Clean drinking water is taken for granted. The truth is that it can vanish unexpectedly. It could happen due to a nuclear explosion or a cholera epidemic, but something far less dramatic is more likely.
Say, for example, you went for a hike in the woods on a warm day and got lost. Your chances of having died a violent death — by meeting a grizzly, for example — are less than dying of dehydration. That’s right — people survive only around three days, an average of 100 hours, without water.
Here are the most important steps required to being prepared for a potentially catastrophic loss of water.
This is the most obvious step required in an emergency situation, and will vary drastically depending on the resources available to you. A soldier in the midst of war may not have access to a drinking well, but you may.
Here are five ways to acquire water before an emergency situation takes place:
- Have some water bottles stored in case of an emergency. This is good for a short-term emergency, but the supply may not last very long depending on how many people need water in your household.
- Own a well. This obviously requires prior preparation, but can be a literal life saver in an emergency and is the most reliable and consistent method to make sure that you always have potable water. The price of a well differs between countries, but can be as low as $1500.
- Collect rain water. You can place large containers (ranging from small plastic barrels up to commercial cisterns – it depends on just how prepared you want to be) situated below gutters that drain from your roof. Place a lid over them when the rain has stopped to prevent evaporation.
- Store an emergency supply. Before an emergency hits, evaluate different long-terms water storage options. You might want to store up to 100 gallons, or potentially just a case or two of bottled water. If the emergency already happened, plan for a way to collect water from nearby streams and truck it back home with you.
- Double up. Use multiple water acquisition methods! Collecting rain water AND owning a well will result in more water for you and your family, which means longer survival times.
Let’s say you couldn’t be bothered to dig a well, or even purchase a few gallons of water, and are left without immediate sources of clean water in an emergency. You can still purify water from natural sources, like rivers and lakes. But even water that looks perfectly clear can be home to lethal pathogens. Giardia, cholera, and many other potentially lethal pathogens can be found in dirty water.
Water purification is just as important as finding water at all. Here are a five ways you can purify water from an unclean drinking source:
- The bleach method. You can add 1/8 teaspoon of bleach to a clean, 1-gallon container of clear water to render it safe to drink. If the water is not clear, you should add ¼ teaspoon bleach.
- The boiling method. Boil water for one minute.
- The iodine method. Add 12 drops of iodine to a gallon of clear water, or 24 drops of iodine into turbid water. Stir it, and then it is safe to consume. However, pregnant women should not drink iodine-treated water.
- The tablet method. Use commercially available water-purification tablets.
- The desalinate method. If you don’t have access to rivers or lakes but are near the sea, there are commercially available desalinators which you can use to create drinking water out of seawater. Or you can simply desalinate seawater by evaporation or distillation, which can be done in a number of ways.
Note: You should filter your water to remove large particulates before trying any of the above methods. To accomplish this, use a clean t-shirt or other piece of fine cloth and pour the water through.
Proper storage is the third crucial step in preventing a dehydration-related death. While water itself will never expire, it can accumulate pathogens. Proper storage can lead to water that is safe to consume for up to six months.
Here are a five ways to store safe water:
- Commercially-available storage tanks. This is the safest way to store water and will make sure that your drinking water stays safe for the longest amount of time possible.
- DIY storage tanks. Alternatively, you could build your own storage tank. This could be a cheaper option if you know what you’re doing, but if not, it’s riskier due to contamination issues.
- Used bottles. Just clean them up with soap and water, and store some safe water in case of an emergency tomorrow. Plastic and glass bottles have good safety records, according to the latest research.
- Water barrels. These often hold about 50 – 55 gallons and provide good medium-term storage. Remember, the general rule of thumb is one gallon of water per person per day.
- Plant coconut palm trees. This is a bit eccentric, but if you live in the right climate, you could always plant a few coconut palm trees and harvest the coconuts for the delicious liquid inside. Even if it’s not necessarily as healthy as it’s cracked up to be, the sweet stuff is 95% water.
The everyday occurrence of drinking a glass of water can quickly become a precious, life-saving action in an emergency. Finding, purifying and storing water could make the difference between life and death, so don’t wait to consider your options.
This is a guest post written by Megan Ray Nichols.
Megan Ray Nichols is a science writer and the editor of Schooled By Science. She enjoys discussing scientific discoveries and exploring the world around her. Follow her on twitter @nicholsrmegan.