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Of all the supplies we stockpile for emergencies, storing water is the most difficult. The biggest problem is the sheer volume of water that we need to stockpile in order to ensure that we will have enough to see us through an emergency. We use more water than any other single consumable. This means that our water storage needs more space than even our food storage. Yet, most people don’t store enough of it.
Let’s start by looking at how much water the average person needs for survival. Pretty much any survival instructor you find will tell you that the average person needs one gallon of clean, purified water per person, per day for drinking and cooking. That’s fine if you live in a temperate climate. But if you live in the Southwest, in southern Florida or southern Texas, it might not be enough. In the high temperatures and blazing sun of those areas, you can sweat out a gallon per day.
But drinking and cooking aren’t the only ways in which we use water. We use it to wash our clothes, our bodies, our dishes, and our homes. In addition, we use it to flush our toilets, brush our teeth, and water our gardens. All in all, the average American family of four uses about 400 gallons of water per day.
Obviously, we won’t be able to do that in a survival situation. However, we won’t be able to fully ignore those other needs, either. Those of us who are gardening to augment our food stocks can’t and shouldn’t stop watering our gardens, just because we don’t have tap water. We also need to maintain at least a minimum level of cleanliness, just to maintain our health.
So, I would say that for most families, a figure of three to five gallons of water per person, per day is a much more realistic figure. Of that, the only part that needs to be purified is what we use to drink. Even then, we’re going to have to be very careful about how we use that water. Washing machines and automatic dishwashers will be totally out, as will nice long baths and showers. You’ll have to flush the toilet with grey water or not at all.
Where Should Your Water Come From?
You can buy purified water in the grocery store and stockpile it for emergencies, but that’s not the most cost-effective way of stockpiling water. At about one dollar per gallon, you’ll end up spending a lot of money to have enough water. It’s even worse if you buy bottled water because you are paying for the individual bottles.
The advantage of buying pre-packaged, purified water is that it is probably purified to a more stringent standard than that which comes out of the faucet. However, there are ways of making it pure yourself. Two popular purifiers on the market, the Berkey and the Sawyer, will both purify water for much less than it costs to buy purified water from the store. In fact, they are even cheaper than buying your purified water from the corner water kiosk.
Purifying your own water may seem like a lot of extra work, but if you’re putting the purified water into some sort of tank, it’s really not that bad. I’ve done this for years and it really doesn’t take all that much time.
Should You Bother With Purified?
However, you don’t even need to purify your water before storing it. If your tap water is good enough to drink, then why wouldn’t it be good enough to use in a survival situation? For that matter, about three-fourths of the water you need in a survival situation doesn’t need to be purified, so purifying everything else is a waste of time.
You can store non-purified tap water for a prolonged period of time, just like the expensive bottled water. About the only difference is that you do stand a risk of algae growing in the water, especially if you keep it somewhere that sunlight can get to it. However, this problem is easily solved by adding a small amount of bleach to the water.
I keep most of my water stockpile in 750-liter tanks. That’s about the biggest size you can carry in a pickup truck, which is how I ended up picking that size. Every six months or so I add eight drops of bleach per gallon of water to the tanks. Since the standard for measurement is 20 drops per cubic centimeter, that works out to 80cc of bleach. That’s enough to kill any bacteria or algae which have gotten into my water.
What About Containers?
Besides the space, the biggest problem with storing water is finding containers that allow you to store it efficiently. My 750-liter tanks work well, but I buy those in Mexico. That’s a little far for most people to drive. However, you can buy what are known as “intermediate bulk containers” used and for a very reasonable price. These are used for transporting a wide variety of chemicals and typically will hold 275 gallons of water. While new ones are $400 to $550, used ones range from $30 to $50.
The risk in using these containers is that there may be residue from the chemicals which were in the tank before you bought it. Therefore, it is very important to know what chemicals were transported in the container beforehand and how to clean them out thoroughly.
You can find information about the chemicals online, simply by searching for the chemical by name. That will tell you the properties of the chemical, whether it is poisonous and what works as a solvent for it. Armed with that information, you should be able to clean the tank out thoroughly.
Many people use 55-gallon plastic drums instead of the intermediate bulk containers. Not only are they easier to find, but they are also easier to store, as they will fit through a doorway to get them in the basement. If you can find white 55-gallon drums, rather than the more common blue ones, it indicates that the drum is “food grade.” That means it was probably used to ship something edible, like cooking oil or corn syrup. Those are the safest bulk containers you can buy used.
There is another option for storing large quantities of water, right under your nose. That’s to install a swimming pool in your backyard. Before you dismiss this idea out of hand, I’m not necessarily referring to an in-ground swimming pool, which could cost upwards of $20,000. Most of us can’t afford that, but we can afford $200 to $600 to buy an above-ground pool.
Just to give you an idea, a 12-foot diameter, 30-inch-deep swimming pool will hold 2,115 gallons of water. A-15 foot diameter, three-foot-deep swimming pool will hold 3,965 gallons of water. That’s a lot more water than most of us can manage to store any other way.
We add chlorine to swimming pools, just like it is added to our municipal water supply. This is to kill off bacteria, algae, and other things that might make us sick. The levels of chlorine added to a pool actually make it safe to drink. So, if we’re properly maintaining that pool, we have a large supply of properly treated water, which is safe for our family to drink — and all the neighbors think is that we have a pool for the kids.
How do you store water? What advice would you add? Share your own tips and tricks in the comments section below: