Water storage, continued
Previous post on water storage here. Read that first.
Returning to our series on preparedness basics. These posts are aimed at newbie preppers (please share with your family and friends), though they might also help us fill gaps in our existing preps. As always, comment away if you have helpful experience and/or other options to suggest.
How much water should you store per person/per pet?
For a long time, most experts on preparedness recommended keeping one gallon of water per person on hand for the duration of whatever emergency we’re anticipating.
That’s bare bones. It’ll be sufficient for drinking water and for cooking (depending on whether you’re re-hydrating a lot of dried foods or not).
But for drinking, cooking, re-hydrating, sanitation, and washing (self and dishes), three gallons per day is better. (Note: it doesn’t all have to be potable.)
A quart a day per pet is probably sufficient, unless you have a really unusual pet.
Farm animals? That depends on the animal and on your local conditions. You’re in a better position to evaluate that that any “expert.”
At home, you should have enough to get you through at least a week before emergency help arrives. Two weeks is better. In a vehicle or bug-out bag, three days might have to do because water is heavy and bulky.
How to keep it safe
Purchased (and unopened) bottled water is inherently safe as long as the bottles are intact and haven’t been submerged in something nasty. Just be sure to rotate supplies at least once a year.
Bottling your own takes a little — but not much — more care.
Realistically, when bottling their own water, most people are just going to wash out new or used containers with detergent and water, then fill them with tap water and call it done.
You can do that and usually be just fine.
But why take chances when one more simple step could make the difference between good water and green scuzz? After washing with detergent and water, fill the container with warm tap water, add a teaspoon of unscented bleach, and let it sit an hour or two.
Then come back, rinse out all the bleach water, fill with tap water, cap, and store.
Write the date on the containers. Toss the old home-bottled water and refill at least once a year, better yet, six months. Yes, it’s probably overkill, but it gives you a chance to check for damage, too. And if you somehow get the Dreaded Green Scuzz, that’s the time to find out about it.
I’ve personally got a paradoxical attitude toward ensuring good, clean water storage. While I scrub and bleach the heck out of everything, I also sometimes use scrounged or garage-saled containers of unknown origin (I once scrambled into a desert gully to retrieve a five-gallon jug so dubious that, even after I had scrubbed and bleached it several times and left it soaking in the sun for a week with various cleaning and disinfecting solutions in it, my fellow hermit Joel refused to drink from it — and believe me, his standards of cleanliness are generally lower than mine.)
But water containers can be expensive. Unless you can recycle containers of your own (e.g. 2-liter pop bottles or similar juice bottles), bargain containers are to be prized — with some careful inspection, sniffing, and lots of cleaning.
Plastics and stored water
Most of us are going to be storing water in some sort of plastic. There are three main concerns here:
1. Is it really food grade? Water should only be stored in food-grade containers. There’s a huge amount of contradictory infomation out there about what that means. I’ll put links here so you can either sort it out or totally confuse yourself. But basically, if you look for the marking “PET” or “HDPE” and are sure that the container has never been used for anything but food or water, you’re probably good. The markings “1” and “2” correspond with the above. Markings “4” and”5″ are probably okay, but you’re not going to find them as often in suitable water containers.
Also, any new containers marketed as being for water storage are probably good. But don’t believe that guy on Craigslist that says the old barrel in his backyard is “food grade.”
Links for further confusification:
What is food-grade plastic?
Is that drum really food-grade?
2. Is it durable for long-term storage (in your storage conditions)? Most PET (1) containers are. Some HDPE (2) containers (e.g. milk cartons) may not be unless you take special precautions. See earlier post and, when possible, store water in a cool, dark place.
3. Is plastic, in general, healthy? I know a lot of readers of this blog are very health conscious and concerned about chemicals in plastic (of which BPA has gotten the most press). Frankly, since most of us are going to use stored water only for a week or at most, two, I wouldn’t make this a big worry.
Freezing and thawing (water in vehicles)
A bigger worry — and a topic that came up big time in the comments on the earlier water storage post — is freezing and thawing, particularly with water that’s carried in vehicles.
I’ve been doing some experimenting (and I know at least one member of the Commentariat has, too), and here’s a simple take on the subject:
Freezing: If you carry water in your vehicle in an area that gets well below freezing, there aren’t many simple, practical things you can do to prevent it. You can keep it in insulated containers, wrap it in blankets, keep it inside an electric cooler/warmer, etc. But without trucker-level precautions your water is going to go solid. So:
- Fill containers no more than 90 percent full to allow for expansion. Water expands about 9 percent when it freezes.
- Use containers that are both flexible and durable — e.g. those 2-liter pop containers, similar juice bottles, or one-gallon jugs of drinking water with a little of the water drained off.
- Do NOT use hard-sided plastic jugs or milk containers. Don’t use glass, either. Glass will survive a lot of freezing and thawing if you keep the water level safely low, but it’s too dangerous to keep glass containers banging around in a vehicle.
- Inspect and possibly replace containers every spring and fall.
Generally, the contents of bigger containers are going to freeze slower, smaller ones, faster.
Thawing: IMHO, thawing is a bigger concern than freezing, since freezing is inevitable in some conditions, while it takes work to thaw frozen water in those same conditions.
And when it comes to thawing, a small container is better than a big one. Oh, sure, you can set that five-gallon ice cube in the sun or next to a fire and start pulling trickles of water off it. But small containers you can carry around in a pocket or inside your clothing (but not next to your body — think layers). You can rub them with your mittened hands or apply those chemical hand- or toe-warmers to their sides. And of course the same sun-or-fire trick that works with the five-gallon ice cube works here — only faster. Plus, if you’re stranded and have to walk out, you can carry small bottles a lot easier than big ones.
One good pre-packaged product for carrying in a vehicle is Aqua Blox. These little “water boxes” aren’t terribly expensive. They have a five-year shelf life. They can handle expansion and contraction (so well that some people use them as cold packs after they’ve reached their recommended shelf life). And you can tuck them into various spots if you don’t have one good storage spot for water. Since the water in them is sterile, it can even be used to treat wounds.
It’s been a long time since I lived in a really brutal climate, so some of you who do might want to chime in on this. Again, though, we’re looking for simple solutions that even newbie preppers can use; leave those diagrams of the fiendishly clever Rube Goldberg machine you rigged up to enable your vehicle exhaust to power a water warmer for another day.
Filtering and purifying
As long as your stored water holds out, you’re golden. But in an emergency, if you have to drink water that is dubious, here’s what you need to know.
First line of defense: Filter cloudy water with a coffee filter, then boil it for at least one minute. Other tips.
If you aren’t in some cozy spot where you can heat up a pan of water, then you have two alternatives — as long as you have the right portable equipment with you. The right equipment falls into two categories:
Purifiers/disinfectants: These do nothing to filter crud out of the water (and in fact, with some of them, you may need to filter cloudy water before using them), but they kill bugs — including viruses.
These range from cheap, but not-tasty iodine tablets to really cool, but more expensive (and mostly battery-operated) SteriPens. One decent, cheap solution that still gives okay-tasting water is Potable Aqua Plus, which contains chlorine tablets to kill tiny water varmints, then ascorbic acid (vitamin C) to neutralize the taste of the chlorine.
Filters: These filter out dirt particles in the water and also filter out common disease organisms like giardia and cryptosporidium. A few of them are also fine enough to filter viruses.
Again, there’s a vast range of filters available, from Emergency “straw” types to a variety of filter bottles to pricier and more sophisticated (but still portable) systems.
It’s a good idea to have two methods/devices (on the theory that “two is one and one is none” in an emergency, but also because purifiers and filters are good at different things). On an extreme budget, you can accomplish that with less than $20 with purification tablets and a water straw.
If you really want Cadillac water treatment (a flippant way of saying the best, most reliable results) and you don’t want to have to check out a multitude of confusing options for yourself, consider the combination of the Katadyn Pocket Water Microfilter with a SteriPen purifier (get the hand-cranked SteriPEN Sidewinder if you’re concerned about dead batteries and you have the muscular oomph to operate it).
Longer-term storage (without major hassle)
55-gallon food-grade barrel
Or for greater storage
And follow all other water-storage guidelines.
(I’ve given an Amazon link for the 55-gallon barrel. However, I don’t recommend paying that kind of price unless you’re either rolling in money or absolutely have to have a new, pristine barrel. You can often get similar barrels from soft-drink bottling companies for less than one-fourth that price — if you don’t mind either a heavy-duty cleaning job and/or a slight flavor to your drinking water.)
How to find hidden sources of water that’s already in your home. (Good ideas, but keep in mind that much of this water may be polluted and will need to be boiled! And swimming pools and waterbeds — do people still have those? — are absolute last resorts.) This is good advice for finding extra water for flushing toilets and such.