Potable Water

There is a commonly cited axiom in the preparedness community called the Rule of Three, which states you can live 3 minutes without air, 3 days without water, and 3 weeks without food. With that in mind, we’re going to focus on potable water.

The human body requires water to function. Water helps move oxygen and nutrients around the body as a component of blood, helps eliminate waste, regulate body temperature, moisten tissue and digest food. Even mild dehydration begins to slow and shut down necessary bodily functions. The body excretes approximately 2 liters of water a day through normal function, which needs to be continually replaced.

Additionally, water coupled with soap is a simple, effective way to maintain cleanliness and prevent infection, which can be life threatening following a disaster event. Further, being clean can be a huge morale booster, and provide some semblance or normal life.

Two liters of water per day is considered the minimum ration for an adult to maintain proper hydration. Add to that another two liters for cooking and hygiene, and you are talking an absolute minimum of one gallon per person per day. (Don’t forget to plan for pets!) With minimum intake, you will not be hiking marathon distances, clearing heavy storm debris, searching through rubble for survivors, or any other strenuous activity. Physical activity will greatly increase your body’s demand for water, so plan accordingly.

It is also necessary, although to a lesser degree, to replace electrolytes. This is usually accomplished through food intake, but during heavy activity can be supplemented sparingly with sports drinks like Gookinaid or diluted Gatoraid.

Post event, the municipal water supply may be compromised or unavailable. It will be necessary to have a supply of potable water available to you. The best way to guarantee this is to put some water in storage. Water is bulky and heavy at 8.33 pounds per gallon (or 62.4 pounds per cubic foot). Assuming you are planning to store water in the amount of one gallon for two adults for 90 days (180 gallons), you can accomplish this with four 55 gallon drums. Each drum will weigh 458 pounds – they will not be easily moved when full. Drums can frequently be acquired from a soft drink bottling plant at little to no cost. Drums may also be available in 15 and 30 gallon sizes.

If drums are not to your liking, there are other containers available to suit your taste. You can clean out 2L soda bottles and refill them with treated water. Water can be purchased in 5 gallon bottles for use on a water cooler. Cases of 20oz water bottles can be purchased at warehouse stores. You can acquire military style “Jerry Cans” in 10L and 20L capacities.

Whatever container you choose, it is important to treat the water at storage time, and regularly rotate (every 6 months) to insure it remains potable when you need it. You can add plain Clorox bleach to clear tap water to disinfect. Use 1 teaspoon per gallon of clear water, mix and allow to stand. The water should have a slight chlorine odor; if not, repeat dosing. The taste and odor can be eliminated from treated water by pouring it several times between clean containers immediately before use.

If you use all of your storage water, or no longer have access to your stores, it may become necessary to collect water from natural sources. You could potentially collect water from streams or lakes or catch rain runoff from your roof. Seawater and brackish water should not be collected for consumption.

Any collected water must be treated to prevent illness, such as infection from the Giardia parasite, which can cause stomach cramps, vomiting, and diarrhea. Water can be run through a reliable camping filter, such as one from Katadyn or MSR. It can be chemically treated with chlorine bleach as described earlier, or with iodine or chlorine tablets per manufacturer’s instructions. In large quantity, water can be brought to a rolling boil and allowed to cool, although this requires a large amount of fuel. Large debris such as leaves can be pre-filtered through pieces of cloth.

Water is essential to life, and clean water is essential to a healthy life. Begin to prepare now for the day that fresh, potable water is no longer a twist of a valve away.

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