For your in-home cache or survival retreat stash, you should count on using at least two gallons of water per-person per-day. While this is more water than necessary to survive (except in hot climates or after strenuous exertion) it ensures water is available for hygiene and cooking as well as drinking.
Captain Dave’s personal in-home stash has enough water for more than a week, and he lives near a stream and a pond in an area where it rains at least occasionally much of the year.
One way to obtain water for your stash is to buy it. This ensures pure water bottled in a sanitary fashion. It has the added benefit of giving you containers for use after you have consumed it.
Commercial gallon bottles of filtered/purified spring water often carry expiration dates two years after the bottling date. A good rotation program is necessary to ensure your supply of water remains fresh and drinkable (see the previous section on food for information on rotation). Captain Dave purchases cases of six one-gallon jugs, which frequently go on sale. The heavy-duty cardboard boxes stack easily and protect the jugs from rupturing. These are great for use in the kitchen. Smaller 20-ounce or 16-ounce sports bottles or water bottles are also useful for carrying water around for personal consumption, but are much more expensive on a per-ounce basis. However, they are easier to store in your vehicle and bug out bag.
For home use, you can buy filled 5-gallon water cooler jugs at stores such as Home Depot and even some grocery stores. These are not cheap, because they include a deposit on the container itself, but it is a convenient storage method. Just remember that they should be stored in a dark location because the clear bottles do not prevent algae growth.
If you do not buy water for storage, then you must put up your own. Thankfully, this is not very difficult. It’s even easier if you start with a purified water source. The trick with storing water is to make sure 1) there are no bacteria, protozoa, viruses or other contamination present when you bottle it and 2) that there is no way for these to be added during the process. That means you need to use clean water and sterilized bottles and utensils during the process. Don’t, for example, use a dirty funnel or water from an old garden hose and expect it to store well. Water should come right from a tap into the storage container.
If you prefer to store your own water, don’t use milk cartons; it’s practically impossible to remove the milk residue (ugh!). Bleach bottles are recommended by others, and while Captain Dave has never used this method, and apparently bleach manufacturers don’t recommend it. Captain Dave simply re-uses the water bottles after he drinks the water in them as it nears its expiration date.
If you have a spare refrigerator in the basement or the garage, use PET water bottles (the kind soda or liters of water come in) to fill any available freezer space. In addition to providing you with fresh, easily transportable drinking water, the ice can be used to cool food in the refrigerator in the event of a power failure. Captain Dave has found that these bottles, which are clear and have screw-on caps, will withstand many freeze-thaw cycles without bursting or leaking. (The bottle bottom may distort when frozen, but this isn’t a big problem.)
For self-storage of large amounts of water, you’re probably better off with containers of at least five gallons. Food-grade plastic storage containers are available commercially in sizes from five gallons to 250 or more. Containers with handles and spouts are usually five to seven gallons, which will weigh between 40 and 56 pounds. Get too far beyond that and you’ll have great difficulty moving a full tank.
15 gallon and 30 gallon containers used for food service — such as delivery of syrups to soda bottlers and other manufacturers — are often available on the surplus market. After proper cleaning, these are ideal for water storage — as long as a tight seal can be maintained. 55 gallon drums and larger tanks are also useful for long-term storage. But make sure you have a good pump on hand!
Clean, new containers designed and FDA approved for food contact are best. Containers that previously held water are second best. Containers that are food safe and used to hold food are OK, but not ideal. Never use containers that used to hold non-food items. For example, do not use containers that held cleansers, chemicals, automotive supplies, fuel, and other household or industrial products. These just are not safe to re-use.
Before you start, rinse whatever bottle or tank you are using with a bleach solution to kill any bacteria or germs that may be present. Rinse with good water and you should be good to go.
Solutions designed to be added to water to prepare it for long-term storage are commercially available. Follow the label instructions. Bleach can also be used to treat tap water from municipal sources. Added at a rate of about 1 teaspoon per 10 gallons, bleach can ensure the water will remain drinkable. Captain Dave recommends rotating the water in storage tanks every year.
Once you’re in a survival situation where there is a limited amount of water, conservation is an important consideration. While drinking water is critical, water is also necessary for rehydrating and cooking dried foods. Water from boiling pasta, cooking vegetables and similar sources can and should be retained and may be drunk after it has cooled or used to make soup. Canned vegetables also contain liquid that can be consumed, as long as it is not too salty. This not only conserves water, it provides vitamins that have leached out of the vegetables during preparation
To preserve water, you may also save water from washing your hands, clothes and dishes and use it to flush toilets.
Using Pool and Spa Water
Water from pools and spas may be convenient and handy, but should not be used for drinking, cooking or food prep. Use them to flush toilets and for cleaning clothes and such, but not for consumption. While the chlorine in pools does kill germs and purify the water, there are too many other chemicals added to make these safe for drinking. This includes non-foaming agents, PH balancers, flocculating agents and other substances that do not belong in your drinking water. Pool and Spa water is designed for external use only.
Short Term Water Storage
People who have electric well pumps have learned the lesson of filling up all available pots and pans when a thunderstorm is brewing. What would you do if you knew your water supply would be disrupted in an hour?
Here are a few options in addition to filling the pots and pans:
- The simplest option is to put two or three heavy-duty plastic trash bags (avoid those with post-consumer recycled content) inside each other. Then fill the inner bag with water. You can even use the trash can to give structure to the bag. (A good argument for keeping your trash can fairly clean!)
- Fill your bath tub almost to the top. While you probably won’t want to drink this water, it can be used to flush toilets, wash your hands, etc.
- Keep plastic five gallon pails on hand and fill them up with water.
- Have several five-gallon or seven-gallon plastic containers designed for water. These are sold in the camping and outdoor section of Wal-Mart and other stores. They are usually blue or green, which helps prevent light from penetrating which can lead to the formation of algae.
If you are at home, a fair amount of water will be stored in your water pipes and related plumbing system. To get access to this water, first close the valve to the outside as soon as possible. This will prevent the water from running out as pressure to the entire system drops and will also prevent contaminated water from entering your house.
Then open a cold water faucet on the top floor. This will let air into the system so a vacuum doesn’t hold the water in. Next, you can open a faucet in the basement. Gravity should allow the water in your pipes to run out the open faucet. You can repeat this procedure for both hot and cold systems.
Unless you have a tankless system, your hot water heater will also have plenty of water inside it. You can access this water from the valve on the bottom. Again, you may need to open a faucet somewhere else in the house to ensure a smooth flow of water. Sediment often collects in the bottom of a hot water heater. While a good maintenance program can prevent this, it should not be dangerous. Simply allow any stirred up dirt to again drift to the bottom or filter it out before using the water.