How much water do you and your family need for a typical day?”
It’s not easy putting a number to that question. Instead, think about how often you turn on the faucet in the kitchen to fill a pot for cooking, or how long do you stand under the shower trying to wake up each morning? How many times is the toilet flushed during a given day?
Now, think about what it would be like going to the kitchen sink, turning it on and nothing comes pouring out, not even a sputter. No water to drink or wash with, none to boil the pasta planned for that night’s dinner. What do you do now?
If you thought about this scenario and prepared for it, you would go out and uncork the emergency supply of water you’ve stored away. But for those who didn’t plan for the day when water stops running, then a seed of panic may start sprouting there in the pit of the stomach; worrying about what disaster caused this and wondering how long it will last. Fortunately, that day has yet to arrive and it’s a guide like this that will prepare you for when it does.
Collecting Your Family Water Storage Emergency Supply
The easiest approach to jump-starting your emergency supply is to purchase commercially bottled water from your local grocery store. Standard bottle sizes are often sold in bulk, making their storage easy and secure.
Emergency supplies in the form of commercial bottled water will last indefinitely, according to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), as long as they are stored unopened, with seals intact, away from heat and sunlight. Manufacturers give their products a 2 year shelf life, after which the taste may change. A good rule of thumb is to replace unused stock every one to two years.
For preppers who decide to go the DIY route, stockpiling water in their own containers must use food-grade storage containers. These come in a wide variety of sizes anywhere from liter bottles to 5 gallon jugs often used at water dispensing machines to 55 gallon barrels. Other plastic or cardboard containers are not designed for long term storage of liquids.
Do not reuse plastic milk cartons or fruit juice bottles as milk proteins and fruit sugars cannot be adequately cleaned to prevent bacterial growth. Glass containers are useful as they are easy to clean, are nonporous unlike plastic containers and will not leach anything into the liquid they hold but there is the risk of breakage.
Appropriate containers must be washed with dishwashing soap and rinsed thoroughly before use. Fill with regular tap water, and add a few drops of unscented chlorine bleach (16 drops per gallon) to prevent growth of microorganisms, and then tightly close the cap. Be sure not to contaminate the inside of the cap with fingers before sealing. Store in a dark, cool (but not freezing) location and replace every 6 months.
How Much is Enough?
Water, above all else, is the most vital of the emergency essentials. A relatively healthy person can go upwards of 8 weeks without food but that same person, not subjected to weather extremes or above average physical exertion, will last only 3 to 5 days without water. Every prepper will have to decide how long they want their emergency supply to last and plan accordingly.
The first step is figuring out how much each member of your family needs each day during an emergency. Most of us grew up with that standard 8 glasses of water a day drummed into our ears but times have changed (and so have medical findings). The Institute of Medicine found the most efficient way to stave of dehydration is to “drink when you’re thirsty”.
While this is excellent advice, it does present a problem for those of us preparing for emergencies. We need specific quantities, numbers to add and multiply together. Thankfully, the IOM also provided recommended amounts. The average person should have a general fluid intake of about 110 ounces (13 cups/3 liters) daily, slightly less for women and a little more for men. Keep in mind, while 80% of your intake comes from fluids, 20% comes from foods like fruits and vegetables. When sanitary and cooking needs are added in, planning for one gallon per person is a valid measure. Keep in mind these are baseline requirements. Those in hotter environments or persons who are ill, elderly or are nursing mothers, they will need more
Using those numbers and determining how much space there is for storage you will have to estimate how long your supplies will last. The American Red Cross and FEMA advise storing away a 2 week supply. But if space is limited a 3 day supply is recommended. While practicality often wins in the end stockpiling away as much as possible is the best advice, whether it’ll be a couple of weeks to a couple of months, recovery and infrastructure repairs often take longer than anticipated. The more water you can store the better equipped your family will be to survive.
Rationing During Emergencies
Your family water storage is so critical to survival that even during emergencies experts agree that rationing is not a recommended approach. Instead, thirst should be the guide. Following the gallon per person, per day guide will ensure each family member’s needs are met.
In prolonged emergencies when stockpiles are depleted, seek out other possible sources for drinking before considering rationing.
For example, use water from:
- Melted ice cubes
- From the hot water tank (turn off electricity or gas first and refill the tank before turning it on again)
- Contained within the pipes in the house, as long as broken water or sewage lines have not contaminated this source.
- Left in the kettle
- Collected from recent rains
- From rivers and streams or also from ponds, lakes and natural springs but avoid water with floating materials, odors or is dark in color.
Remember these alternative water sources’ quality can be questionable, so be sure to purify it before drinking. Strain the water to remove impurities, boil it, or add bleach to kill bacteria. Combining these methods will further reduce the risk of ingesting contaminants. Purification tablets can also be used. FEMA advises you do not use water from toilet flush tanks or bowls, radiators, swimming pools or spas (cleaning chemicals are too concentrated for drinking), waterbeds or flood waters.
Planning ahead and preparing for emergency situations is necessary to protect the health and safety of family members. Given water’s role as the most vital emergency essential, stockpiling sufficient clean, safe water is the first priority. Carefully following these storage guidelines will ensure adequate and reliable supplies of water are available when your family needs them the most.