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