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Back to Basics: Why and How to Stockpile Water for Emergencies

StockpileWater
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4.07/5 (135)
4.07/5135

I wanted to start a new series on the Prepper Journal called “Back to Basics”. I know many of the readers of this blog are already well along their own journey of preparedness so some of the content might be remedial. It has certainly been covered on our site before, but there are new readers every day. Millions of people visited the pages of our site last year and one of the most frequent questions I continue to receive is along the lines of “How do I start prepping”?.

For me this Back to Basics series is a way to revisit the subjects that I believe are core to your personal survival. I plan to cover a lot of familiar territory, but I hope to also bring new ideas, perspective and hopefully motivation to preppers out there whether you are just starting or have your underground bunker fully stocked and you are just waiting for the balloon to go up.

Prepping in its most basic form to me is about proactively taking steps to ensure you and those around you are ready with skills, supplies and a plan to react to emergencies or disasters in a way that promotes your survival. The core of short-term survival I would argue is something that many of us take for granted and that is water.

Why do you need to store water for emergencies?

The simple answer to that question is one that you probably already know. We all need water to survive and if you go without it for a while your health deteriorates. You can get headaches, become lethargic and weak. Go with water for more than a couple of days and you die. Water or lack of sufficient, clean drinking water, more than almost anything else (I will go into the other things later) will kill you.

That much is pretty simple. Usually everyone can accept that premise without even blinking an eye. What they frequently have problems with is this idea that you could ever find yourself without clean drinking water. We in virtually all of the developed world have water treatment facilities, plumbing and systems that bring clean water inside the house or our offices and you would be hard pressed to walk anywhere in even the smallest cities without quickly finding nice clear, plastic bottles of water for sale. But what if the water in the tap was tainted? What if the tap no longer put forth clean, shiny water? What if the stores with all of those bags and bags of bottled water were empty? This is where prepping begins.

To prepare, you have to do something proactively.

It isn’t wise to sit back and say things like “that would never happen” or my own personal favorite, “the government will take care of us if that happened”. In any large emergency, you will be reliant upon yourself as evidenced in almost every case in recent history. Yes, disaster relief organizations and government assistance will usually mobilize, but do you want to wait for that to happen? Even the government tells you to prepare on its website, ready.gov. If they are saying not to wait for them, what does that tell you?

I don't know why anyone would count on the government. Maybe they will do something right, but I wouldn't bet my life on them saving me.

I don’t know why anyone would count on the government. Maybe they will do something right, but I wouldn’t bet my life on them saving me.

How much water do you need to survive?

So we agree that everyone needs to stockpile water, but the next obvious question is how much? The amount of water you need vary greatly depending on a few different factors. A general rule of thumb is that you need one gallon of water per person per day. This assumes hydration needs and hygiene. You won’t necessarily drink a gallon of water, but you might need it for reconstituting freeze-dried food, cleaning cooking implements or washing your body. On some days you might not even need a gallon of water. Other days you could end up needing much more than one gallon if you are exerting yourself physically or the temperatures are elevated and you are losing fluids to perspiration.

In my opinion, water is one of the easiest preps to cross off your list and since it is so vital, it made the cut as the first in this series. To calculate how much water you need, just multiply the number of people you are prepping for by the number of days you want to be stocked up for. In my family, I have those who live with me (4) as well as extended family who I plan will come to our location (another 4 potentially) as well as some friends (add 4 to that) so I am looking at potentially needing to supply water for 12 people. 12 people for one month is 12 X 30 = 360 gallons of water.

Where is the best place to store water?

That is only for one month. What if the emergency lasts longer than one month? What if the town’s water supply is still not safe for drinking at that point? 360 gallons takes up a lot of room no matter how you look at it. If you have 55 gallon barrels in your basement that is still 6 barrels and again that assumes everyone is staying at or under their one gallon a day limit.

I have a few different ways to store water. The first is stored in heavy-duty plastic containers that hold 7 gallons each. These are great because they are more portable, they stack and I can get some storage in smaller spaces, like the shelves of a pantry. I can also easily transport a few of these to my Bug Out Vehicle if necessary. This storage only lasts a week.

If you have the space, larger water storage containers work best.

After that I have rain barrels that hold 50 gallons a piece. The great thing about rain barrels is that they can be refilled by Mother Nature without you having to do anything except make sure the water is disinfected. But, this requires an outside location and not everyone has a home on land where they can back up a barrel under the gutter. People who live in apartments have different space limitations.

For apartment dwellers, I would recommend using the stack-able storage, but diversify that around your apartment so you don’t have weight all in one space. Usually any apartments are built on concrete substrates so even several hundred pounds of water in a closet wouldn’t risk compromising the floor. You can also try storage facilities if necessary.

What do you do when the water runs out?

But no matter how much water you have stored up, it could still run out in the worse emergencies so it is important to have an alternate plan to acquire good water afterward. Actually, I think it is more important to plan to procure water than it is to stockpile it in the long run.

Platypus GravityWorks Filter System, 4-Liters of water in minutes.

Water borne bacteria and viruses are not something you want to encounter in a disaster situation. Stomach bugs, even minor can put you down and give you diarrhea. Who wants to worry about getting sick when the world ends much less crapping yourself all the time when the toilet paper is in short supply anyway? A simple and reliable method of making your water safe to drink is also very important.

Boiling water is a sure-fire way to kill all bacteria and viruses. The drawback to this approach for me is that you have to start a fire and use a container. The fire could alert people to your location and that might not be what you want. Also, you have to wait for the water to cool before you can drink it and boiling isn’t going to get out any sediment, it will just make your water safer to drink.

I prefer gravity filters for their ease of use, compactness and filtration ability. With a filter like the Platypus Gravityworks, you can quickly filter 4 liters of water just by filling up a bag and it’s ready to drink in minutes. Literally, I filtered 2 liters in less than 2 minutes.

There is also using bleach to disinfect ,water purification tablets and even iodine, but these aren’t without their drawbacks too and do require you to wait for the chemicals to work. Your choice, but there are options.

Make sure you have plans to supply the water needs of your own survival group at the initial point of any emergencies and long after by crafting your water preparedness plan now.

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  • BobW

    Thanks, Pat. I got off the wagon after the decision to conduct a strategic relocation, and now that we’ve landed safely at the new place, its time to evaluate everything and get working on new preps. Its hard to fathom how much water one will need, primarily due to the footprint needed to store everything. Luckily, the new place is not lacking for storage. Re-supply on the other hand is a distinct challenge due to the environment.

    • I can appreciate the work ahead of you from a move Bob. I can see good points and bad points to starting over from scratch to an extent. For one it does force you to re visualize all your plans.

      • BobW

        While it didn’t really set us back (hauled all of it), it really does provide opportunity to evaluate what is, and what I really want(ed).

        Think we’re going to try tackling canned food storage this weekend. This pic is the inspiration…

  • Cruella DeVille

    There’s an article I’m working for this blog that I’ll submit in the next week or so that is directly related to this one. How to extract water from a residential drilled well. The static depth of mine is around 50 feet: enough to make hand pump painful.
    However – with a 12/24 VDC submersible pump, commonly used by ranchers, some elevated storage for a few hundred gallons, and a solar kit from Amazon or Harbor Freight you can have full time running water when the power is out.

    • I can’t wait to read it Cruella! It sounds like a great article.

    • Ursula of the Mtns.

      I am really interested in this. My well is pretty deep and I would like to know the options. Looking forward to your article.

    • BobW

      I can’t wait as well. Our well is 350+ feet down. Looking at all options for ‘manual’ water. Looking at a windmill atm.

  • Super Steve

    Living on the NE UK we don’t generally have an issue with water supply because its not raining its just about to or has just stopped, So finding water is not a problem but filtering and storing is, We keep 20 gallons of water ready for use but have multiple empty water containers available to fill if problems start to develop. All our water is treated through our Berkfield filters which we have two, a 4 candle and 2 candle versions. we also have 1000 water puri tabs as well as bck up.

    • Great point Steve and I can’t believe I didn’t mention my Berkey. Might have to update the article.

      • Super Steve

        Yup all the water in the world is no good o you don’t KNOW 100% its safe to use, Boiling, Sodis, Chem treatment, filtration etc are as equally important as having water itself.

  • Eleanor Marie

    Is Lifestraw a good option?

    • Eleanor,

      Thanks for the question! In my opinion, a LifeStraw is good for a single person hiking in the wilderness who wants an extremely low-weight option for getting some drinking water.

      It isn’t high-capacity, does not lend itself well to multi-person situations or speed. To get water you have to stick your head in the water which could leave you open to attack and in some situations might prevent you from drinking without risk.

      For whole family use or larger quantities, I prefer gravity filters like the Platypus mentioned above of the Big Berkey series for home use.

      Pat

      • John

        Dear Pat,
        Please forgive the complete non sequitur, but how do I send you a question/article idea etc to your private mail? I have access to TPJ through my phone, so exploring the different disqus options (which is where I found TPJ) have not revealed this option to me.

    • NRP

      You might want to do a little comparison with the Lifestraw and the Sawyer Mini. The info I researched showed the Mini the way to go.
      JMHO
      NRP

  • Heff

    Ok, question. I’ve read differing opinions on the subject of using roof rainwater to drink and if it’s safe. Does anyone know for sure if a using good filter, such as Katadyn, or Berkey and then a virus killer like the Steripen, will make roof water safe to drink? Or is there something in the asphalt roof shingles that makes it undrinkable?

    • Huples

      Mists tiles are petroleum based so avoid drinking it long term. Metal and wood tiles would be fine. You can get eave filters but I’d just clean the eaves frequently.
      I’m not put off by bugs and the odd dead squirrel.
      I’m not sure but I think the filters wouldn’t get chemical isolates from asphalt. Anyone know?

      One way around this is to use tarps on the roof and collect into the barrel from the tarps.
      For me the roof is for farming water as I’d collect drinking water using a separate tarp system but I am in a water rich area so collect can be small surface area.

      One q for you is don’t Berkey filters take out viruses anyway?

      • Bobcat-Prepper

        We are talking about emergency water, so I’d be glad to be able to drink roof-water long term if that were my only option. Possible petroleum leaching would be the least of our problems when SHTF.

        • Huples

          True. But a few tarps, some cordage, and you avoid an avoidable issue. If you have kids and the world never gets tap water again why expose them? Tarps are not too pricey

  • Sideliner1950

    Re: Large capacity water barrels…

    Several months back we bought the same Emergency Essentials 55 gallon barrel shown in this article. It is a great comfort to have even that much extra storage capacity.

    I’d like to put the drum on a “drum dolly” that would allow us – even my wife just by herself – to move it about relatively easily when full. I found numerous affordable models by googling “55-gallon drum dolly” and have been reading the “user reviews” to help decide which one to get and which ones to avoid. I would greatly appreciate any experience-based guidance and/ or recommendations from readers of this website. Thanks in advance for any help, and thanks, Pat, as always, for all you do. Looking forward to more “Back to Basics” articles.

  • Prepper Bob

    How long can you store bottled water before it “goes bad”?

    • John

      It depends on several things. First is what kind of container is used. For instance, some bottles of bottled water have plastics that dissolve into water at different rates.
      Some storage containers are fine for food, but not water as they contain some chemicals that water absorbs etc.
      Second is what kind of cleaner you are using. Some filtration do nothing beyond the initial removal. Some cleaners are chemicals that can be good for months or in some cases years.

      • jr023

        keep a supply of fresh no added perfume bleach watch the dates and while still usable past date use more than normal in older bottled water

        • John

          Yep. I hear you, and know some (not all) the tricks with things like bleach and iodine. But, the poster that I was replying too had enough vagueness that I was trying to cover the fact that there were a lot of options that he needed to look into, without going into so much detail that it made an unreadable reply.
          That being said, thank you foe the tip.

  • jr023

    just going through no water 2 weekends in a row due to water main breaks, first one i was in decent shape but we barely got water cleared for use when another break 2 streets over and our wonderful gov employees at health dept do not work weekends or holiday mlk was monday so we have to wait for the results to come in.
    and this is a relatively new city and water system. i had basic supplies but will be getting a drip filter

  • BobW

    I posted this picture in the ‘well’ thread, but thought to spur some conversation here on the potential uses of large ‘liquid’ containers vice the 55gal drum.

    Anyone know if something like this can be sterilized sufficiently to store potable water?

    This is a 275gal ‘liquid’ container. The seller mentioned storing used motor oil, parts, etc in them. I was thinking about more stable and economical water storage. Also had a thought about using them to cache supplies vice throwing your beloved preps into a dirt hole.

    • ChangeTheChange

      I’ve seen on CL and other places that sell these cubes that are food grade/for potable water. They tend to be more expensive then the cheaper ones that possibly contained oils. I’m looking at picking up one or two of these as they have spigots and pallets built-in. Barrels are round and don’t store in a square world very well.