Posted by: prepare4 | March 25, 2009

Water Storage — What if the Tap Goes Dry?

Water Storage — What if the Tap Goes Dry?
By Carolyn Nicolaysen

I recently watched a national morning television show where the topic was emergency preparations. The “expert” gave some really awful advice about water storage. Some straight talk is in order.

Water storage is absolutely essential to a good preparedness plan. In an emergency, it may be too late to go to the tap and expect clean water to flow. One gallon per person per day is the minimum you will need to continue living the way in which you are accustomed.  You will need at least two quarts for drinking and the rest for cooking, cleaning, flushing toilets, and personal hygiene.

When planning your water storage, don’t forget your pets.

Water may be stored in a variety of containers:

  1. Heavy duty plastic containers with a spout or a pump for dispensing water. Water is heavy, and you need to consider this when choosing containers. Five gallons of water weighs 42 pounds. Containers should be manageable for one adult to lift, or they should be equipped with a pump. Make sure when using plastic containers that they are approved for food use. Chemicals are available to add to storage containers, preserving the water for five years.
  2. Plastic bottles. Water may be stored in well-rinsed bleach (hypochlorite) bottles. Begin by cleaning bottles with hot, soapy water. Completely clean the inside and the outside of the container, including the handle, the lid. Rinse well with plain water. Finally, rinse with clean water. Once you clean and sanitize the container, fill it with water you know is safe and screw the cap on tightly. You may want to fill containers with your own tap water. Water in different areas tastes different, and your family will be accustomed to the taste of your own tap. Before using, open the container for several hours. Pour water back and forth between two pitchers to add air back in and improve the taste. If the water appears cloudy, treat or use it for cleaning and bathing but not for drinking.
  3. Soda Bottles. Liter soda bottles with screw-on lids work well for storing drinking water. Colored bottles are the best because they filter the light. Sanitize by rinsing inside and out with a solution of one-half teaspoon of household bleach per pint of water. Rinse well with plain water. Finally, rinse with clean water. Once you clean and sanitize the container, fill it with water you know is safe and screw the cap on tightly. Again you may want to fill containers with your own tap water. Liter bottles are also great to have on hand to grab quickly if you need to evacuate. They can be carried easily by an adult with the use of a lanyard type bottle carrier.
  4. Mylar water storage bags . These are impermeable to gases and are usually sold in bulk cases for easy stacking. Individual pouches can be purchased for storing in 72-hour kits and in your car. These pouches are not rodent-proof, so check them often and place small pouches in a rodent-proof container.
  5. Glass jars . As you empty your canning jars, sterilize them and the screw on lids, and fill with water until you are ready to refill them with the “fruits” of your gardening efforts. They are already taking up space, so put them to work! Glass jars should be stored in a dark place and preferably in a cardboard box. Water can also be canned by processing for 20 minutes in a water bath or steam canner. This is not necessary if water is rotated on a regular basis.
  6. Picnic coolers . Fill with water between uses.
  7. The bathtub . If you know a storm is approaching and there is even a remote chance you may be without water, fill your bathtubs and sinks.
  8. Pitchers and pots. Drag out grandma’s silver pitcher, pot, canners and anything else that can hold water. All of these items will hold water that you can safely drink. That is huge!
  9. Swimming pools . Use for cleaning and bathing only.
  10. Water heaters. Make sure you turn off the power (or gas) before you attempt to drain. To get a free flow of water from the hot water tank, open the valve at the top of the tank as well as the faucet at the bottom of the tank. Increase the water flow by turning on any hot water faucet in the house before draining water from the hot water tank.
  11. Waterbeds . Use water from these for cleaning and bathing only.
  12. Liquids in canned fruits and vegetables are good for cooking. This is one reason we recommend you have canned foods as well as dried foods in your emergency food supply. Peach juice is great for cooking oatmeal. Rice and pasta cook well in the water from canned vegetables.
  13. Melted snow. Be sure the snow is freshly fallen and clean.
  14. Rain water should be collected away from trees or structures, which could contaminate the water. Mylar blankets; new, unused 5 gallon buckets; new unused garbage cans — all work well to collect water.
  15. Fruit juices should be included in every emergency storage plan. They are not only useful for drinking but also adding flavor foods such as oatmeal and disguising the taste of medications.

A Few Tips :

  • Do not drink sodas or alcoholic beverages in an emergency. They will greatly increase thirst.
  • Do not store water containers directly on a concrete floor.
  • Water should be stored in containers that are filled completely to the top.
  • Water should be stored in a cool, dark location.
  • Water should never be stored near chemicals, pesticides, perfumed items, or products that may emit toxic gases.
  • NEVER store water in milk containers. They are too porous, difficult to sanitize, and are easily contaminated.
  • Label all containers with the words “drinking water,” and with the date you stored it.
  • Stored water should be rotated every year. The best advice is to choose a date you will rotate your water every year. A good time would be a special occasion that falls during the summer months — birthday, anniversary, the 4 th of July. The old water can then be used to water outdoor gardens and trees.
  • Train your family in the safe and responsible use of stored water.
  • Do not use bottled water that has been exposed to floodwaters.
  • If you don’t have bottled water, you should boil water to make it safe.
  • Boil: Boiling water will kill most types of disease-causing organisms that may be present, such as Giardia lamblia and Cryptosporidium , which are frequently found in rivers and lakes. These organisms are less likely to occur in well water (as long as it has not been affected by floodwaters). If not treated properly, Giardia may cause diarrhea, fatigue, and cramps. Cryptosporidium is more highly resistant to disinfecting, and it may cause diarrhea, nausea and/or stomach cramps. People with severely weakened immune systems are likely to have more severe and more persistent symptoms than healthy individuals. If the water is cloudy, filter it through clean cloths or allow it to settle, and draw off the clear water for boiling. Boil the water for one minute (altitudes above one mile, boil for three minutes). Let it cool, and store it in clean containers with covers. To improve the taste of boiled water, aerate it by pouring it back and forth from one container to another and allow it to stand for a few hours, or add a pinch of salt for each quart of water.*
  • Disinfect: If you can’t boil water, you can disinfect it using household chlorine bleach. Bleach will kill some, but not all, types of disease-causing organisms that may be in the water. Do not use non-chlorine bleach to disinfect water.  If the water is cloudy, filter it through clean cloths or allow it to settle, and draw off the clear water. Add 1/8 teaspoon (or 8 drops) of regular, unscented, liquid household bleach for each gallon of water, stir it well and let it stand, covered for 30-minutes before you use it. The water should have a slight chlorine odor. If not, repeat the dosage and allow the water to stand for an additional 15 minutes. If the treated water has too strong a chlorine taste, allow the water to stand uncovered for a few hours or pour it from one clean container to another several times. Store disinfected water in clean containers with covers. As you plan for water needs, be sure to store some household chlorine bleach for treating water.*
  • If you have a well that has been flooded, the water should be tested and treated after floodwaters recede. If you suspect that your well may be contaminated, contact your local or state health department or agriculture extension agent for specific guidelines.
  • Water purification tablets are iodine-based and are specifically made to purify water. They are sold at sporting goods stores, military surplus stores, some large drug stores, and by companies selling emergency preparedness supplies. Carefully follow directions on the package. Purification tablets are for emergency use only, not everyday use. Unopened tablets have a shelf life of several years. Some kits include an additive to help improve the taste and color created by iodine. 
  • In an emergency, iodine in a medicine kit will purify water. Use 2 percent U.S.P.-strength iodine (read the label). Using a medicine dropper, add 20 drops per gallon to clear water and 40 drops per gallon to cloudy water. Mix completely by stirring or shaking in a clean container. Allow the water to stand at least 30 minutes, uncovered, before using. Iodine is an antiseptic and is poisonous, so use and store it safely, and only in a real emergency. 
  • Store the containers upright in a cool, dry place. Because direct sunlight and heat gradually weaken plastic containers, store them away from heat and light to prevent possible leaking. Water is heavy, so store the containers on a strong shelf or in a cabinet.
  • A freezer is also a good place to store water for a long period. Freeze water in plastic bottles only; glass will break. Fill containers leaving two to three inches of space at the top to prevent bursting as the water expands and freezes. You probably won’t have enough freezer space to store all the water you will need in an emergency, but storing at least some is a good idea. If you lose electricity, the frozen water will help keep foods in your freezer frozen until power is restored. Foods will stay frozen longer during an outage if the freezer is full so if your freezer is partially empty fill it with containers of water and you will help to solve two problems. 

Don’t be caught with “Water, water all around, and not a drop to drink” 

* (U.S. federal agencies and the Red Cross recommend these steps to disinfect drinking water in an emergency. Remember no home method can guarantee complete safety. )

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