Monday, January 21, 2019

Emergency Water Storage

Water is absolutely essential to life. In a society long accustomed to having water-on-demand, most Americans give little thought to having water storage for emergencies. However, emergencies that leave us without on-demand water can and do happen. Having an emergency supply of water can be the difference between life and death in certain situations, so having an emergency supply is essential.

How Much Water to Store

The general recommendation most often given for how much water to store is 1 gallon per day, per person. So, a family of four would need 12 gallons of water for a 3-day period (1 gallon X 4 people X 3 days). In my opinion, this is an absolute minimum recommendation.

A better recommendation would be 1 gallon of potable water (that is, water safe for drinking, brushing teeth, cleaning wounds, food prep, and cooking) per day per person, PLUS additional water for flushing toilets, general household cleaning, and bathing (external only; brush teeth & clean wounds with potable water). PLUS, don't forget additional water for pets and livestock. 

Also, I would recommend storing enough water for 2 weeks (14 days), rather than just 3 days. This recommendation would be 56 gallons of potable water for a family of four (1 gallon X 4 people X 14 days), plus additional water for non-potable uses, pets, and livestock. How much additional water will depend on your situation, so use commonsense and your best estimates to come up with your target amount.  

NOTE: This is a minimum recommendation. More is always better.

Water for Washing Pots, Pans, and Dishes

Do you need potable water to wash pots, pans, and dishes? There is some disagreement on this issue. The following is my opinion, and what I do.

There is an adage "Germs dry. Germs die." I have no problem washing cookware, dishes, and utensils with regular (non-potable) water, as long as they are allowed to dry thoroughly before their next use. I've never gotten sick from doing this, and know of no one else who has. Many folks agree with me. Others don't. Decide for yourself. If you insist on washing dishes  only with potable water, you will have to add more potable water to your storage to account for this use.
Containers to NOT Use for Water Storage
  • Milk Jugs - not designed for long-term storage and will eventually leak; difficult to completely wash out the fats & proteins from the milk which may promote bacterial growth; plastic is of a type that may leach chemicals into the water over time.
  • Crystal Glass and Antique Glass Containers - the glass may contain lead.
  • Bleach Bottles - bleach bottles are treated with a chemical agent that may leach into water over time. 
  • Ozark Trail 6-gal water jugs - I've written about this before, but the giant X stamped into the sides is a major design flaw that will eventually spring leaks 100% of the time: read my warning article for details.
  • Containers that previously held toxic substances - impossible to clean thoroughly enough to be made safe.

Containers to Use for Water Storage
  • Water Tanks designed for the purpose of water storage - many types and sizes available on Amazon.
  • Water Containers designed for water storage - I use AquaTainers, and have never had one leak (they are also BPA-free). 
  • Food Grade plastic and glass bottles -  used bottles with tight-fitting screw-on tops that once contained water, juice, soda, or wine can be cleaned and repurposed for water storage; I use 1-gallon table wine bottles. Keep see-trough bottles in a dark room or closet, or otherwise covered to protect from light, to prevent growth of bacteria, algae, or mold.

Are Plastic Bottles and Containers Safe for Water Storage?

Plastic can leach into water over the long-term, but not all plastic leaches equally. Stick to food grade and BPA-free plastics for your long-term storage. Remember this: You will die of dehydration (in days) long before you'll die from plastic toxicity (after years of consumption, if ever). In a true long-term emergency situation, plastic water containers will be the very least of your problems.

How Long Will Water Store?

Non-potable water stores indefinitely, without need for rotation. 

Potable water, assuming it is properly stored, also stores indefinitely, without need for rotation. However, potable water will begin to taste "flat" after about six months or so. It is still safe to drink, and the taste can be improved by introducing air into it (think bubbles). Of course, if you notice algae or mold in the water, do not use it without treating first.

Additional Tips
  • Clean and thoroughly dry all bottles, tanks, and containers - both used and new - before filling with water for long-term storage.
  • If your tap water is already safe for drinking, it should also be safe for long-term storage without additional treatment.
  • Unsure of your water? Have it tested first, then treat if necessary. 
  • Want some extra insurance? Add 2-4 drops of unscented bleach per quart of water.
  • Store your long-term water away from direct sunlight and heat, and away from gasoline, kerosene, pesticides, and other chemicals (both to prevent contamination and to prevent possible degradation of plastic containers).
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  1. Can one use H2O2 as a preservative in place of chlorine bleach?

    1. Good question. The answer is "I don't know." I do know H2O2 is often used to treat well water and even municipal systems, but that is to remove bad ordors and tastes, not bacteria and viruses. Hydrogen Peroxide (which is just a diluted form of H2O2)does innhibit bacterial growth, but doesn't kill all germs. Perhaps a higher concentration of H2O2 would be more effective, but I don't know for sure.


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