Saturday, February 26, 2011

Twenty-One Days - Day 2: Water

At the educational center where my girls take French class and music lessons there's this science book we like to look at. One of the discussions in the book centers on dehydration and has a very interesting graphic that shows a guy who's suffering from dehydration. The illustation is pretty ... *not* pretty.

One resource I consulted stated that one can live for ten days (in 50° weather) without any water at all, but as the article points out, a person who had gotten to that point wouldn't be in any condition to be looking for water, and the damage to his/her body from severe dehydratioon would be significant, perhaps not recoverable.

So, we'll say that water is pretty important. Everybody knows it. We've always known it, in fact. I can remember, as a kid, watching some of those old Westerns, and one of the tricks adversaries used to use against each other out in the desert was to "poison" the water with an animal carcass. As a kid, I didn't know why it was bad, just that it was, but now, I understand it is bacterial contamination (like food poisoning), which will cause diarrhea, which will exacerbate the chances of dehydration. One can die pretty quickly, and painfully, from bacterial poisoning.

Right now, I get my water from a municipal water company, but in a lower energy future, the ability for this company to suck water into their facility from the river where they get my water, and then, add the necessary chemicals to make it safe for drinking, and THEN, send it through miles and miles of pipes into my home, may be significantly compromised. In fact, during the summer months, when the population of my town swells to three times its winter size, there is a noticable drop in water pressure as the demand for this life-giving elixir is increased.

As such, in preparation for the coming emergency, water security is second only to making sure I have shelter.

Some time ago, I was watching a video about the problem of drinking water in a village somewhere on the African continent. Much of the continent is arid, and there are significant issues with desertification, specifically around Lake Chad, which has been receding for a good many years. As such, water is scarce, and clean water is even more so.

According to the video, almost by accident, a village woman discovered how to purify water. She would put the water in plastic (PET) bottles and then leave it on top of her corrugated metal roof for six to forty-eight hours (depending on the cloud cover). This would kill the disease-causing pathogens. The number one cause of death among children in third world countries is diarrhea, usually the result of drinking contaminated water. This woman's discovery of a very simple, very low-tech, very accessible way of purifying her water supply was nothing short of miraculous.

This article was also particularly enlightening, and just so you know, a combination of boiling and filtering (using a simple and easily homemade sand/charcoal filter) will make water safe to drink - but if there is any question as to what may be in the water, BOTH boiling AND filteration should be used. Boiling kills the pathogens (parasites and bacteria) and filteration takes out contaiminates like heavy metals.

Getting clean water doesn't have to be high tech or difficult, but it does need to be done, and those of us who are dependent on a delivery system that is, let's face it, pretty fragile and not wholly reliable, will need to make some plans for what we can do to make sure we have water, because after only a few hours without water, I start to get loopy ... after a few days, I'm pretty sure I'm a goner.

To get you started on securing your water supply, I have a treat for you.

After you boil the water from the creek near your house, you can filter it through this pitcher and have great tasting, CLEAN water for your family to drink. It holds 40 fluid ounces of water, and the replacement filters are cheap.

Some people will say store gallons of water, and if I lived in a water scarce area, I would probably have water storage of some kind, but for my preps, it just seems easier to have a way to make dirty water clean than to find a place to store clean water.

If you would like to be entered into the drawing for this Brita water pitcher, please leave a comment. The winner will be announced on Wednesday, March 2 ;).


  1. I really need to get on the ball and get a filter or two. Sometimes I get on my own nerves acting like I have plenty of time to worry about these things. Geez. Thanks for the opportunity and the reminder.

  2. Having grown up with people who got beaver fever, I get this!
    Would boiling and filtering Northern New Jersey water make it safe? Hm.

  3. We gave up our Britta, gave it to son, when our refrig came with a filter for the in-door water (bad idea). The filter for the refrig is expensive and hard to remove and install. I'd love to win this Britta.

  4. Water's a scarce resource here until the monsoons and then there's lots. However, the future may be hotter and drier, exacerbating our dehydration (and dead garden) possibilities. Storing enough then to get through most of the rest of the year is a challenge. (Can't afford a 10,000 gallon tank like one wealthy rich acquaintance bought.)

    I don't current limits, but our previous solar pump could only pump from a maximum depth of 200 feet. Arizona's way past that now.


  5. I wanted to comment on how important it is to have a fresh supply of water. For some reason, I can't stomach the tap water in my area - it has a flavor to it that I can't force past the gag reflex.

    No one else in my family has the same problem. My oldest son noticed that the water "tastes off" a bit, but he can stomach it, no problem. But me? Ugh. I've thrown up more trying to drink this water than I did when I was pregnant with morning sickness.

    Sad thing is, my own Britta filter doesn't touch whatever is causing the "off taste" (and yes, I have one of those filters, so don't enter me for the drawing - save it for someone who needs one). The only way I can stomach the water is to flavor it with something. And yes, I've taken a look at the reports for the water supply in this area, and it's safe...just bad tasting to my senses.

    I think it's because I was spoiled - growing up I lived in a town that gets it's water from an artesian well. The water came out tasting so pure and sweet! It just ruined the taste of plain municipal water for me. I've got to get past that!

  6. What a great idea!! I would love to win the pitcher,but if not I definitely think I will get one for myself. Water is definitely very important and this pitcher came to mind as I was reading your article. It's really good to know that you can just set water in the sun and sterilize it. Wow. Great post.

  7. There is also a large body of discussion on "structured" water, vs. clean/pure water (ie. well/spring water compared to filtered municipal water). Adam Abraham has done lots of research on this - I believe Deus Ex Machina follows him, too.

    We are blessed to have our own dug well, a spring that is open 12 months of the year, AND a creek with fresh, clean water. I used to take them all for granted, but am now filled with gratitude for such gifts.

  8. That is such a good idea!!! We were just discussing how much water we should store…and where we could put it all. Problem solved…thanks!

  9. We have a 5,000 gallon tank in our pump house and luckily we live downhill (or is that how my hubby planned it?)so we could use the gravity feed if we didn't have electricity...that should keep us for a while..

  10. Mrs. D - I'm of the mind it's never too early to start, and some preps are going to be a lot easier to accomplish than others. But if we do run out of time, you can make a very simple water filter with sand and charcoal. This chapter in the Army survival handbook (FM 21-76) might come in handy for you.

    Kaye - I'm not sure I'd drink northern NJ water without first boiling and filtering it ;).

    Bellen - I'm glad to add you to the drawing. It was really nice of you to give up your fliter to your son ;).

    Chile - My first suggestion is rain barrels, but I believe you have those already. If you have access to those free 5 gal buckets, you could even make your own water catchment system by stacking the buckets (with holes in the lids and the bottom bucket could have a spigot) and/or running some pipe from one bucket to the next for overflow. We procured some 15 gal buckets from a local farmer and are putting together a rain catchment system using run-off from our chicken coop roofs. You might look into a cistern. If you were to dig a hole (assuming that you could do it with permission or covertly enough that no one would notice :), and then line it with concrete so that it would hold water, and then cover it and plant desert bushes on it to conceal it .... Think along those lines, perhaps. Between a rain barrel system and a cistern, you could probably store a couple thousand gallons of water for the dry season - and not cost yourself thousands of dollars to develop.

    patricialynn - bummer about your water. I lived in area with hard water that smelled like rotten eggs and tasted like metal, and I couldn't drink it. So, I understand where you're coming from. If you wanted, you could try boiling it first and then filtering it, but I don't know that it would ncecessarily make a difference.

    Alla - I agree! When I saw that video and then read the article about sterilizing the water just from putting it in the sun, I thought it was so cool. But, if the water might be contaminated with heavy metals, you'd still want to filter it. The filter takes out the chemicals and metals, and the boiling or sun-sterilizing kills the bacteria. Depending on your water source, you may still want to do both.

    Julie - the spring water sounds amazing. We had a spring near our house when I was growing up, and we hauled gallons of water from the spring to drink and used our hard (well) water just for cleaning.

    :o) - Thank you! I think many of our preps don't have to be difficult or fancy. Sometimes simple is best, and a heat source and a filter - assuming there's water to be had (and for people, like Chile, who live in an aric climate, that may not be as true as it is for someone like me, who lives in a very wet area), the simple solution is to store ways to clean it rather than to store gallons and gallons of it.

    ain't for city gals - I'll bet it was all part of your husband's master plan ... or, if he's like us, he knows things intuitively and does them, and then, only after the fact realizes what he's done ;).

  11. Hi Wendy,

    You might consider putting in a well on your property. A dug well works if there's reliable water close to the surface, and a drilled well works if the reliable water's deeper down. Then, instead of putting in a well pump (which takes a lot of electricity to run, and of course assumes there's electricity to run it) you could put in a hand pump such as the ones offered by this company:

    I found them when doing a little research with a like-minded neighbor for how to prepare our HOA for a low-energy future, given that we have a bunch of wells on our common property that are all using typical electricity-driven well pumps.

    This is a higher-cost solution to your problem, of course, but once in place and paid for it would be a free, low-maintenance, no-energy-required solution. If your current home is where you plan to "make your last stand," so to speak, it might be worth the expense. Much more expensive than rainwater catchment, but perhaps more effective especially if global warming has some extended dry spells planned for our future.


    PS - we have water filters already, so if I'm pulled out of a hat for your lottery, give it to someone else! :)

  12. I have thought about storing water for the long term. Never crossed my mind to just clean the water that is available. I'll have to keep counting on you to point out the easier and more obvious solutions. :o) I suppose I'll be heading out to get one of these pitchers and filters if I don't win one here.

  13. Steve - a well is an excellent idea. I've seen the bison pumps before - very cool, and definitely something to look into ;).

    Carla - I think our society tends to make things more complicated than they have to be, you know? But now that you're starting to think in those terms, I think you'll start to discover some pretty awesome answers for yourself ;).

  14. I was going to say something about catchment systems, but it's already been said. ;-)

    But Patricia, you might try letting a pitcher of water stand overnight in your kitchen or even your refrigerator. If filtering doesn't change the taste, there's probably dissolved gases in it that are making it taste bad. Letting it sit gives the gases a chance to escape. If you see a lot of little bubbles on the sides of your container after a few hours, tap it and I'll bet you get a yucky smell… but that's how much less yucky your water will taste.

  15. @FARfetched that's a good idea, I'm going to give it a try. Anything has to be better than constantly adding Crystal Light to the tap water.

  16. Steve, your comment about the hand pump took me right back to my childhood :D We had a hand pump over our well, which brought up the sweetest, coldest water ever. Sometimes, we had to prime it (which only the older kids were allowed to do ;)...but my grandfather would make a beeline to our hand-pumped well as soon as he arrived from the city whenever he visited, so that he could slake his thirst with our delicious (albeit hard) water....I should look into picking one up just to have on hand, "just in case"...thanks for the tip and link...

  17. I'm a new follower of your blog. I'd love to win this Brita. I worry a lot about our water situation. Where we are we can go for 3 to 4 months without rain. I'm trying to figure out how we can store it.

  18. I also just found your blog but should I win the water filter, I have no use for it so please give it to the next person.Is there some reason that you didn't mention using bleach to clean water? I am under the impression that this is a safe method, but would like to know if it isn't.
    We have family and friends who lived through the recent Australian floods. Granted, they were not prepared for the emergency,but they ended up having to clean their water using limited alternative fuel supplies (butane and propane from their outdoor grills) by boiling. I think a little water stored as well as being prepared to clean found water is a good strategy.

  19. Stacy - Check out some of the comments for some storage ideas - most of which would require you to do some sanitizing, but it's easier to store a rainbarrel full of water that needs to be santitized than to find a place for 165 gallons of water in plastic jugs. We have three 55-gallon rain barrels, which gives us about a month's worth of water for our family of five if we assume 1 gallon of water per day, per person.

    Linda - bleach is an excellent alternative to boiling for killing bacteria and parasites in water. However, you'd still need to filter out any heavy metals and such. The only reason I didn't mention it is because in a worst-case scenario, bleach may not be available, but in most places, people would still have access to some way of boiling the water. There are some very simple ways to heat food and water. A candle (or a homemade olive oil lamp) placed under a very small amount of water (a quart jar, for instance) could bring the water to a boil, and most nasties will die in boiling water after the first minute.

    I don't disagree with storing some drinkable water. We keep a pitcher of filtered water in the fridge and 2 gallons of filtered water on the counter, and we have a gallon or two of stored water in the "cold storage" (i.e. our bedroom *grin*), but we don't have nearly enough for a true emergency. Knowing that we can clean found water and that we can clean the water in our rainbarrels so that it's safe to drink is comforting ;).

  20. Hi Wendy,
    Thanks for the answer on the bleach. I didn't realize that it still needed to be filtered. I also agree with the rest of what you say about the advantage of knowing how to clean water yourself. It's an important skill to have.

  21. A filter of any kind for all of us is a good idea. Funny how so many of us are satisfied with our "city water" supplies. Our last place had a well, and now I am longing for it.

    So, I would love to have a filter for our water...since just because it's a municipal water system, doesn't mean it will always be safe!

  22. Hey Pat, I knew someone who placed their water in a dark green glass bottle out in the sunlight all day. This allowed some of the taste to change. She called it sun water. It was much nicer then straight from the tap.

  23. Curious about the "sun water." So you happen to know whether the bottle was capped or not while outside in the sun?