Thursday, February 7, 2019
Emergency potable water supplies - an update
Some years ago, I wrote about the importance of water storage and purification as part of one's emergency preparations. It's a very important, but often neglected topic. All I had to say in that article remains valid.
Over the years, I've noticed that storing water long-term in most plastic containers has an added problem. The water takes on a sort of "plastic taste" that I find unpleasant. It's not dangerous to one's health (provided one uses containers made of food-safe plastic), but it's strong enough to taint the taste of food, and can discourage drinking enough to stay properly hydrated. One can remove most of it by using a carbon filter device (such as a water filter jug), but that's an added step that might not be convenient, and can't provide large quantities of filtered water on demand - it takes time to filter each jugful. Another approach is to stock potable water ready-packed in plastic bottles, usually holding about a pint each (about half a liter, for those used to metric measurements). This deals with the problem, but involves buying a lot of small bottles. Storing them can be problematic. I keep a few flats of them on hand, because they're so useful, but it's not an ideal solution.
Recently, I found that Sams Club was selling 4-gallon water jugs, made to fit the water vending machines sold there, for a very reasonable price - four dollars and change. They may be labeled as "Spring Water" or "Purified Water", but the jugs are the same.
Similar jugs, usually three to five gallons in capacity, mostly sell for higher prices (sometimes much higher, up to $20 or more). Most are sold empty - one has to fill them oneself. The Sams Club jugs are a very cost-effective deal by comparison. What's more, by design, these water jugs (made of food-safe material) don't spoil the water by imparting a plastic taste to it. They have a "use by" date a couple of years ahead, and probably will stay fresh rather longer than that.
I looked around, and found that there are many stands available to hold such water jugs ready for use. I decided to try this one, because it was reasonably priced, and came with two taps that screwed onto the jug and made dispensing water very easy. I found it worked very well with the Sams Club water jug; the taps fit well and were watertight in use, with no leaks. The stand made dispensing the water from our kitchen counter an effortless procedure.
I also found that several companies make caps to fit these jugs, so that one can refill them once they've been used. I chose these caps after carefully reading reviews, and found that they do a good job. They're very tight indeed, hard to get on, but completely watertight once fitted. This means I can refill the bottles every so often with potable water, either after use or after their "use by" date, and re-seal them for re-use. (While you're at it, handles like this one make it much easier to carry around the big water jugs.)
I've accordingly upgraded our emergency water storage. I now have eight of those 4-gallon jugs in store, holding 32 gallons of purified, good-tasting potable water. At a gallon per person per day, that provides Miss D. and I with approximately two weeks worth of drinking and cooking water. I have another eight gallons in small, one-pint bottles, for convenience when carrying them around, so we have a total of 40 gallons of potable water. I also have about 40 gallons of tap water stored in "regular" containers like these. They'll generally impart a plastic taste to the water over time, so I reserve them for cleaning and washing purposes - again, about two weeks' supply at one gallon each per day. That's probably more than we need to be prepared for most emergencies; but I've learned the hard way (as regular readers will recall) that it's hard to predict what might happen. I'd rather be safe than sorry, and all the water together takes only two shelves in a storage unit in our garage. I can live with that.
I also have water filters, etc. (as mentioned in my earlier article) to cater for possible longer-term needs. I think every household should have at least one. (I currently use the Sawyer Mini system for individual needs, with one available for each vehicle, and the Lifestraw Family 1.0 unit for household needs if worse comes to worst. I find the latter much more cost-effective than the excellent, but very expensive, Berkey and Katadyn countertop systems. I think the latter are worthwhile if one uses them constantly to purify hard or chemically impure water, but aren't cost-justifiable to leave sitting on a shelf for possible emergency use - not unless you have a lot more money to spend on that sort of thing than I do! Also, their replacement filters are anything but cheap.) If you'd like to know more, this Web site offers comprehensive reviews of almost every portable water filter on the market. Recommended reading.
Don't forget to have water purification chemicals on hand. They'll kill bacteria and viruses that might survive filtration. If your water supply is in any way suspect, they're essential. I keep these tablets in stock for smaller quantities, and pool shock chemicals for bulk water supplies (see here for a primer on how that's done, and make sure you get chemicals that are at least 75% calcium hypochlorite - I currently keep this brand in my emergency supplies). I prefer to apply them prior to filtration. That removes many impurities from the water, leaving it clearer and cleaner, so there's less load on the filter: and any aftertaste will be reduced, if not eliminated, by the filtration process. YMMV on that.
Also, plan for additional water containers to collect impure or unfiltered water. You don't want to use your purified-water containers for that, for obvious reasons. I use 5-gallon buckets for the purpose. They're cheap, and fast and easy to use. With screw-on or snap-on lids, they won't spill, either. (If you're using snap-on lids, make sure you have a pail opener tool handy. It's a lot quicker and more convenient than doing it the hard way, and you won't break as many lids. How do I know this? Trust me. I know this!)