While you hope that a calamity like a water shortage or other emergency will never befall in your lifetime, it is always important to be prepared for the worst while hoping for the best. One of the most important aspects of emergency preparedness is ensuring you have a sufficient stockpile of water to get you through the crisis. Learning how to do long term water storage the right way is a process that requires careful planning. You need to assess your family's needs, determine exactly how much water you will need to store, the containers you should use, and how to treat and care for water in the long run.
This ultimate guide will provide you with a detailed look into all these aspects so that if the day comes, you are more than prepared.
Why It Matters
If you are on the fence about water storage, there are a few things you need to know. Not living in a third-world country, it is easy to forget how tenuous our water supply can be. Many people contract water-related illnesses and die every year, even in developed nations like the USA.
For instance, locals in Corpus Christi, Texas faced a crisis recently when they were forbidden to use their tap water because a chemical had contaminated it completely. They could not use it for drinking or bathing.
If you examine weather disasters like Hurricane Irene and Hurricane Sandy, the flooding caused the water to become ridden with bacteria and contaminated. Pathogens such as vibrio filled the water supply, making it unsafe to drink and causing many individuals to contract gastrointestinal diseases.
We do not offer these examples to induce paranoia or make you doubt the safety of your water. Our intention is to emphasize that clean tap water can be rendered unsafe in the blink of an eye if a crisis hits, so it is important to be prepared in case this were to ever happen.
If an emergency strikes and you do not have a long term water storage plan, you will not only become dehydrated quickly, but you will not have water needed for sanitation, cooking, and bathing. While you can survive for as long as a few weeks without food, you will only live a few days without water. Plan ahead, and save yourself the stress of having to worry about these things.
Understanding the Danger of Contaminated Water
To examine the danger of contaminated water and the importance of water storage further, we will delve into some water-induced illnesses that could occur in case of an emergency. Again, this is not meant to scare you. Rather, it helps you assess the threat of dirty water and understand the best way to format your personal long term water storage plan.
If water treatment facilities cease functioning during an emergency event, such as widespread flooding, bacteria can contaminate drinking water in no time flat. Bacteria are drawn to water like flies to honey and can even grow in clean water if it stands for too long.
Bacteria are large and can be strained out with filters. They can also be eliminated with boiling and chemical treatments, which we will examine later. Bacterial infections that occur in water include things like Campylobacter, Shigella, E. coli, and Legionella.
While protozoa and parasites are not the first invaders you think of with contaminated water, they are very dangerous like bacteria. You can find the parasite giardia in supposedly clean water, such as a stream. Parasites or protozoa are even larger than bacteria and may be eliminated with filters.
Viruses usually come in around 0.0004 to 0.01 microns size-wise, but are persistent and cannot be eliminated by most filters and other treatment methods. Thankfully, most parasites are not able to live in water and are sensitive to UV rays, so water covered with sunlight is typically free from viruses.
Urban regions face the most threat from viruses in the water during calamities like flooding because sewage often leaks into the water and spreads infection. Rural communities may experience the same problem because flooding can gather animal waste that infects and spreads the dirty water.
Another serious threat to water that occurs during flooding are Volatile Organic Compounds, also known as organic chemicals. In rural regions, these compounds are spread by things like pesticides and fertilizer, while urban areas face issues with oils spills, trash, and industrial waste getting into the water.
On a positive note, you can clean these organic chemicals out with carbon filters, although this method is not always enough to remove them. Also, these compounds are not as serious of a health threat as invaders like parasites, bacteria, and viruses. You should never consume organic compounds voluntarily. Rather than reaping the short term effects, they instead increase your risk of illnesses like cancer in the long run.
Inorganic chemicals like heavy metals are also a dangerous contaminant but can be eliminated with filtering as they are large and easy to detect. Large-scale earthquakes have the potential to release radioactive components that can contaminate drinking water.
For instance, an earthquake in Japan affected one of their nuclear plants, scaring people regarding the possibility of radiation poisoning. While this is a severe outcome, you can use methods like ion exchange, reverse osmosis, nanofiltration, and activated carbon filtering for your long term water storage just to be safe.
One of the greatest dangers posed by contaminated water is gastrointestinal issues like diarrhea. When natural disasters occur, diarrhea is rampant in the aftermath. This results from consuming and coming into contact with dirty water. The dehydration that results can be life-threatening, so it is important to have a water storage plan so you never have to worry about this possibility.
The Short Answer to How Much Water You Need
It is astounding to consider that less than 50 percent of Americans have a mere 3-day store of food and water for emergency situations. It is a fact that you can only survive for up to 3 days if you do not have water, and thirst can drain you long before the 3-day mark.
The recommended amount of water you should have for your long term storage is a minimum of 1 gallon per person for each day of your plan. How many gallons of water you store depends on however many days you'd like to have water for. The 1 gallon amount means that you would have a half gallon to drink and the other half gallon to clean and cook with.
One of the best ways to decide how much water you should have for your long term storage is to do a water drill. The way it works is you do a 3 day drill in which you only drink, clean, and cook with water from your emergency supply. That way, you can determine how much water you use and see whether the 1-gallon mark is sufficient.
Estimating Your Daily Water Needs
After you have determined how much water you need for each day, you need to know how many days of water you want for long term water storage. Entities like the Red Cross and FEMA advise having enough water for at least 2 weeks, while Ready.gov says 3 days is the minimum amount.
To be safe, 30 days is the ideal amount you should have in your long term water storage supply. This way, you have plenty for drinking, cleaning, cooking, and any other needs that may arise. It's better to have more than you need than not enough.
Best Containers for Long Term Water Storage
You have quite a few options for choosing containers for water storage. Your first option is plastic bottles. One of the simplest ways to buy large quantities of water is to stock up on bottled water.
You could also fill plastic bottles, soda bottles, or milk jugs with tap water if you want to save on costs. Just be sure to clean out the bottles completely, particularly the lids so you can make sure bacteria does not latch on. You can even wash the bottles out with a little bleach to make them extra clean.
One downside of using plastic bottles is they gather small holes in their biodegradable exterior after months or years. If you decide on plastic bottles, the best approach is to switch them out every 6 to 18 months.
Environmental factors like heat and light could cause your bottles to degrade quicker. Also, the chemicals in plastic can sometimes seep into the water and make for an unpleasant taste. These issues are not huge, but something to consider when making your decision.
You can purchase jugs at RV stores, camping stores, or online for your long term water storage. They cost more than plastic bottles but do not break down as plastic does.
The main con with jugs is that mold and bacteria can gather over time, so you need to rotate the water at least 1 time per year to keep your supply drinkable. If you buy water preserve drops to maintain the cleanliness of your water, you will not have to switch your supply for 5 years.
Glass jars are another good option for your long term water storage supply. They do not degrade like plastic, and you will not have to worry about any chemicals seeping into your supply. People have been known to add a couple drops of bleach into their jars to keep the water clean for longer periods.
However, it is still best to switch out your water supply in the jars about once per year. The only real downside with glass jars is that they are prone to breakage, particularly with a weather emergency like a hurricane or earthquake.
Ideal Storage Locations
Once you have decided which storage container you wish to use for your long term water storage supply, you need to determine where you will store your water. Environmental elements like moisture, heat, and light can be a problem, although not as much as with long term food storage.
Pick a storage location easy to get to in the case of an emergency. You might not want to store water in a location that could freeze, such as a cold garage in the wintertime. Water expands at freezing temperatures, so your storage containers could break in these conditions.
If you use plastic bottles, heat will degrade the plastic more quickly. If you keep your water supply in plastic bottles in areas like the attic or garage, you will need to switch them out more often.
Treatments, Tips, and More
The Importance of Treating Your Water
One very crucial aspect of long term water storage is learning the best options for treating your water. In emergency scenarios, you might have water at your fingertips, but it could still be unsafe to drink.
For instance, tap water that comes out during power outages is not safe for consumption. Water during flooding could be ridden with bacteria as could the water supply in rural areas. If you experience a natural disaster near the ocean and your only water source is salt water, you need to learn how to treat your water.
Boiling is the easiest treatment option for your long term water supply. As long as you have a pot and fire, you are good to go. Boiling water for as little as a minute will rid your supply of invaders like parasites, protozoa, viruses, and bacteria. If you are in a higher elevation, boil the water for 5 minutes.
Unfortunately, boiling your long term water storage supply will not rid the water of chemical agents. With a flood or biochemical attacks, boiling will not cleanse your water of impurities, debris, or sediment.
Mechanical Water Filters
Water filters are another excellent choice to treat your long term water storage because they grab contaminants quickly and effectively. Pay attention to the micron size rating when purchasing water filters because this will tell you how large the contaminants they can cleanse are.
The smaller a filter's micron size rating is, the more effective it will be at removing those toxic elements. Water filters can remove parasites, protozoa, bacteria, and inorganic chemicals from the water, but they are not strong enough to rid water of organic chemicals, all viruses, and radionuclides.
Carbon Water Treatment
Activated carbon is a water treatment method that soaks up chemicals to remove them from your long term water storage supply. Activated carbon eliminates organic chemicals like pesticides and benzene. The activated carbon does not kill off viruses, parasites, or bacteria, but you can use it with the boiling method to make your water safe to drink.
The one thing you have to be careful with when using activated carbon is the potential for saturation. You need to change the filter out every so often, or it will stop soaking up impurities and transmit all those contaminants back into your water.
Chemical Water Treatments
You can put chemical water treatments such as drops or tablets into your long term water storage supply to rid it of viruses, parasites, and bacteria. Tablets are easy to carry with you, but they come in small quantities.
For example, you can use a water filter for thousands of gallons, but one tablet is typically only enough to treat a liter of water. Tablets do not eradicate sediment from the water, so you could use a homemade filter like a bandana if needed to remove those elements.
One alternative chemical water treatment method you can use is unscented bleach. In tiny amounts, it is safe and will not cause you harm. However, it will remove unwanted protozoa, parasites, viruses, and bacteria.
UV Water Treatment
Ultraviolet light messes with the DNA in parasites, protozoa, bacteria, and viruses, rendering these contaminants harmless to your body. You can purchase UV water treatment wands. Insert the wands into the water, push the button, and let them cleanse the water.
This treatment method may only have a temporary effect on these contaminants, so it is best to drink the water shortly after you apply the wand. UV water treatments do not rid the water of things like radionuclides, organic chemicals, or inorganic chemicals.
If you ever find yourself in a situation where sunlight is your only UV treatment source, you can put the water in a glass or plastic bottle and let it sit in the sun for 6 hours. This works if your water is already clear; otherwise, sediments will block the UV rays from doing their job. If there is sediment in your water, a little salt could draw the particles to the bottom, allowing the UV rays through.
While a more expensive option, reverse osmosis systems are another effective method for long term water storage. They connect to your water system and process pressurized water through their own containment unit.
Reverse osmosis is one of the best treatment methods out there and removes everything except for organic chemicals like lead, chlorine, and fluoride.
You can also purchase a distillation treatment system that evaporates your long term water storage into steam, cools it, and turns it to water again. They remove almost all impurities from the water except for most organic chemicals. The only real downside is that they are pricey.
Along the same lines as reverse osmosis and distillation, ion exchange systems are a pricey but an effective treatment method. They are ideal for taking heavy metals such as arsenic and lead from the water. You can also use ion exchange to remove a number of radionuclides too.
How to Choose the Best Method to Care for Your Water
With all these treatment methods for your long term water storage, it can be difficult to know which is the best to choose. Sometimes, a combination of methods is the best way to go to ensure your water is free of contaminants. Certain events are harder to prepare for.
If your water supply is in a backcountry area, methods like mechanical filters, chemical treatments, UV water treatments, or boiling will do the trick. For power outages, go with boiling, chemical treatments, mechanical filters, or UV water treatments.
With a flood, the water should be filtered, boiled, and treated with activated carbon. A distillation system is the only method to cleanse salt water. If a chemical attack or spill ever occurred, bottled water is your safest option.
Finally, for nuclear disasters, the best long term water storage treatment plan you can go with is reverse osmosis. Otherwise, a distillation system or activated carbon can work.
Setting a plan in place for your long term water storage does not happen overnight. You need to start by deciding how much water you will need and slowly increase your inventory until you have water stored up for at least 30 days. Identify which treatment method you will use, and be sure to rotate your water periodically to ensure it is clean and free of contaminants.