a society, we take water for granted. According to USGS, the average American uses 80-100 gallons of water each day, mostly for flushing toilets. In an emergency, you’ll want to store 2-3 gallons of water per person, per day for drinking, food prep, and hygiene. As for flushing the toilet, well, you’ll have to pour dirty water into the bowl to “gravity flush” your system.
Gray water is what’s left after bathing, washing food, and cleaning clothes. Some gray water can be filtered and re-used for hygienic purposes but only as a last resort for hydration. Water that’s been used to wash salmonella or e-coli-prone food and surfaces, to bathe sick people, or that’s come into contact with feces is considered black water, unfit for re-use.)
A good way to figure out how dependent you are on your water supply, and to test your guesstimate on water storage, is to shut off your water main for a weekend and hand each family members three single-gallon jugs of water. Be sure to let your family members in on the plan, or your “drill” might turn into a real-life crisis.
How Will You Store & Replenish Your Water Supply?
Your family’s strategy for storing and using water is dependent upon your available space, physical abilities, and your plan for rationing water in an emergency. Consider your options before building up your supply.
Five Gallon Water Cans:
- Heavy and require lots of space
- Aren’t suitable for scavenging runs
- Square jugs are stackable and more space efficient
- Look for containers that have built-in spigots for countertop use
- Must be rotated out, or treated with a couple teaspoons of bleach
Pre-Filled, Sealed Store-Bought Water Jugs
- Easier for family members to heft and carry around
- Suitable to carry while scavenging for resources
- Two-gallon containers are more stackable than single-gallon jugs
Single-Serve Water Bottles or Cans
- Handy “on-the-go” containers
- Cases are stackable
- Very user-friendly for small kids, elderly, and disabled group members
- Packaging material to product ratio is on the high side
Pre-Filled, Sealed Water Pouches
- Great for “get out of dodge”, a.k.a. G.O.O.D. bags for their packability
- Pack well in vehicle kits
- Long shelf-life
- High packaging-to-product ratio
- Some products require tools (knife, scissors) to open, making them difficult for small kids
- Not intended for long-term storage
- Excellent choice for expedition hydration
- More difficult to sterilize or clean after use as a water scavenging container
- Pairs well with backpacking water filter
- Filters water from rainwater catchment systems
- Allows for limited recycling of gray water
- Not portable
- Gravity-fed percolation requires no fuel and little manpower
- Portable, lightweight and compact
- Cleans water on-site or at home
- Requires time and moderate effort to pump water
- Great for refilling portable containers
Water Purifying Tablets
- Highly portable
- Use with lightweight bandanna for “mechanical” pre-filtration
- Limited supply
Tarp Catchment Systems
- Requires access to outdoors and attachment points
- Requires filtration
- Dependent upon rainfall
Passive Condensation Collectors
- Requires significant time
- Requires sunlight
- Purifies as it collects
- Most appropriate for high-temperature, remote locations
Now that you know your options, you’ll want to decide how to layer your materials and skills to ensure you’ve got the right hydration resources for any potential situation, whether you’re bugging in, bugging out, or planning scavenging outings around your city. The best way to find out what systems work for you is to experiment with them well in advance of a disaster, practice using your equipment, and adapt your strategy to your family’s specific needs.