Preparing An Emergency Water Supply

In a disaster, you might be unable to get food; water and the electricity supply could be interrupted for days. By preparing emergency provisions, you can turn what could be a life-threatening situation into a manageable problem.

Water: The Absolute Necessity

Stocking water reserves and learning how to purify contaminated water should be your top priority in preparing for an emergency. You should store at least a three-day supply of water for each member of your family. Everyone’s needs will differ, depending upon age, physical condition, activity, diet and climate. A normally active person needs to drink at least two litres of water each day. Hot environments can double that amount. Children, nursing mothers and people who are ill will need more. You will need additional water for food preparation and hygiene. Store at least four litres per person per day.

If supplies begin to run low, remember: never ration water. Drink the amount you need today, and try to find more for tomorrow. You can minimize the amount of water your body needs by reducing activity and staying cool.

How to Store Emergency Water Supplies

Store your water in thoroughly washed plastic, glass, fibreglass, or enamel-lined metal containers. Never use a container that has held toxic substances, because tiny amounts may remain in the container’s pores. Hard plastic containers, such as soft drink bottles, are best. You can also purchase food-grade plastic buckets or drums.

Before storing your water, treat it with a preservative, such as chlorine bleach, to prevent the growth of micro-organisms. Use liquid bleach that contains 5.25 per cent sodium hypochlorite. Do not use scented bleaches, colour-safe bleaches or bleaches with added cleaners. Some bleach containers warn, ‘Not for Personal Use’. You can disregard these warnings if the label states sodium hypochlorite is the only active ingredient and if you use only the small quantities in the instructions that follow.

Hidden Water Sources in Your Home

If a disaster catches you without a stored supply of clean water, you can use water in your hot-water tank, in your plumbing and in ice cubes. As a last resort, you can use water in the reservoir tank of your toilet (not the bowl), but purify it first.

To use the water in your pipes, let air into the plumbing by turning on the highest faucet in your house and draining the water from the lowest one.

To use the water in your hot-water tank, be sure the electricity or gas is off, and open the drain at the bottom of the tank. Start the water flowing by turning off the water intake valve and turning on a hot-water faucet. Do not turn on the gas or electricity when the tank is empty.

Do you know the location of your incoming water valve? It is normally located in the basement. You’ll need to shut it off to stop contaminated water from entering your home if you hear reports of broken water or sewage lines.

Emergency Outdoor Water Sources

You can use these outdoor sources, but purify the water before drinking it. Avoid water with floating material, an odour or dark colour.

  • Rainwater
  • Streams, rivers
  • Ponds and lakes
  • Natural springs

Four Easy Ways to Purify Water

In addition to having a bad odour and taste, contaminated water can contain micro-organisms that cause diseases such as dysentery, cholera, typhoid and hepatitis. You must purify all water of uncertain purity before using it for drinking, food preparation or hygiene.

There are many ways to purify water. None are perfect. Often the best solution is a combination of methods. Before purifying, let any suspended particles settle to the bottom, or strain them through layers of paper towel or clean cloth.

Purification methods

These measures will kill microbes but will not remove other contaminants such as heavy metals, salts, and most other chemicals.

1. Boiling is the safest method of purifying water.

Bring water to a rolling boil for ten minutes, keeping in mind that some water will evaporate. Let the water cool before drinking. Boiled water will taste better if you put oxygen back into it by pouring it back and forth between containers. This will also improve the taste of stored water.

2. Chlorination uses liquid chlorine bleach to kill micro-organisms.

Add two drops of bleach per litre of water stir and let stand for 30 minutes. If the water does not smell of chlorine at that point, add another dose and let stand another 15 minutes.

If you do not have a dropper, improvise one using a spoon and a square-ended strip of paper or thin cloth about 1/4 inch  by 2 inches. Put the strip in the spoon with an end hanging down about 1/2 inch below the scoop of the spoon. Place bleach in the spoon and carefully tip it. Drops the size of those from a medicine dropper will drip off the end of the strip.

3. Purification tablets release chlorine or iodine.

They are inexpensive and available at most sporting goods stores and some drugstores. Follow the package directions.  Usually one tablet is enough for one quart of water. Double the dose for cloudy water.

4. Water Purification devices.

Several water purification devices can be purchased that filter many impurities from water. Follow the instruction manual.  It contains important information on the safe use and maintenance of these devices.