Storing water is a good first step to ensuring your hydration and cleaning needs are met in the event of a disaster. But eventually your stores may run out – in which case you will need a back-up. Finding water is the first challenge, but then making sure it is safe to drink and cook with is the next step.
Use Your Senses
If you water looks bad, smells bad, or tastes bad, it probably is. This seems obvious, but when you are thirsty, these may be easy to overlook.
● Sight. If the water is cloudy, or has visible debris, it is probably full of all kinds of impurities. This is just a no-brainer. Don’t drink it or use it for cooking or cleaning food utensils without purifying it first.
● Smell. Fish might seem like a normal smell for water that contains them, but in reality, if it smells fishy it is probably due to bacteria rather than the things you are hoping to catch for dinner. Also watch out for a metal smell which can indicate dangerously high mineral levels, and possibly lead. And if your water smells like it is rotting, look for another source if possible, as the water is probably contaminated with hydrogen sulfide which can make you sick and even kill you in high enough doses.
● Touch. Slimy is one thing you do not want your water to be. If it feels anything but wet, beware – bacteria is on the loose.
● Taste. Even water that looks and smells fine might taste bad. Don’t ignore that negative reaction no matter how thirsty you are. Take the time to treat the water or find another place to get it from.
And don’t just stop with the water itself. If the area has visible fecal matter, chemicals, or rusting metal, realize that those things are likely being washed into the water during rains. At home you can also apply this principal (or if your water is leaving a residue in your sink) to determine if your pipes are rusting before their time.
Home Test Kits
Unfortunately, while you will be able to spot some dangers through what you can physically observe, some things like arsenic are colorless, tasteless, and do not carry a smell to tip you off. In the wild you may be left with no choice but to do your best check using what God gave you as your tools. But if you are planning a bug-out location, or even just relying on a well at your home, you have no excuse not to take your analysis one level deeper.
When purchasing a home test kit, make sure that it tests for all the things listed on the EPA guidelines for safe water. Look for product reviews to see how satisfied other consumers have been with the products. And a guarantee on the product is always a good thing to look for too.
If possible, test the water from each of your faucets, indoors and out. Just because the overall system is good, does not mean that you don’t have a lone lead pipe bringing large levels of lead in through to one particular sink. Your body won’t care whether the poison is coming from the well or the pipes—you will get sick either way.
Even if you have done this once, consider making it part of your annual home check-up, as things can and do enter wells and pipes to contaminate them over time.
While home test kits are a great do-it-yourself way to frequently check your water, they are rarely perfect. Not only are you relying on the kit itself, but your own ability to read their (clear or not) instructions.
When buying a new home, consider requesting a test of the water supply as part of your routine home inspections. If you have been in your home for a while, look into having a professional come and test your water.
You may be able to score a free water test if you are willing to listen to a sales pitch, as many companies that sell water filtration systems offer a free water test consultation. However, be sure you’re dealing with a reputable company. There are some shady characters out there that will tell you anything to get your money.
The Bottom Line
Not all dangers in the water will kill you instantly. Things such as lead can pose a hazard over the long term of drinking the water day in and day out. Taking the time to ensure that your drinking water is safe—not just in an emergency, but everyday—is critical to your family and their well-being. Make sure you are safe, not sorry.