Water Purification & Storage

Intro to Water

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The typical recommendation for water is “[s]tore at least 1 gallon of water per day for each person and each pet. Consider storing more water than this for hot climates, for pregnant women, and for people who are sick”
(CDC).

This is the minimum requirement. Under normal circumstances we get much of our daily water needs from the food we eat. If you store dehydrated or freeze dried foods as a large amount of your preps then you should plan for additional water use to accompany them.

For those with young children…

As someone who has been pregnant more than once and spent even more time breastfeeding, I’d have to say the water needs while breastfeeding are far more than while pregnant. Plus, if you get dehydrated when breastfeeding it can compromise your supply, which is even more critical in a disaster. If you do formula feed (or may be at some point soon) then it’s absolutely imperative to store not only enough water for mixing the formula, but also enough extra to adequately sanitize bottles. Otherwise it would be very easy for baby to get seriously ill and in a situation where medical care may not be easily accessible.

Water Storage

You can find some basic recommendations for safe water storage on CDC’s disaster preparedness page. There are lots of options for storing water, though this is usually only viable for the short term. You can buy containers of water already full at the grocery store or if you go to an outdoor store or the camping section at Wal-mart you’ll find water jugs specifically designed for making it easy to transport water (and reuse the container long term). There are also larger plastic storage liners for filling a bathtub with clean water if you have a few minutes warning and don’t need to evacuate.

Water Filtration

Since it’s only practical to store so much water, and even if you store a ton accidents can happen, it’s very important to have water filtration options. It’s so important that I consider redundancy KEY. Unless you want to drink out of a
lifestraw for the duration of the situation, it’s also going to be important to have water containers that can easily be sanitized when required and preferably are convenient for taking with you.

Cloth Filtration

Effective against: Cholera

Method: You can use tightly woven cloth to filter out dirt, gunk, and most cholera germs. Even a handkerchief works in a pinch, and cloth filtration as a first step can make it easier to use other methods below.

Make sure that if you do this more than once with the same piece of fabric you either use the same side against the dirty water or have the cloth sanitized in between the uses. Otherwise you’re just reintroducing to your water supply what you filtered out previously.

Boiling

Effective against: Viruses, Bacteria, Amebas, Giardia, Cryptosporidia, and Cholera

Method: If water is cloudy, use either the cloth filter above or allow cloudy water to settle in a container and draw off the clear water on top.

Once clear, bring to a rolling boil for at least 1 minute. If you are in a higher altitude (above 6,500 feet) then you will need to boil for at least 3 minutes. Let cool and then store in a clean container.

Chlorine

Effective against: Viruses, Bacteria, Giardia, Cholera

Method: Typically when talking about using chlorine to disinfect water, we are talking about using household bleach. If you use household bleach, make sure it doesn’t have additives like fragrance and check the concentration. These instructions are for 5% chlorine. Using clear water, add 8 drops of bleach per gallon of water, stir well, and then wait for at least 30 minutes. Make sure it smells/tastes slightly of chlorine before drinking. If it doesn’t, add the same amount again. Then stir and wait again.

The downside of household bleach is that it actually degrades quickly, often within 3-6 months. If you use a lot of bleach in your home and cycle through it, then that bottle under the sink may be useful for disinfecting water after a disaster. If it’s sat there for ages, try finding a different method. This is not a situation where you can just add a jug of bleach to your preps and call it a day.

Another option is getting actual calcium hypochlorite granules. Make sure to check the directions for those if you do so.

Charcoal Filters

Effective against: Bacteria, Amebas, Giardia, Cryptosporidia, Cholera

Check out this Hesperian publication for instructions and diagrams on making your own charcoal filter.

Sunlight

Effective against: Viruses, Bacteria, Giardia, Cholera

Method: It took awhile before I learned this was actually a viable option. Silly me. However, in order to do it you will need clear containers like a clear soda bottle or a glass bottle. Per Hesperian’s “Where There Is No Doctor”:

“Fill the bottle half full, then shake it for 20 seconds. This adds air bubbles which help disinfect the water faster. Then fill the bottle to the top. Place the bottle where there is no shade and where people and animals will not disturb it, such as the roof of a house. Leave the bottle for at least 6 hours in full sun, or for 2 days if the weather is cloudy. ”

The CDC recommends putting the clear containers on top of a reflective surface like aluminum foil to maximize the sunlight. I think that sounds like a great time to break out your mylar emergency blankets.

Iodine

Effective against: Most/all bacteria and some viruses

Method: This is a more old school method that isn’t widely recommended anymore compared to the others listed here. It’s helpful to know just in case but not something you’d want to make your plan A. Instructions out there seem to call for 5 drops of 2% iodine tincture per quart of clear water and 10 drops if it’s cloudy.

However, these instructions and subsequent warnings (see here for one example) seem to refer only to the iodine tincture you find typically in the first aid section which is not intended for internal use. There are other forms of iodine like Lugol’s which is intended for internal use and may be safer (the caveat being I don’t know if the number of drops per quart and general effectiveness would be the same).

Commercial Filters

Go to any Wal-mart outdoors aisle or Gander Mountain camping section and you can find water filter after water filter, all a little different. Before purchasing one, check the packaging for three important details:

What does it actually filter out? Virus? Bacteria? Protozoa (like Giardia)?

How much water will it filter? This varies widely by filter. If you try using
them on cloudy water, it’ll filter even less.

Do you need any specific water bottles or other containers to use with it?

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