How to Create a Short Term Emergency Water Supply
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If some kind of disaster were to hit your community and your drinking water supply was cut off for a few days, would you be able to survive?
What if a few days turned into a week or more?
You never know when an unexpected emergency might happen. And you can’t just expect the government to take care of you. Remember Hurricane Katrina?
Running out of water is not a risk you want to take.
The good news is that it doesn’t take a lot of effort or money to build up an emergency water supply.
If you follow these guidelines, you’ll be able to store enough water to keep you and your family alive and thriving in the event of an emergency.
How much water do I need?
You should store at least 1 gallon of water per person and pet per day. And you’ll need enough for a minimum of 3 days. This is enough for drinking and personal hygiene.
So for a family of four plus one pet, that makes 15 gallons.
That’s the minimum. If you have the space, it’s best to have a 2 week supply. There have been plenty of scenarios when water supplies have been disrupted beyond 3 days. Two weeks’ worth should get you through just about any emergency situation.
For a family of four with a pet, a 2 week supply adds up to 70 gallons.
You’ll want to increase the amount if you’re in a hot climate or if you have special needs like pregnancy or chronic sickness.
What are my options?
You basically have two options:
- Purchase bottled water from the store.
- Fill your own containers with water.
Store bought bottled water has some clear advantages. It’s already clean, it’s sealed, and it’s in food grade plastic.
It’s also portable and easy to store if you’re short on space. You can stash cases of bottled water under beds, in closets, or wherever you have a little bit of room to spare.
The main disadvantage is that it’s a little more expensive than DIY. Plus you have lots of small plastic bottles to deal with as you use the water.
One case of 32 16.9-oz bottles is just over 4 gallons. So, going back to the family of four plus a pet, 4 cases this size would be enough for 3 days.
For 2 weeks, you’re looking at about 17 cases.
If you use purchased water, be sure to pay attention to the expiration date and rotate your supply. The water itself doesn’t ever go bad, but the plastic bottles can give it a bad taste after a while.
If you opt to go the DIY route, there’s a right way and a wrong way to do it. Please read the information below for guidance.
What kinds of containers can I use?
It’s important to use containers that won’t transfer any toxins to the water. That’s going to basically limit you to three options:
- Food Grade Plastic - Look for the recycling symbol. Use only numbers 1, 2, 4 or 5 plastics. Number 2 is the best. Plastic absorbs chemicals and can leach them into the water, so never use plastic containers that had anything other than food in them.
- Stainless Steel - You can store water in stainless steel as long as the water isn’t treated with chlorine. That’s because chlorine is corrosive to most metals.
- Glass - Glass is safe, but, of course, it’s prone to breaking. And it’s heavy.
Whichever kind you use, make sure that the top closes tightly.
For more information about safe water storage, see this article from the CDC.
Which plastic containers are best?
You can look for plastic water containers that hold 5 to 7 gallons of water at camping stores, Walmart or Amazon.
The best water jugs are made of heavy duty blue #2 plastic, like this one called the Aqua-Tainer.
If you click on the image, it'll take you to Amazon where you can check the current availability and price.
By the way, there’s a reason for the blue color. It keeps out light and helps prevent algae from growing inside.
Empty 2-liter soda bottles are also a good choice since the plastic is a decent thickness and they have good screw-on lids.
If you’re going to recycle used plastic containers, a few words of caution:
- Never use plastic containers that had anything in them other than food. Plastic absorbs chemicals and can leach them into the water. That’s not safe.
- Don’t use milk jugs. They’re flimsy and easy to puncture. The lids usually don’t fit well, either. Plus, in spite of your best efforts, the jugs are about impossible to get completely clean. That’s because the plastic has a pebbly texture that makes it easier for milk proteins and sugar to hang on. It’s hard to clean inside the handle, too. Even a tiny bit of residue left behind encourages the growth of bacteria, and you don’t want that.
- You must clean and sanitize the containers before filling them. The proper method is detailed in the next section.
- Replace the water every 6 months. You need to rotate it out with fresh water, just like you would with bottled water. But please don’t just dump it out. Use it to water the plants or wash the car, or something. Don’t waste it!
How should I pretreat the containers?
Before you fill the containers, they need to be cleaned and sanitized. Here’s what you do:
- Wash them with dish detergent and rinse thoroughly.
- Make a solution of 2 teaspoons unscented household bleach to 1 quart of water.
- Put some of the solution in the container, put the lid on, and give it a good shaking so that the entire inside surface is covered.
- Wait 30 seconds, and pour out the solution.
- Let it air dry before using it, or go ahead and rinse it with clean water if you’re going to fill it right away.
Where should I store the water?
If possible, store your water in a cool place that maintains a temperature between 50℉ and 70℉. Keep it out of direct sunlight, too.
Don’t store it in the same area with toxic materials like gasoline and pesticides.
You also might want to label the containers with the words “Drinking Water” and mark the date so you know when it’s time to change out the water.
What if I run out of drinking water?
Hopefully you’ll have plenty of water in your emergency storage. But if for some reason you don’t have enough, there are steps you can take.
The best thing you can do is to boil it. Bring it to a full rolling boil, and it will kill any microorganisms in the water.
- Note: Boiling kills microorganisms, but does not remove chemical toxins.
If you don’t have a heat source and can’t boil the water, you can use bleach to disinfect it.
So that means that you should keep a bottle of bleach in your emergency supplies along with a dropper.
- Note: Use unscented concentrated or germicidal bleach containing 8.25% sodium hypochlorite.
Here’s how to do it:
- Add 2 drops bleach to 1 quart water, or 6 drops bleach to 1 gallon water in a clean container. Double the amount of bleach if the water is colored, cloudy, or very cold.
- Stir and let stand for 30 minutes.
- Take a sniff. It should have a slight chlorine odor. If it doesn’t, repeat step 1 and let it stand for 15 more minutes.
- If the chlorine taste is too strong, pour it into another clean container. Pour it back and forth a couple of times to help release the chlorine into the air. You can also let it stand uncovered for a few hours and the chlorine taste and smell will go away.
Using bleach is also a good way to sanitize water for cleaning if you don’t want to use up your precious drinking water.
If I have a water filter, do I still need to store water?
The question is, will you have any water to filter?
You may have the world’s best water filter, but if the water supply is cut off, it’s not going to do you any good.
Or maybe there’s a natural water source not far away, but you can’t get to it. Again, your filter will be of no use.
So it’s always a smart move to stockpile drinking water, even if you do have a water filter.
Make sure that you and your family have the one thing that’s absolutely essential to your survival and well-being. Start building your emergency water supply today.
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