What you NEED to know about long term water storage!
Having clean drinking water is the third most important aspect of being prepared and ready in the event of a disaster. (Your need for oxygen is first, and keeping your core body temperature at 98.6 degrees is second!)
Unfortunately, when it comes to water, many people will either a) not store any water at all, or b) put back a few gallons and figure they are all set. But if you are looking at long term planning, than that is simply not enough!
Everyone by now should be familiar with the rule of storing at least a gallon of water per person per day, for a minimum of three days. And if you weren’t familiar with it, you are now.
If you are like me, you are thinking MORE than just 3 days worth of water. Instead, you are looking “long term”. You know that in many cases, a 3 day supply may not be enough, and you want to be prepared in case something more substantial happens. So now what?
Well, let me give you some guidelines and ideas to help you prepare your long term water storage and purification plans.
Knowing which containers you can safely store water in of paramount importance to water storage. Using the wrong containers can easily pollute your water and make it undrinkable. So here are some quick tips when it comes to water storage containers:
Plastics – use only food grade quality plastics. These will have the following symbol on them. The most preferred plastic containers will have the #2 on them. 1, 4, and 5 are also “food grade” and usable, but #2 is best. Obviously, 3,6, and 7 should be avoided when it comes to storing food and water. Also make sure the plastic is BPA free.
Do NOT use recycled milk or juice containers. Milk and many types of juices have proteins and sugars in them that will absorb into the plastic. This in turn can contaminate your water with bacteria. NO amount of soap or bleach will completely remove them from the plastic. So simply discard these containers when they are empty.
Some examples of plastic containers for storing water:
(Click on each pic for more info)
55 gallon drum – this particular 55 gallon drum includes a wrench for securing the drum opening, a siphon pump, and water preserver kit. It is also designed to resist the Sun’s UV rays, which can weaken/kill the chlorine in the water. The drum is 35.5 inches tall x 24 inches in diameter
Water Brick – comes in 3.5 and 1.6 gallon containers. They are easily stack able (think LEGOs) and have handles for easy carrying. The full sized container weighs about 2.5 lbs empty, while the small container weighs a little over a pound. These containers can also carry other food and supplies. They can also easily handle temperature extremes, from -100 degrees F to well over 168 degrees F. (This will NOT keep your water from freezing however.)
1200 plus gallon containers – if you are serious about storing water, these containers are for you. They are made with high quality food grade plastics, and are manufactured with UV inhibitors. Great for collecting rain water. Obviously these tanks are not small, and weight about 220 lbs empty. So having a place to store them is important. Having a way to extract the water is also something to consider.
Waterbob – A food grade plastic container that you can fill in your bathtub. It holds around 100 gallons, and the manufacturer states it will keep the water safe for up to 16 weeks.
There are a few drawbacks to the Waterbob of course; it won’t do you much good if you have no advanced warning of a disaster, or if no one is home to fill it up when disaster strikes. Still, for around $25, this certainly beats filling up your bathtub directly.
So be honest, when was the last time you thoroughly cleaned your tub? Yuck! And when you did clean it, what sort of chemicals did you use? My point being your bathtub itself is probably not an ideal place to store drinking water during an emergency.
The waterbob protects the water in the tub for several weeks from all sorts of contaminants that could easily be spilled into an open tub. So if you live in a place where you will get some notice of an impending emergency (ie like a hurricane warning), the waterbob would be a great thing to have!
Glass – Glass is nice in that it can be easily cleaned, reused, and will not leach chemicals into it like some plastics. And if you buy a set of canning cars, they fit neatly in the box they came in. However, I would not recommend glass. Most glass is subject to temperature extremes, and is of course very breakable.
Some glass, like Pyrex and canning jars, are more resistant to temperature and breakage. But for long term storage, I would recommend using something else. Still, if that is all you have, glass will work.
Stainless Steel – There are stainless steel tanks/cisterns available for water storage. These can hold thousands of gallons of water, and many are stored underground.
These represent a sizable investment and expense, require a large area to store it (ours is underground), require regular maintenance, and is not always food grade. (We use ours for “grey water”).
And while stainless steel does not have some of the issues that the other containers do, there are some things you need to be aware of if you a buying a smaller water container. Make sure that the interior of the bottle is food grade stainless steel, not plastic or aluminum lined. Also realize that steel is heavier than plastic. This is something to consider if weight is a big factor.
Even with clean water stored, you should have ways and means of purifying water. Both to ensure your stored water remains clean, and in case you must suddenly rely on questionable sources of water. I would recommend having multiple ways of filtering and purifying your water if at all possible.
Chlorine/bleach – 4 to 6 drops of non-scented chlorine bleach will treat 1 gallon of water. (You might double the drops if the water is cloudy or very cold.) After mixing it, let the water stand for 25 – 30 minutes. The water should have a slight chlorine odor. If it does not, add two more drops and wait about 15 minutes.
Storing chlorine is important, as it will degrade over time. (Between 3-6 months typically.) You need to try to keep it stored where the temperature will remain between 50-75 degrees F. It also needs to stay out of sunlight and in a dry area.
Remember, when using bleach to purify water, make sure it is unscented, has no dyes, perfumes, other additives or cleaners, and is NOT color safe.
Calcium Hypochlorite – more commonly known as “Pool shock”, the granular/dry version can last for years if properly stored. The following is an exert from a water article I wrote on Graywolf Survival.
Most pool shock is ok in small doses. But commercial “Pool Shocks” out there are not just calcium hypochlorite (CaCl2O2). They have ‘other ingredients’ in them that could seriously hurt or kill a normal person after prolonged consumption. Pool shock uses things like stabilizers, algaecides, and bacterostatics to help keep pool water clear. Because pool shock is not considered a food item, they are not required to tell you this. The active chemicals are not always stable, pure, and certainly not for ingestion. Some of what is sold at pool supplies stores even says on the packaging “not intended for water purification”.
This doesn’t mean you cannot use calcium hypochlorite to purify water. If you can find a chemical supply store that sells pure CaCl2O2, great. Otherwise, only use HTH Pool Shock that does not have any algaecides or fungicides. Ingredients should read calcium hypochlorite and INERT ingredients. Use a brand with at least 78% CaCl2O2. The higher the CaCl2O2 amount, the better! Here is one that is 99% pure!
Also keep in mind that while CaCl2O2 has a long shelf life, it is NOT indefinite. When stored in a container that is opened for 10 minutes every day, it will lose about 5% of its available chlorine after about 40 days. If left open for 40 days, it could lose up to almost 20%.
It needs to be kept in a cool, dark, and dry place. Containers should be tightly sealed and be corrosive resistant. In addition, it is considered a hazardous material and should be handled with caution. Eye protection and gloves should be worn when handling, and you should be in a well-ventilated area as inhaling it could irritate the lungs and over time may cause a build-up of fluid on the lungs, ie. pulmonary edema.
In addition, you should keep it away from other chemicals, ESPECIALLY any form of acids. CaCl2O2 is chemically reactive with many substances. Any contamination of CaCl2O2 with other substances by spill or otherwise could cause a chemical reaction and/or fire. And because CaCl2O2 is a strong oxidizer, it is capable of intensifying a fire once started.
>1 Gallon: add one grain, about the size of the period at the end of this sentence.
>55 Gallons: add 1/8 teaspoon for a 5ppm solution.
>400 Gallons: add 1 level teaspoon for a 5ppm solution.
My recommendation is to make a 5% chlorine solution to be able to use the drop method for disinfecting water. You do this by adding and dissolving ½ teaspoon of calcium hypochlorite into ¾ cup of water. This solution will decay at the same rate of regular 5.25% bleach, so don’t make more than you will use in a short time.
Then use this mixture to treat clear water as you would regular bleach.
Iodine – iodine works great, in some cases better than chlorine, at treating questionable water. Typically you use 5 drops per quart of clear water, and 10 drops in cloudy water. You can keep small bottles in your Bug out bug/Get home bag and they do not take up much room. (It also makes a good sterilizing agent and wound cleaner!)
Storing iodine is similar to storing chlorine. It is better to keep it in a controlled temperature area, away from sunlight and UV rays. (Keep it in its dark colored container.)
However, there are some things to be aware of with iodine. First, is that some people may be allergic to iodine. In addition, people with certain medical conditions, such as thyroid problems or pregnancy, infants, and older women might have problems taking iodine treated water. If you have any of these conditions, or are taking lithium, you might want to consult your doctor before using iodine.
Also, iodine does not taste all that great. (I personally can’t stand the after taste.) But it is certainly better than drinking questionable water!
Boiling – heating your water to 212 degrees F is a great way to help kill pathogens in your water. But you need to keep a few things in mind.
First, the boiling point of water changes based upon your elevation. The boiling point in water drops at higher elevations, so depending upon where you are at, you may need to boil your water for longer than a minute. Water temperatures above 158 °F will kill most pathogens within 30 minutes and above 185 °F kills in about 5 minutes.
Second, boiling will not remove chemicals that have boiling points above 212 °F. Heavy metal contamination will not be removed via boiling either. (Hence you should never drink flood water.) To remove pollutants like that you would need an activated charcoal filter. (Which by itself does not remove pathogens.)
Charcoal Filter – this is a great way to remove pollutants and other contaminants from your water. From Wikipedia –
Activated carbon works via a process called adsorption, whereby pollutant molecules in the fluid to be treated are trapped inside the pore structure of the carbon substrate. Carbon filtering is commonly used for water purification, in air purifiers and industrial gas processing, for example the removal of siloxanes and hydrogen sulfide from biogas. It is also used in a number of other applications, including respirator masks, the purification of sugarcane and in the recovery of precious metals, especially gold. It is also used in cigarette filters.
Active charcoal carbon filters are most effective at removing chlorine, sediment, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), taste and odor from water. They are NOT effective at removing minerals, salts, and dissolved inorganic compounds.
I have included a link here on making your own improvised charcoal filter.
But as I stated above, this filter will NOT remove pathogens such as Giardia lamblia. You will need a purification method like those mentioned above to help kill the pathogens.
Distillation – distilling water is the process of boiling the water to steam, collecting the steam, and then cooling the steam back to water. This is one of the best ways to purify your water, as it will remove both contaminates, pathogens, and things like salt. (The other methods do not remove salt.) Distilled water is probably the closest you can come to 100% pure water.
The draw backs include the price of the systems, as some systems can run up to $500 or more. I have seen electric powered distillers for half that amount. But that can be a problem if you no longer have electricity. That leads to the other drawback, the need for an energy source. Heating water to distill it can consume a lot of energy. Be it electricity or fire wood, the distiller requires a power source.
Amazon does sell a hand cranked desalinator that can produce anywhere from 2 pints to a gallon of water an hour, depending upon which model you buy. (At 30 hand cranks a minute.) It weighs about 7 lbs. and is easily stored.
This device does require some maintenance for long term storage. I have not tested it or used this product, though at some point I would like to try it out.
For many people, the tricky part of storing water is finding room to store it. A gallon of clean, fresh water weighs about 8.3 lbs. (Colder water will weigh slightly less.) One cubic foot will hold just slightly under 7 and half gallons of water. (Colder water will take up more volume. This is why a full bottle of water will bust when frozen.)
The typical one gallon container (think milk container) is easy to carry, but not always easy to store if you have multiple containers. Ozarka makes a one gallon container which is easily stack-able. (See top picture.) I find them at my local grocery store for $1.
Many people will reuse 2 liter soda bottles and fill them with tap water. As long as the bottles are THOROUGHLY cleaned and sanitized (don’t forget to include the lid in this process), this is a decent option. The bottles, when laid on their side, are easy to stack.
Regardless of what container you use, there are some things to do to help protect your supply:
- Store your water in cool, dry place. Sunlight can degrade the chlorine in your water, weaken the plastic containers, and is needed to help promote the growth of algae and pathogens. And you obviously don’t want that in your water supply!
- Make sure that the containers you use are air tight and opaque and/or dark colored. This will help to keep contaminates and pathogens out of your water.
- You need to rotate your water supply AT LEAST once a year. Water itself does not expire, but there is always a chance that your supply could become contaminated. Either when you first filled your containers up, or possibly a small leak or hole in the container. It is always better to err on the side of caution, and simply rotate out or change your water supply regularly.
If you are ever unsure about your water supply, do not hesitate to treat it again using one or more of the methods described above!
For my household, we drink the stored bottled water, and then replace it when we go grocery shopping. So it is simply a matter of first in, first out with our water bottles. If you notice in the top picture, I put the month and year of purchase on every bottle. I keep on hand about a week’s supply for everyone in my house, and have significantly more water on my homestead. This water supply also includes water for my pet!
Tap vs Bottled Water
The municipal tap water that comes out of your kitchen faucet is regulated by the EPA. (Environmental Protection Agency). The bottled water you buy at the store is regulated by the FDA. (Food/Drug Administration). Unfortunately, the standards they use are a little different.
The EPA uses stricter standards, while the FDA allows much of the water testing to be done by the bottled water companies themselves. For example, municipal tap water must be tested for contaminates at least 100 times a month and in government facilities, while bottled water must be tested once a week in their own company owned labs.
The test results for city water must be reported to the government, and cities are required to disclose what is in the water to the general public. Bottled water tests do not have to be reported.
I’m not trying to scare people. Most all bottled water is perfectly safe to drink. (Many bottled water companies use municipal tap water to begin with!) But I do want to make you aware that just because it is store bought does not mean it is not susceptible to contamination or that it is safer than city water. Sadly, this is not the case.
Another thing to keep in mind is the cost of bottled water FAR outweighs the cost of tap water. For me, the ease and convenience of storing bottled water is worth the cost. (I also think it tastes better than my tap water.) But if you are on a budget, storing tap water might be the way to go.
I know many people recommend treating city water with chlorine before storing it long term. But the truth is that city water is so thoroughly tested and treated that you treating it before storing it is unnecessary. But if adding your own treatment gives you peace of mind, it won’t hurt the water.
When I talk about water and leaching, I hope you are not envisioning this. What I’m actually talking about is the possibility of chemicals and gases absorbing into your containers (plastic), and adversely affecting your supply.
Hydrocarbon vapors can penetrate many types of polyethylene plastics. So if you store water in plastic containers, be sure they are well away from things such as gasoline, kerosene, pesticides, or comparable materials. If you park your car in the garage, the exhaust fumes over time can also leach into the plastic. So between this and the unregulated temperature of most garages, I would not store water in a garage.
Also, the plastic can leach chemicals out of concrete, according to reports from the EPA. So I would have some sort of barrier between the containers and the concrete floor. You could use a wooden pallet, carpet, or even thick cardboard.
Plastics are also susceptible to leaching in chemicals from flood water. So even if the plastic bottle/container is tightly sealed, it may still be contaminated if it is floating in flood water. Metal containers will not leach however.
Long term water sources
No matter how much water you have stored, it is always a good idea to know what other water sources are available to you in a SHTF scenario. A back up plan is ALWAYS a good thing! So when it comes to other long term water sources, you need to know and be aware of things such as:
- where those water sources are located – knowing where lakes, ponds, rivers and creeks, etc are in your area.
- if and how they would be accessible to you in an emergency – could destruction of the area, hostile people, etc prevent you from getting to them?
- if other people will be accessing them – this could be a concern on both a security and a hygiene level
- what sort of contamination might be occurring – disaster and destruction elsewhere (ie up stream or somewhere else on the lake) could be adversely effecting the water
- ways and means of transporting the water back to your location – remember that a gallon of water weights over 8 lbs. Transporting enough water for you and your family during a disaster could be complicated if you do not already have plans in place
If a swimming pool is a part of your long term plans, I would encourage you to read an article I wrote on my friend Graywolf’s site about why that is not such a good idea.
- The cost of some set ups can be a bit pricey. The system I have on my homestead was not cheap!
- Some of the bigger systems will require some maintenance and upkeep. Failure to do so could lead to algae problems and problems with rodents and bugs.
- Many types of roofs might seep metal contaminants as well as organic contaminants (such as bird poop) into the rainwater. So have plans in place to decontaminate this water.
- In some areas where cities might rely on rainwater to fill their aquifers, it could be illegal to collect rainwater. So be sure to check your local laws and ordinances.
As I mentioned in the beginning of this article, oxygen and body temperature are more important overall in an emergency setting. But having long term plans and solutions for water could prove to be the most time consuming and most complex aspect of your survival! Unfortunately, it is often the most overlooked.
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Stay safe out there!