Emergency Water Supply

Maintaining an emergency water supply should be your #1 priority when gathering survival supplies.

Do not underestimate the importance of having emergency water. My friend's mom lived through Hurricane Andrew and the devastating aftermath, and to this day, she believes that her backup water supply was a major factor in her survival.

Here are some things to consider when you are preparing a backup water supply:

  • Amounts – How much to water to store per person for drinking, bathing & cooking

  • Water storage – what type of containers should be used to store water and where should they be stored

  • Water Purification – How to properly purify stored or contaminated water to avoid illness

  • Water Supplies – Where to find alternative water sources in your home, neighborhood and surrounding area

Don't wait until there is a storm warming or the ground is rumpling under your feet to start collecting an emergency water supply.

Keep in mind that during or after a disaster, the water supply can quickly become contaminated or eliminated all together.

If the water supply is totally eliminated, time is of the essence; we can only go 3-5 days without water.

A human body is made up of 70% water. We need a constant supply of water for the distribution of nutrients, electrolytes, hormones, and other chemical messengers throughout the body, as well as the removal of waste products. Water is involved in cellular energy production and the maintenance of body temperature.

While drinking water is critical, an emergency water supply will also be necessary for washing, bathing and sanitation. And if you have placed dried foods in your emergency supplies you will also need water to re-hydrate and cook them.

How Much Water to Store

The CDC recommends storing at least:

  • 1 gallon per person and pet per day.
  • a 3-day supply of water for each member of your family.

In an emergency, you will need to drink at least 2 quarts of water a day.

Special Considerations – increase to 3 or 4 quarts a day if you are in a hot climate, pregnant, sick, or a child

If your emergency water supply does run low, don't ration water: Drink the amount you need today and look for more tomorrow. Don't risk dehydration.

Emergency Water Storage Tips

The general rule of thumb for water storage is two gallons per person per day for drinking, cooking and sanitation.

Start with storing enough water for one week and then increase the amount as you are able.

bleach from WalmartBefore storing your emergency water supply, treat it with disinfectant, such as chlorine bleach, to prevent the growth of microorganisms.

Use liquid bleach that contains 5.25 percent sodium hypochlorite and no soap. See water purification recipe below.

If bleach is more than a year old, double the amount used as it loses strength over time.

Store the water in thoroughly washed and sanitized plastic, glass or enamel-lined metal containers. Do not use milk jugs as they decompose quickly.

Don't use anything that has been used for chemicals, like pesticides or herbicides.

Well-made, sturdy plastic containers, such as soft drink bottles, are best for an emergency water supply stash. You can also purchase food-grade plastic buckets or drums.

Food-grade plastic storage containers are available commercially in sizes from five gallons to 250 gallons. Just remember, at some point, you can't move very much water because it is crazy heavy. Larger containers are for sheltering-in-place situations.

Containers with handles and spouts are usually five to seven gallons, which will weigh between 40 and 55 pounds when full. Get too far beyond that and you will have great difficulty moving something that big.

Many containers used for food service, such as for the delivery of green tea, are often available on the secondary market. After proper cleaning, these are ideal for emergency water storage as long as a tight seal can be maintained. Check craigslist.org to obtain emergency water storage containers. You can usually find them at a reasonable price.

  • 55 gallon drums are also great for long-term water storage. How you use them is up to you. Storing already filtered water is an option, but the water will need to be re-purified if it is stored for very long. Storing rain water is another possibility. Consider adding a spigot for ease of emptying.

  • Seal your water containers tightly after you fill them, then label them either with the date you need to use them by OR the date you placed them for storage. Store your water in a cool, dark place. Light and heat are not beneficial in any way to stored water.

  • If you can find gallon jugs of water on sale, that is another great option because you can purchase them in a case and the boxes store easily. Just remember to mark the date that they must be used by clearly on the boxes.

  • Rotate all water at least every six months, even commercially prepared bottled "spring" or "drinking" water.

  • Water weighs over 8 pounds per gallon, so be sure the shelves you store them on or the area in which you keep the water is strong enough to support the weight.

  • If you use bottled water, be sure it came from a safe source. If you do not know that the water came from a safe source, you should boil or treat it before you use it.

  • If you use commercially prepared "spring" or "drinking" water, keep it in the original sealed container. Once opened, use it. Do not store it again.

  • All water, even if it is commercially distilled or or pre-packaged drinking water, will have an expiration date. Find out when that expiration date is and mark it clearly on the bottle or box so you know when to use it by or rotate it out by. If you do not see an expiration date, use it within one year – or boil it before using it.

Also, you can improve the taste of water stored for a long time, by pouring it from one clean container to another clean container several times. This aerates the water. Your emergency water supply does get "stale" after some time.

Follow this link to learn more about Survival Water Storage

Survival Water Purification Methods

  • First, filter the water to remove as many solid particles as possible by straining it into a container through paper towels, several layers of clean cloth, or paper coffee filters.

  • Then, bring the water to a rolling boil for a full ten minutes.
  • Next, let the water cool at least 30 minutes.
  • When the water has slightly cooled, add bleach or tincture of iodine 2% with an eyedropper.
  • Use a bleach solution (1 teaspoon of unscented liquid household chlorine bleach to one quart of water) to sanitize containers even if you have used them before for water storage.

  • Use water storage tanks and other types of containers with caution. Use only food-grade storage containers for water storage.

LifeStraw Personal Water Filter

DO NOT USE GRANULAR forms of bleach. They are POISONOUS! (The only active ingredient in the bleach should be 5.25% sodium hypochlorite. There should not be any added soap or fragrances).

Print this off and place it with your water supply so its handy:

Water Purification Table

Mix your solution thoroughly and let it stand for about 30 minutes before using it.

If the water smells of chlorine, you can use it. If it does not smell of chlorine, add 8 more drops of chlorine bleach, let stand 30 minutes and smell again. If it smells of chlorine, you can use it. If the water does not smell of chlorine this time, discard it and find another water source.

Purification Tablets

As an alternative to using bleach, you can purchase water purification tablets from drug stores, sporting goods and camping gear outlets to place in your first aid kit and disaster supply kit. Just follow the directions as stated on package.

Most tablets have a 2 year shelf life and should be stored in a sealed plastic baggie to prevent them from getting damp as this will cause them to lose their effectiveness.

Drinking Water Treatment - Emergency Drinking Water Germicidal Tablets and Neutralizer are intended for emergency disinfection of drinking water. When used as directed, they make most water suitable for drinking.

This is a short-term solution, though. It isn't something you want to do on a continuous basis.

In Home Water Filter Systems

Most point-of-use (POU) filters are designed to improve the taste and odor of water and not the harmful bacteria.

You can learn about the capability of your filter by contacting the manufacturer or NSF International, an independent testing group located in Ann Arbor, Michigan (Ph. 1-800-673-8010).

If in doubt, you should boil your water in an emergency situation, or use bottled water, even if you have a filtering system.

Do not rely on untested devices for decontaminating your emergency water supply.

Alternative Water Sources

If you have enough warning you can fill your pots and pans, bath tubs, and trash cans with water from the faucets. This water can be used to washing and flushing toilets.

  • Canned vegetables also contain liquid that can be consumed. Water from boiling pasta, cooking vegetables and similar sources can and should be retained and drunk, after it has cooled.

  • Another source of water in your home will be stored in your water pipes and hot water heater. You can also use the water in the reservoir tank of your toilet, but not the bowl.

  • Don't forget swimming pools as they are also options.

Map of Travel DestinationNational Atlas provides free printable state maps of rivers and lakes. Scout out specific locations where it would be easy to fill a container and the safest way to get it home. Once you have identified a source of water, you need to have bottles or other containers ready to transport it or store it.  

If you find yourself in a situation where you need to carry water from a lake or stream consider purchasing a jug with a sturdy carrying handle and an easy-pour and leak-proof on/off spigot.

Collect rain water. This can range from large tarps or sheets of plastic to a system for collecting water run off from your roof or gutters.

Contamination Risks

A good example of the contamination risks is the 2010 earthquake aftermath in Haiti. There are now more deaths due to waterborne illnesses then from the earthquake itself.

Most of these deaths are a result of cholera which produces chronic diarrhea. Nearly every water source in Haiti has become contaminated with human waste because of the absence of a sewage sanitation system and clean water sources.

Without an emergency water supply or means to treat whatever water is available, you run the risk of being exposed to a variety of harmful germs and bacteria.

Consider purchasing a portable water purifier that can filter out harmful bacteria and viruses. You can read my personal review of the LifeStraw Water Filter and find out how it is the perfect solution for filtering water on the go.

If I could encourage you to do at least one thing, it would be to set aside an emergency water supply for you and your family.

What water you save for an emergency, might just be what saves you and your family in an emergency.