When Preppers discuss water needs, we need to consider ALL our water needs: drinking, personal hygiene & general washing (grey water), crops and irrigation, cooking, sanitation (“black” or waste water), conservation of water, purification of water and, if we have a long duration crisis on our list, where we can find additional water.
We already know that water is a necessity to life, but how much do we need to survive?
- General Rule with hygiene: MINIMUM is 1 Gallon per person per day for drinking and sanitation
- Human General Average: MINIMUM of 2 liters or 8 cups per day to maintain efficiency
- Children require about 4-6 cups of fluid per day on average
Factors that Determine the Water Needs for adults, children and (some) pets:
- Age - Children may need more water
- Weight - The heavier a human or pet is, usually means they need more water to sustain themselves.
- Activity - The less active one is; the less water they can get away with.
- Health - A female that is pregnant or nursing needs more water than one that is not; someone who is ill could need more water. A medical emergency might require additional water.
- Climate - If you live in a warm weather climate, more water may be necessary. In very hot temperatures, water needs can double.
- Dogs & Cats - Dry pet food will require more water for the pet than wet pet food.
This means a normally active person needs to drink at least two quarts of water each day, but that amount can vary. Children, nursing mothers and ill people may need more, and during summer you should double the amount of water stored. You will also need additional water for food preparation and hygiene. An adequate supply of water for pets should also be included.
Whereas a quart of water or other fluid daily will sustain life, according to the Department of Defense and the Office of Civil Defense, it is recommended that a gallon of water per day per person be stored for food preparation and drinking. A gallon provides added comfort and accommodates increased fluid needs at higher altitudes or warm climates. An additional one-half to 1 gallon per day is recommended for bathing and hygiene, and to wash dishes. So the DoD says 2 gallons per person per day!
How much water should be stored?
The rule of thumb is to store at least one gallon per person per day for at minimum 3 days, with the recommendation of 10 days to be really prepared.
That’s 2 quarts for drinking and 2 quarts for food preparation and sanitation per day, per person at minimum.
Do the Math
- 1 Gallon of Water = a little over 8 pounds
- Water for 1 person for 3 days = about 24 pounds
- Water for 1 person for two weeks (14) days = a little over 116 pounds
- Water for 1 person for 30 days = about 240 pounds
Water contamination or pollution is any chemical, physical or biological change in the quality of water that has a harmful effect on any living thing that drinks or uses or lives (in) it. When humans drink polluted water it often has serious effects on their health. Water pollution can also make water unsuited for the desired use.
Water contaminants can come from a number of sources and are called many different things. Even rain water has acquired some contaminants as it passes through the atmosphere (acid rain) and then when traveling off a roof into its collection barrel. A disaster such as a flood or an earthquake, may contaminate water when sewage systems are damaged or when there are breaks in the water lines. If there is a minimum of a city-wide power failure, water treatment plants shut down and contaminants can be passed into the system. When power comes back, the water now traveling through the contaminated pipes will become contaminated itself.
Water-soluble Inorganic Contaminants
Water-soluble Radioactive Compounds
These are bacteria, viruses, protozoa and parasitic worms that enter sewage systems and untreated waste.
These are wastes that can be decomposed by oxygen-requiring bacteria. When large populations of decomposing bacteria are converting these wastes it can deplete oxygen levels in the water. This causes other organisms in the water, such as fish, to die.
Such as acids, salts and toxic metals. Large quantities of these compounds will make water unfit to drink and will cause the death of aquatic life.
These are water-soluble nitrates and phosphates that cause excessive growth of algae and other water plants, which deplete the water's oxygen supply. This kills fish and, when found in drinking water, can kill young children.
Such as oil, plastics and pesticides, which are harmful to humans and all plants and animals in the water.
These cause the depletion in the water's light absorption and the particles spread dangerous compounds such as pesticides through the water.
Can cause cancer, birth defects and genetic damage.
Heat Pollution: In most manufacturing processes a lot of heat originates that must be released into the environment, because it is waste heat. The cheapest way to do this is to withdraw nearby surface water, pass it through the plant, and return the heated water to the body of surface water. The heat that is released in the water has negative effects on all life in the receiving surface water. This is the kind of pollution that is commonly known as heat pollution or thermal pollution.
The warmer water decreases the solubility of oxygen in the water and it also causes water organisms to breathe faster. Many water organisms will then die from oxygen shortages, or they become more susceptible to diseases.
Eutrophication: Means natural nutrient enrichment of streams and lakes. The enrichment is often increased by human activities, such as agriculture (manure addition). Over time, lakes then become eutrophic due to an increase in nutrients.
Eutrophication is mainly caused by an increase in nitrate and phosphate levels and has a negative influence on water life. This is because, due to the enrichment, water plants such as algae will grow extensively. As a result the water will absorb less light and certain aerobic bacteria will become more active. These bacteria deplete oxygen levels even further, so that only anaerobic bacteria can be active. This makes life in the water impossible for fish and other organisms.
Acid Rain: Typical rainwater has a pH of about 5 to 6. This means that it is naturally a neutral, slightly acidic liquid. During precipitation rainwater dissolves gasses such as carbon dioxide and oxygen. The industry now emits great amounts of acidifying gasses, such as sulphuric oxides and carbon monoxide. These gasses also dissolve in rainwater. This causes a change in pH of the precipitation – the pH of rain will fall to a value of or below 4. When a substance has a pH of below 6.5, it is acid. The lower the pH, the more acid the substance is. That is why rain with a lower pH, due to dissolved industrial emissions, is called acid rain.
Rotten Egg Smell: When water is enriched with nutrients, eventually anaerobic bacteria, which do not need oxygen to practice their functions, will become highly active. These bacteria produce certain gasses during their activities. One of these gases is hydrogen sulphide. This compounds smells like rotten eggs. When water smells like rotten eggs we can conclude that there is hydrogen present, due to a shortage of oxygen in the specific water.
White Deposit on water fixtures (faucets, sinks, showers stalls): Water contains many compounds. A few of these compounds are calcium and carbonate. Carbonate works as a buffer in water and is thus a very important component.
When calcium reacts with carbonate a solid substance is formed, that is called lime. This lime is what causes the white deposit on showers and bathroom walls and is commonly known as lime deposit. It can be removed by using a specially suited cleaning agent.
A water source is any place where water for drinking, cooking and cleaning can be obtained with minimum fuss. Some of these sources are “natural” or occur in nature and some do not. Since all water contains some impurities, disinfection or purification is needed no matter what the water source.
Plants that Contain or Trap Water
Ponds and lakes
Rain (or Snow) Water Harvesting
Salt Water Desalination
Spring & Seep Water
Streams, rivers and other moving bodies of fresh water
Tapping Trees in Early Spring (February until March)
Wet Earth Water Extraction
Emergency Water Sources around the home:
Commode (Toilet) Tank
Hot Water Heater
Ice Cube Trays, bottles, etc
Water Pipe Bleeding
It is important to keep in mind that water can be safe for one person and may be unsafe for another. If your immune system is weak, you are a young child or an elderly person, or you are pregnant or a nursing mother, you are more susceptible to contaminants in drinking water than the rest of the population.
A technical definition of “pure water” would refer to water containing only hydrogen and oxygen molecules. Such "pure" water does NOT occur naturally anywhere in the world!
Ok we have covered what “purified” vs “pure” water is, now let’s get onto Disinfection and Purification.
So here are the technical definitions of the terms: Purification/Disinfection and Filtration.
Purification or Disinfection
Water purification describes the elimination of chemical contaminants and microbes from your water supply.
This can done by irradiating the water with UV light, adding a disinfectant such as chlorine or changing the chemical composition of the water using a water ionizer.
Filtration of water can be done by various types of filters, some solid or solid to the naked eye, some are granular, some are powder, and others are paper or cloth.
These “filters” can be a sand or gravel pit, to cartridge types and more.
Water filtration systems can remove particles and some chemical contaminants by binding them in ion exchange systems or using activate charcoal.
However most filtration units are not designed to remove microbes such as bacteria from the water. These filtration units are not "purifiers" in the strict meaning of the word.
The extremely fine filters that can remove microbes, bacteria and other super small pollutants are expensive and will fill-up or clog very quickly if used for everyday water filtration.
ie: The size of the filter pore is a major determination as to just what it can filter out.
Any water-treatment method designated as a "purifier" will, in most cases, rid water of all the threats listed below (From EPA FAQs page 6).
Giardia lamblia, Single-cell parasite
Cryptosporidium parvum, Single-cell parasite
Bacteria (salmonella - E.coli)
Bacteria (Vibrio cholerae, Yersinia entercolitica, Leptospira interrogans and many others)
Viruses (hepatitis A, rotavirus, enterovirus, norovirus)
Tiny, 8 to 12 microns
Tiny, 4 to 6 microns
Very tiny, 0.2 to 4 microns
Very tiny, 0.1 to 10 microns
Exceptionally tiny, .004 to 0.1 microns (Generally, only a few filters, such as ultrafilters and reverse osmosis, have holes small enough to assure removal of all viruses. However, viruses can be killed using a disinfectant.)
First off some filters can purify water and some cannot. Most purification is multi-stage and commonly utilizes multiple methods and or devices for treating the water to make it disinfected or free enough of harmful pathogens to drink.
Most of the top recommended “purifiers” for water filter systems use filtration methods such as activated carbon, kinetic degradation fluxion (KDF), adsorption and particulate filtration.
Water systems that use these types of filtration media and are multi-stage filtration, will remove the most contaminants while leaving in the natural occurring minerals in the water.
Remember it is the Pore Size of a filter that determines how well a filter removes harmful particulate contaminants like asbestos, parasitic cysts, and bacteria.
Use the following guidelines to determine if filtration equipment is adequate to use with microbiologically contaminated water:
Faucet Mount Filter
Safe on Microbiologically Contaminated Water?
Some – but only if rated for bacteriological protection
Yes – but requires electricity
Yes – but requires electricity
Other types of water purification technologies, such as ozone and ultraviolet, are NOT effective enough to be used alone. However, they are beneficial when used in conjunction with other water filtration methods, such as with carbon block and KDF media.
Boiling water is one of the oldest forms of water purification. However keep in mind that different contaminates need different temperatures to ensure neutralization and some contaminates like Nitrates and Lead should never, ever be boiled out. This is on top of the fact a “rolling boil” can occur at different temperatures when at higher altitudes, usually lower than actual boiling, which is 100°C or 212° F at 1 atmosphere of pressure (ie sea level).
Any filter that can remove the micro to nano-sized pathogens and produces results with any remotely timely fashion to give one disinfected water, are usually mechanical systems that require pressurized water, such as the various pump filters.
Again the full document to this post will explain all these options, methods, technologies and devices in detail.
Bottom Line: To be truly safe, it pays to use multiple “purification” methods.
- Filtering and Disinfecting or Purifying are two different animals.
- Filter or membrane pore size, along with surface area are key to what contaminants can be removed.
- For very cloudy water with large particulates, filter first through some kind of cloth (bandana, towel, cheese cloth, etc. The finer the weave the more it will filter out. Crush some charcoal on the cloth and you can take out even more contaminants.).
- Next treat any emergency water with either Chlorine (unscented household bleach) or Iodine.
- Then as long as you do not think there are any Nitrate or Lead contaminates, boil the water to be truly safe.
- And lastly, filter it through the finest pored, multi stage filter (ceramic with charcoal) you can afford.
- Remember that although Reverse Osmosis and Distillation will purify water of most contaminants, but not ALL, they also remove ALL minerals and metals, of which we do need some, and they are NOT recommended for long term water purification.
Preppers like to store water, along with other preparedness supplies, so they don’t have to resort to any of the above “purification” methods too quickly. To do that we need containers to store the water in and like food items, just any container will not do.
Water and food should be stored in Food Grade containers. There are basically 7 categories of plastic and only four are food grade (1, 2, 4, 5). Thank goodness that, as with most things now-a-days, these often technical specifics have been reduced to symbols we can look for. Just don’t confuse Recycle symbols with Food Grade symbols.
Hygiene, Sanitation and Waste Water
In an emergency that takes out our normal infrastructures of water, grey water (from hygiene & cooking) and sanitation or “black water”, we need to think of conserving our water for drinking, cooking and hygiene and what to do in place of normal toilets or commodes.
Personal Hygiene, Hand Washing, Dish Washing and Emergency Toilets
The most often referred to DIY projects for each of these scenarios comes from New Zealand Permaculture Emergency Response Group, out of Christchurch, New Zealand, that is referred to by several metropolitan areas and states on their preparedness sites.
It is always wise to have a large box of disposable gloves in your emergency supplies. Use these often if in an emergency situation to reduce the need to wash your hands.
Stock up on “Wet Wipes” and waterless antibacterial hand gel to can get around most of the personal hygiene issues. We can use these items to wash our face, hands, arm pits and it we have enough, our entire bods too.
Hand washing is critical anytime – all the time! Use of hand sanitizer and disposable gloves and wipes will help you conserve your emergency water supply for essential hand washing.
Read and download the entire article (link at end of this post) for DIY instructions on building your own 2 bucket hand sink, 2 bucket emergency toilet, emergency shower and some feminine hygiene items.
When we wash dishes we should save our grey water to use for additional dish washing and for our emergency toilets. So having some 5 gallon buckets with lids handy is a plus.
Commodes or Toilets are another matter.
If all that is going on is a “boil order” due to contaminants in the public or well water supply, you may not need to worry about this. That’s you MAY NOT have to worry about this! However, if this is a flood or earthquake where the normal sewage and grey water infrastructures are not available, then you do need to worry about this – big time.
There are 4 key items to remember when utilizing emergency sanitation, especially any kind that does not utilize chemicals.
- SEPARATE (urine and feces to optimally manage pathogens and volume): “Not mixing the urine and feces is a proven principle of ecological sanitation. In separating pee and poo, the twin-bucket toilet reduces disease risks and odor and makes the contents of each bucket easier to handle”. This twin-bucket emergency toilet system will serve 3 – 4 people for 3 days.
- CONTAIN (safely contain excreta, making sure you have enough containers)
- COMPOST (manage your compost properly): See The Humanure Handbook 3rd Edition by Joseph Jenkins (the link for the PDF to download is in the Resources section or purchase the book.)
- WASH (remember hand hygiene; have a hand washing unit, like the Two Bucket Hand Sink mentioned earlier.)
Hygiene, Sanitation and Waste Water Supplies Recap
- Large box of disposable gloves
- Wet Wipes
- Waterless Hand Gel
- Toothpaste & Toothbrushes or Disposable single-use toothbrushes or (my favorite due to the multi-functionality of baking soda) Large box/bag of Baking Soda & Toothbrushes
- Rags or towels for DIY sanitary napkins (to use as spares if you run out of your stored supplies)
- 12 Five gallon buckets with lids (2 for hand washing, 2 for emergency toilet, 2 for dishwashing (or two small dishpans), 4 for water purification, 1 for a shower and 1 spare). These can be purchased or run by restaurants, supermarkets or bakeries and ask for their buckets, since FDA regulations prohibit them from re-using these food grade buckets and lids. If the restaurant doesn’t have the lid, as long as the bucket is a standard food grade 5 gallon size, you can purchase replacement lids rather cheaply on the web or at most hardware stores.
- 1 steel tub that a human can stand in
- Household Bleach, unscented (bleach has a shelf life and must be rotated and if it gets too hot it can create a dangerous gas to humans, that under the right conditions can be explosive.)
- Water Treatment Iodine
- Charcoal (for water purification) 2 bags per day for a family of 4; more if you are going to cook with it or use it as surface catchment in a portable commode.
- Plastic Toilet Seat (or purchase 2 if budget allows) The one sold by Quake Kare, Inc. fits the 5 gallon buckets securely
- Water Purifier device or two, Filters & spares
- Large Tea Kettle or pot with lid, that can go on open flame if need be or a black or dark heavy duty water proof plastic bag, fill it with water and place in the sun for a few hours to heat the water.
- Several bags of cat litter (The cheap stuff is great on an icy walk or drive and the little better stuff is good for any type of non-chemical emergency toilet.) and/or 3 gallons of carbon material like shredded paper, crushed or used charcoal, sawdust, fireplace ash or forest litter.
- Toilet paper (think along the lines of at least one roll per person in your household, per week)
- Wash rag (enough for one per person in your household)
- Hand towel (at least one per person in your household)
- Bath towel (at least one per person in your household)
- Dish towel (one per meal, per day)
The full article contains the complete comparison tables, how-to instructions, glossary and list of resources.