Long Term Water Storage
Posted by nwnikkie on July 15, 2011
Perhaps the only thing more important than food in a long-term emergency is water. Even the food you do have probably needs water to be cooked and eaten – especially dried beans and grains. Seriously, have you ever tried to bite into a dried bean? What is even more concerning is that water can be “bad” without anyone ever knowing it until it is too late! Crystal clear water can have dangerous bacteria growing in it, chemical run-off, and high levels of lead, mercury, or even arsenic!
Even if you store perfectly good water, storing it in the wrong way will mean that when you really need it, you will find yourself drinking poison rather than water. Just as critical as knowing how to store water, is the knowledge of knowing how not to store water.
What NOT to Use
- Non-food-grade plastic. While some people would say that all plastic is questionable, for long term storage, certainly non-food-grade plastic is definitely out. The plastic containers can leech dangerous chemicals into anything you store in them, degrade over time, and often are so thin that rodents, bugs, and other pests have no trouble finding their way into the container.
- Food grade plastic which has previously stored things other than food. While you may be able to get great cheap or free barrels through Free-cycle, Craig’s List, or scouting what is laying around your neighborhood, better to find another use for them besides food or water unless you know with absolute certainty what was in them before. Any kind of chemical (yes – including cleaners) could soak into the plastic and then soak right back out again into your long-term water storage.
- Food grade plastic which previously stored fruit, juice, syrup, or milk. Right about now, you are probably thinking – I know, I can use old milk jugs and juice bottles! Yes, they are plastic. Yes, they are food grade. But the sugars in fruit and milk are impossible to completely remove from the plastic, and can easily start your own Petri dish of bacteria over time. I am sure you will be able to think of another use for these (or at least recycle them), but water storage is not the thing.
- Any kind of cardboard. These easily break; soak up unwanted materials, or leak.
- Anything else contaminated. While you might think if you just wash it well enough then it will be fine, don’t take chances with your water – it is just too important! Other than glass, or stainless steel, which can be sterilized by boiling in hot water for at least 20 minutes, it is better to be safe than sorry.
How Much to Store
How much water you need will largely depend on a variety of factors:
- How many people are in your family
- The presence of water locally
- Average rainfall for your area
- If you have pets or other animals you will need to care for
- Whether or not any family members have special medical conditions
- How much activity you will be doing
- The temperature of your environment
A normally active person needs to drink at least two quarts of water each day. Hot environments can double that amount. Children, nursing mothers and ill people will need even more. You will also need water for food preparation and hygiene. Store a total of at least one gallon per person, per day. You should store at least a two-week supply of water for each member of your family.
If supplies run low, 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.
FEMA recommends that you store at least one gallon of water, per person, per day. Consider this an absolute base-line though, as many of the above considerations could up your family water needs considerably. If you live in a desert area, with little local water, women in your family who may be pregnant or nursing, children, and a couple pets, you will want to triple that amount, or more.
Even if you are not sure how much you will eventually need, it is best to start somewhere and store what you can. One easy way to do this is just to buy a few cases of bottled water and store them away from heat and light (which can cause the plastic to leech chemicals into the water). Beyond that, you can start a more aggressive plan to provide clean water to your family in the event of an emergency.
- Plastic. As noted above, there are many plastics you should not even consider. That being said, there is growing research that plastics in general are less than ideal – especially those that contain the chemical BPA, or phthalates.Reducing our use of plastic across the board is a good idea. However, the reason that plastics have become so ubiquitous is that they have some unique properties and advantages. They are lighter than glass, less likely to break, and are easy to produce. If you do decide to go the plastic route, make sure that you are using clean, food-grade plastic, and follow appropriate rotation procedures as enumerated below. And just like the bottled water, make sure to store in a climate-controlled environment without direct sun exposure. If you can afford it, your best bet is to purchase plastic tanks specifically designed for water storage. These can even come in very large sizes that can hold many gallons of water, but obviously these will be difficult, if not impossible, to transport if you need to leave your home in a hurry. Store containers away from any fuels or chemicals as the vapors from these items can penetrate plastic over time.
- Glass. Glass is easy to come by, easy to sterilize, and does not pose the same risk of leeching chemicals into the water. This is if you are using food-grade glass of course. Lead crystal glass can leach lead into the water over time. The downsides to glass are that it is heavy, breaks easily, and needs to be protected from light. In a pinch though, it can be a good way to start stocking up on water. If you have limited storage space, it also has the advantage of being able to be stored near gasoline, etc. since it is impermeable. Boil the glass jars in water for 20 minutes or more and dry completely before use. Ideally, cushion the jars by wrapping in foam, paper, or even just putting them in a cardboard box, to reduce the likelihood of breakage.
- Stainless Steel. An alternative to glass or plastic is stainless steel. It is impermeable and does not contain harmful chemicals like glass, but is more light-weight. Since it is opaque, rather than transparent like glass, you also need to be less concerned about storing it away from any light source. It is also easy to sterilize, and does not break easily. The downside is that you may need to be concerned about whether or not your water was treated with chlorine, since chlorine can corrode steel over time. You can solve this problem by looking for steel drums that are lined with a protective coating. Of course, always make sure that your stainless steel containers are food grade.
Rotating Water Supplies
Stored tap water should be rotated every six (6) months.
Prepackaged bottled water should be rotated once a year. Check the pull date on the container. Be sure it didn’t sit on the stores shelf for a year before you purchased it.
Self serve bottled water should be rotated once a year, as long as the water treatment process includes ozonation.
If you are using any kind of plastic containers, or if the containers are not in a somewhat temperature-controlled space or exposed to light from time to time, do not store the water in them for more than 6 months.
In ideal storage conditions (sterilized stainless steel drums with clean water in a temperature-controlled environment) you may be able to store water for up to three years before it will need to be rotated.
Ideally, do not use the water you are rotating out for drinking water. A container should be used within a short period of time after being opened, so drinking a 50-gallon drum of water in time will be a challenge. Instead, use this water as “gray” water for watering plants, washing and cleaning, or even filling up the kiddie pool in the summer.
Long Term Solutions
55 gal drums, designed specifically for water storage can be difficult to transport, if the need arises, but are of a tremendous value in an emergency .When looking for additional food grade containers, the bottom will be stamped with HDPE (High Density PolyEthylene) and coded with the recycle symbol and a “2″ inside. HDPE containers are FDA-approved for food. Containers without these designations aren’t OK because of possible chemical interactions between the water and the plastic.
Clean used containers and lids with hot soapy water! Once the containers have been thoroughly cleaned, rinse them with water and sanitize the containers and lids by rinsing them with a solution of 1 tablespoon chlorine bleach per gallon of water. Leave the containers wet for two minutes, and then rinse them again with water. Remember to remove the paper or plastic lid liners before washing the lids. It is very difficult to effectively remove all residues from many containers, so carefully clean hard-to-reach places like the handles of milk jugs. To sanitize stainless steel containers, place the container in boiling water for 10 minutes. Never use containers that previously held chemicals.
Emergency Outdoor Water Sources
If you need to find water outside your home, you can use these sources. Be sure to treat the water first. Additional sources include:
Rainwater Streams, rivers and other moving bodies of water Ponds and lakes Natural springs avoid water with floating material, an odor or dark color. Only use saltwater if you distill it first! You should not drink flood water.
Hidden Water Sources in Your Home
In an emergency, if you have not previously stored water and commercial or public sources of water are not available, drain water from your plumbing system. Unless you are advised that the public water supply has been contaminated and is not safe, open the drain valve at the bottom of the water heater and salvage the water stored in the heater. A typical water heater holds 30-60 gallons of water. Discard the first few gallons if they contain rust or sediment. Let the water heater cool before draining it from the heater so it does not scald you. 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. Once water has been drained into clean, sanitized containers, add 5-7 drops of chlorine bleach* per gallon of water, and stir or shake the solution to mix it. Let it set 30 minutes before use.
As a last resort, you can use water in the reservoir tank of your toilet (not the bowl).
Do you know the location of your incoming water valve? 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.
To use the water in your pipes, let air into the plumbing by turning on the faucet in your house at the highest level. A small amount of water will trickle out. Then obtain water from the lowest faucet in the house.
Using Swimming Pool Water
You should always view your pool as “backup” water; keep the water treated; you never know when it will be needed! The maintenance of the free chlorine residual will prevent establishment of any microorganisms. The maintenance level should be kept about 3-5ppm free chlorine. (See Water Purification for detailed information on purifying pool water.) If other stored water stocks are not available, remove the necessary pool water and boil it or just treat with chlorine to the normal 5ppm. It is best to err on the side of caution.
Covering the pool at all times when not in use is a very good idea. Try to keep the cover clean and wash the area you put it on when removing it from the pool.
When and How to Treat Water for Storage
In an emergency, if you do not have water that you know is safe, it’s possible to purify water for drinking. Start with the cleanest water you can find and treat with one of the following methods:
Boiling and chlorinating: Water can be purified by boiling. Boiling times may vary from state to state, depending on altitude. In Colorado, the water is safe to use once after it has been boiled for three to five minutes and has cooled. If you plan to store boiled water, pour it into clean, sanitized containers and let it cool to room temperature. Then add 5-7 drops, or 1/8 teaspoon, of chlorine bleach* per gallon of water (1/2 teaspoon per 5 gallons). Stir or shake the solution to mix it. Cap the containers and store them in a cool, dry place.
Filtering and chlorinating: You can filter water if you have a commercial or backpack filter that filters to 1 micron. These are available in sporting good stores and are recommended for use when back-packing. They are not recommended to clean large volumes of water. Filtering eliminates parasites such as giardia and cryptosporidium, but it may not eliminate all bacteria and viruses. Therefore, it’s recommended that 5-7 drops (1/8 teaspoon) of chlorine bleach* be added per gallon of filtered water (1/2 teaspoon for 5 gallons). Stir or shake the solution to mix it. Wait 30 minutes before using the water, or cap the containers and store them in a cool, dry place.
*Use liquid household bleach that contains 5.25 percent hypochlorite. Do not use bleaches with fresheners or scents as they may not be safe to consume. The above treatment methods use a two-step approach so less bleach is needed, yet giardia and cryptosporidium are destroyed through boiling or eliminated by filtering. Chlorine may not be effective against these parasites. Since adding too much chlorine to water can be harmful, it’s important to be as accurate as possible when measuring.
Distillation: involves boiling water and then collecting the vapor that condenses back to water. The condensed vapor will not include salt and other impurities. To distill, fill a pot halfway with water. Tie a cup to the handle on the pot’s lid so that the cup will hang right-side-up when the lid is upside-down (make sure the cup is not dangling into the water) and boil the water for 20 minutes. The water that drips from the lid into the cup is distilled.
Most water filtration devices are designed for use on microbiologically safe water. Don’t assume they are safe to use on contaminated water. Check with the manufacturer to be sure.
Use the following guidelines to determine if filtration equipment is adequate to use with microbiologically contaminated water:
|Filtration Equipment||Safe on Microbiologically Contaminated Water?|
|Faucet Mount Filter||No|
|Steam Distiller||Yes – but requires electricity|
|UV Sterilizer||Yes – but requires electricity|
|Ceramic Filter||Some – but only if rated for bacteriological protection|
Equipment that is safe to use on contaminated water is often slow, costly, inconvenient and/or high maintenance. It makes the most sense to use the filtration equipment that best meets your normal daily needs and shift to water storage or alternative methods of water treatment in times of emergencies.
This entry was posted on July 15, 2011 at 11:59 am and is filed under Food Storage, Health, Survival, Water. Tagged: chlorine, containers, distillation, emergency, glass, long term, non-food grade plastic, options, plastic, purificaiton, rotating, solution, stainless steel, swimming pool, treat, water, water heater, water-sources. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.