Water Can Make the Difference Between Life & Death. Get prepared, follow these emergency water storage tips at home.
Water is perhaps the most crucial necessity to support life. Most of the general public, when surveyed, reported they don’t have an emergency water storage plan or any drinking water supply in case of an emergency.
The average adult can usually go for 3- 5 days without water. At that point the body starts adsorbing liquid from internal organs like the large intestine and will then begin to die within a week. The beginning danger signs of dehydration are: a dry mouth, darker urine with an increasing odor, elevated heartbeat, the onset of vomiting or diarrhea and finally death.
In contrast with water, life can be supported without food, depending on weight of the person, for maybe 3-4 weeks to more than a month.
Most people don’t think to store water at their home for an emergency. But consider this; water is probably the first thing you’ll need in emergency situations. Water will be needed for drinking, cleaning, and first aid, preparing food or sanitation. Water storage is going to become the vital necessity for your family after an emergency.
1. Two Gallons per Day is Minimum
The Department of Defense, Office of Civil Defense, suggests “a quart of water or other fluid a day will sustain life”, but people will be much more comfortable, especially in warm weather, with 1 gallon per day. Recommendations for the amount of water to be stored vary from one-half gallon to 1 gallon per day per person, for food preparation and drinking purposes only. An additional one-half to 1 gallon per day is needed for personal hygiene and dishwashing.
Most homes, condos and apartments will have sufficient space for a short-term supply of water. Storing at least a three-day supply is crucial. A two week supply is better if there is adequate storage space.
2. Choosing Containers for Emergency Water Storage
There are many types of containers for water storage. Containers should always be “food grade,” meaning they were meant to hold food or water. The most commonly used containers are glass, plastic, and metal. The best containers will incorporate secure lids and a spout or spigot to allow dispensing water without contamination.
Water weighs about 8-pounds per gallon. So, if the water storage needs to be portable, choose containers of 5-gallon capacity or less. Permanently stored water containers can be as large as 55-gallons. But, realize these will weigh more than 450 pounds a barrel when filled.
Glass: Glass provides a fairly effective container for storage and is non-permeable to vapors and gases. Glass should not be the sole source of water storage since it could easily break and may be damaged during an emergency event.
Plastic: Plastic bottles or jugs previously used for beverages make excellent containers. They are lightweight and fairly sturdy. Food-grade plastic containers are sold commercially for water storage and are available in many sizes at many stores. Non-food-grade plastic containers should not be used for food storage because harmful chemicals can leach into the food. Very lightweight plastic containers can split or degrade during storage.
Plastics used in waterbeds or pool liners are not approved food storage plastics.
Metal: Stainless steel can successfully be used for water storage. Other metals are not good choices for water containers unless they are coated and manufactured specifically to hold food or water. Pewter or lead soldered metals should always be avoided.
My favorite storage containers are the 5-gallon plastic bricks 11”x10”x14” which are rectangular and stackable. Filled they weigh about 40-pounds each. A block of eight will provide 40 gallons or a 10 day supply for two adults and store in about 2-feet x 3-feet of floor, closet or garage space.
3. Cleaning and Sanitizing Water Containers
Water containers should be sanitized with warm soapy water and rinsed well. Special attention should be given to containers that previously contained food or beverages. These must be carefully cleaned to remove any trace of dried food or bacteria. Fill the container with potable tap water, and then add 1 tablespoon bleach for each 1 gallon of water. Shake well, turning bottle upside down several times to sanitize the cap. Let stand for 1 minute, and then pour out the bleach water. Allow the container air dry.
4. Treatment for Stored Water
Understand tap water or well water is not sterile. The few microorganisms present can multiply during storage and have the potential to cause illness. Water that is to be stored for long periods of time should be treated to control microbial growth. Always use the best quality water possible for storage—remember this is your life.
Heat Treatment: An effective way to store water is in clean canning jars. Fill clean mason type quart or half-gallon jars with water. Leave 1 inch of headspace at the top of the jars. Attach two piece metal canning lids. Fill a boiling water canner half full of water and preheat the water to approx. 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Place jars into the water bath. Add more boiling water if necessary so that jars are covered by 1 inch of water. When water returns to a rolling boil, process jars for 20 minutes. Remove jars from the canner and allow them to cool on a kitchen or bath towel. After seals set, remove screw bands and place jars in storage. Canned water often will have a white mineral precipitate or ring at the water level. This is normal.
Chlorine Treatment: Liquid chlorine bleach, always use unscented bleach, can be used to disinfect water for long-term storage. Use fresh chlorine bleach since it can lose up to half its strength after 6 months. One gallon of water can be treated by the addition of 1/8 teaspoon of liquid chlorine bleach containing 4 to 6 percent sodium hypochlorite. Most bleach contains 5.25 percent. This is equivalent to 8 drops of liquid chlorine bleach. During storage the bleach will break down into oxygen and table salt.
Bottled water can be a quick and convenient solution for emergency water storage. Although it is convenient, it is not considered to be any safer than water from your tap. Standards for public water supplies are set by the Environmental Protection Agency and those for bottled water are set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Additionally the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) works with the industry to assure that FDA regulations are followed, assuring a safe, quality product.
5. Where to Store Water
Store emergency water supplies in a clean dry location. Storage off the ground and away from sunlight is best. Plastic is permeable to certain vapors, water stored in plastic should not be near gasoline, kerosene, pesticides or similar substances. If there is freezer space; store water in the freezer. It not only acts as water storage but if the electricity goes out it will help keep foods frozen. Leave 2-3 inches of headspace in container to allow for expansion as the water freezes.
When potable water or drinkable water is properly disinfected and stored, it should have an indefinite shelf life. To maintain optimum quality, water should be checked every 6-12 months. Check for secure lids, broken or cracked containers and for cloudiness. Replace the water and treat as before.
6. Emergency Sources of Water
In an emergency, if you have not previously stored enough water, you can use the potable water from pipes, a hot water heater, water softener reservoir and ice cubes. Turn off the heat source and allow the water to cool before removing water from a hot water heater. Unless you are advised that the public water supply has been contaminated and is not safe, open the drain valve at the bottom of the water heater and salvage the water stored in the heater and any that may drain back through the pipes. Once water has been drained into clean, sanitized containers, add 8 drops of chlorine bleach per gallon of water, and stir or shake the solution to mix it. Allow it to sit 30 minutes before drinking.
It is advised only to use the water from your toilet tank, waterbed, or swimming pool for personal hygiene or cleaning. These sources may have chemicals present making them non-drinkable. Treat these sources of water as non-potable. Never use water from the toilet bowl. Other possible sources of non-potable water are river, stream or lake water.
Filter murky or cloudy water through clean cloth or allow the sediment to settle before disinfecting it as described below.
7. Emergency Disinfection of Non-potable Water
Some emergency situations could occur where the only water available is contaminated by disease-causing organisms. In this case, the same procedures can be used as for treatment of stored water as follows:
Heat Treatment: Boiling is the most preferred method. This heat treatment requires water to be boiled in a vigorous rolling boil for 5 minutes for any altitude. Taste may be improved by pouring the boiled water back and forth from one clean container to another several times to incorporate air.
Chemical and Filtration Treatments:
Chemical treatment is less desirable than heat treatment because the effectiveness is dependent on several variables such as: organic matter in the water, water temperature and the length of time after the chemical is added until it is used.
Chlorine or water purification tablets will not kill parasite cysts such as Giardia and Cryptosporidium. It is recommended to both filter and chemically treat non-potable sources of water to minimize potential contamination from bacteria, viruses and parasites.
Chlorine Treatment: Clear water can be treated with ¼ teaspoon (16 drops) of liquid chlorine bleach per gallon. Use fresh bleach. Mix the water and allow it to stand for 30 minutes before using. If water is cloudy in appearance, chemical treatment is not recommended. A slight chlorine odor should be detectable in the water. If not, repeat the treatment and let stand an additional 15 minutes before using.
Water Purification Tablets: Different types of tablets are available for water purification purposes. Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s directions for treatment and allow sufficient time for the chemical to work before using. Check the label for expiration date, since the tablets can become ineffective with time. Most tablets have a storage life of approximately 2–5 years unopened.
Commercial Water Filtration Units: Filter water if a commercial or backpack filter that filters to 1 micron is available. These filters are available in better sporting good stores and are recommended for use when backpacking. They are not recommended to filter large volumes of water or for water with a lot of sediment. Filtering at 1 micron eliminates bacteria and parasites such as Giardia and Cryptosporidium, but it may not eliminate viruses. Therefore, it’s recommended that 5-7 drops (1/8 teaspoon) of chlorine bleach be added per gallon of filtered water. Wait 30 minutes before using the water, or cap the containers and store in a cool, dry place.
8. Contamination by Radioactivity and Chemicals
No effective method for decontamination of water that contains radioactive or chemical fallout is available for home use. This decontamination process should be supervised by local or state health officers.