Friday, March 22, 2024

Yet another wake-up call about our water supply


As if crumbling infrastructure, periodic drought and over-consumption weren't enough, our water supplies are now threatened by state-sponsored hackers.

The Biden administration on Tuesday warned the nation’s governors that drinking water and wastewater utilities in their states are facing “disabling cyberattacks” by hostile foreign nations that are targeting mission-critical plant operations.

. . .

The letter cited two recent hacking threats water utilities have faced from groups backed by hostile foreign countries. One incident occurred when hackers backed by the government of Iran disabled operations gear used in water facilities that still used a publicly known default administrator password ... The second threat was publicly revealed last month by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. Officials said that a hacking group backed by the Chinese government and tracked under the name Volt Typhoon was maintaining a foothold inside the networks of multiple critical infrastructure organizations, including those in communications, energy, transportation, and water and wastewater sectors. The advisory said that the hackers were pre-positioning themselves inside IT environments to enable disruption operations across multiple critical infrastructure sectors in the event of a crisis or conflict with the US. The hackers, the officials said, had been present in some of the networks for as long as five years.

There's more at the link.

This is actually a very serious threat.  If it were in their interest to cause massive internal disruption to the United States, to stop this country interfering with their operations elsewhere in the world (say, Iran in the Persian Gulf, or China in Taiwan), shutting down the clean water supply to major US cities would certainly require the US government to focus inward, rather than outward.  Tens of millions of citizens would be in jeopardy, and could not be ignored.  The armed forces would almost certainly have to be deployed to ensure distribution of alternative water supplies, and all sorts of technological resources would be required to repair and rebuild our water infrastructure.

I think Iran is a particular threat in that regard.  It's already got the maritime world over a barrel through its Houthi surrogates in the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea.  If Israel ends up going to war with Hezbollah as well as Hamas, and strikes Iranian forces deployed in Syria, does anyone imagine Iran won't try to respond in kind?  And wouldn't part of that response be to keep the US preoccupied with its own problems, including perhaps its citizens' water supplies?

Earlier this month I wrote about why we should be storing food.  (For some unknown reason, Google stuck a warning about sensitive content on that post, presumably because one of the sources I quoted referenced possible strings attached to government food supplies.  Don't let that worry you.  Read it anyway - it's important.)  In that article, I mentioned emergency water supplies, too.

Speaking of water storage, don't forget water to go with your food reserves.  Far too many people assume they'll be able to collect water from nearby streams or lakes if necessary.  I've personally run into more than one situation (in the Third World, so far) where local strongmen or gangs camped out next to such bodies of water and "taxed" anyone wanting to draw from them.  That "tax" might be monetary, or confiscation of supplies, or even demanding (sometimes forcibly taking) sex from any woman who can't pay them in other ways.  What makes you think that won't happen here, if things go from bad to worse?  Quite apart from that sort of risk, depending on the emergency, local water sources may be so tainted as to be unusable.  (Remember the train derailment and chemical spill in East Palestine, Ohio, a year ago?  The water in the area is still badly polluted, and nobody knows when [if?] it'll ever be safe to drink again.  That can, and probably will, happen elsewhere, too.)

(Money saving tip:  Buy bulk packs of food-grade 5-gallon buckets, plus lids for them, to store water.  This 10-pack, for example, works out at only $3.43 per bucket, which is a bargain in anyone's language.  Add low-cost lids for them (I like these for water storage, or the [sadly, much more expensive] Gamma Seal threaded lids for food storage) and a lid remover, and you're good to go.  The combination is much cheaper than buying made-for-purpose water storage containers, and every bit as useful.  Alternatively, if you want to buy water already sealed in a container, shop for the Sams Club 4-gallon jugs.  They're what I mostly use, and are a real bargain.  Keep a few flats of bottled water, too, for handing out to people needing to take water with them while doing other work.)

Again, more at the link.

I very strongly recommend that you pay as much attention to your emergency water supplies as you do to emergency food supplies.  Authorities are unanimous in saying the same thing.

FEMA recommends:

Store at least one gallon per person, per day. Consider storing at least a two-week supply of water for each member of your family. If you are unable to store this quantity, store as much as you can.

The CDC recommends:

  • Store at least 1 gallon of water per person per day for 3 days for drinking and sanitation. Try to store a 2-week supply if possible.
  • Consider storing more water than this for pregnant women, people who are sick, pets, or if living in a hot climate. recommends:

Store at least one gallon of water per person per day for several days, for drinking and sanitation ... Take the following into account:

  • Children, nursing mothers and sick people may need more water.
  • A medical emergency might require additional water.
  • If you live in a warm weather climate more water may be necessary. In very hot temperatures, water needs can double.

I agree with all of them, except that I think one gallon per person per day is inadequate.  Remember, water will be needed for drinking, basic personal hygiene (cleaning teeth, washing hands and the essential bits), food preparation and cleaning up afterwards, laundering essential clothing (e.g. underwear), etc.  I reckon two gallons per person per day is more like a practical, realistic minimum to provide for all of those needs.  In hot climates during high summer, even that may be inadequate, particularly if you're physically active.  (Let me tell you, a north Texas summer with daytime temperatures well over 100 degrees will bake you dry!)

For a family of four, at two gallons per person per day, that equates to eight gallons of water per day, or fifty-six gallons per week.  That's just over eleven five-gallon buckets of water every week, or fourteen of those four-gallon Sams Club jugs.  It's inconvenient to store that much:  water is bulky, it's heavy, and it takes up space you'd probably rather use for other things - but without it, you'll be in a world of hurt.  I personally think that a week's supply of water for your household is a minimum requirement.  (I store more than that.)

If the water to your neighborhood was completely cut off for a week or more, how would you cope?  Where would you go to get water, and how would you do that if everyone else in your suburb was doing the same thing?  What containers would you use to get and store the water?  If you don't have them now, how do you expect to get them at short notice when everyone else is looking for them, too?  Water weighs eight pounds per gallon.  Are you fit and strong enough to carry a full five-gallon bucket weighing forty pounds from the water point to your home?  Can you do that over and over again, as often as necessary?  If you're not strong enough, do you have a garden cart or other means of transport for your containers?  Will you be able to stop others trying to steal your container(s) and/or cart(s)?

Friends, get those buckets and lids or other containers now, while you still can, enough of them for at least a week's supply of water for your household.  Fill as many as you can conveniently store in your home, and nest the others together to save space.  At the first sign that there might be a need for them, fill the rest.  Add a WaterBOB bathtub water container to your reserve supplies, and fill it as soon as it seems there may be a need for it;  or, at the very least, keep your bathtub as clean as possible and fill it if an emergency threatens.  (Make sure the plug or stopper doesn't leak!)  Together with your other containers, you'll be well set to survive a week or two without your regular water supplies.

Some may think I'm putting too much emphasis on this.  That depends on your perspective.  I've lived in the Third World, where interruptions in the water supply often (too often!) went hand-in-hand with sometimes severe, life-threatening social disruption and conflict.  It wasn't a talking point there - it was quite literally a survival measure.  If you had to go out to get water, you exposed yourself to real personal risk of harm.  If you had water at home, you didn't have to go out to get it;  so you were safer.  I still think of emergency supplies from that perspective.  It kept me alive back then.  I hope it won't have to again . . . but who knows?

You can live a few days, or even a couple of weeks, without food;  you'll be hungry, but won't suffer permanent harm.  Three days without water and you'll be dead, or nearly so.  Make sure you have reserve water supplies.  That's the bottom line.


(EDITED TO ADD:  Following reader questions, I've written a brief follow-up post to this one.  Please click over there to read it.)


Anonymous said...

Do you have an opinion on the Water Bob, a plastic bladder with built-in dispenser which uses a home bathtub to store the water contents inside the cavity ? Good or bad opinions or REAL WORLD experience would be welcome. If the water supply would cease to exist, using this space would make some sense. Most homes have at least one shower unit which could still be used for sponge baths. For the single or married couple, this bladder would not be a bad start.

Anonymous said...

"Utility" water is different from "drinking/cooking" water. Rainwater works fine for toilet flushing, filtered and lightly bleached (coffee filters and chlorine) it's suitable for basic cleaning tasks - floors, etc.

"Drinking" water is different, it needs to be pure or purified.

Xoph said...

Keep in mind electrolytes. Gatoraide has too many and needs to be cut with more water to help you rehydrate. If you boil water for purification there may be flavors to it. Having teas or other flavorings is also a help. You'll drink more often if your water has a flavor, even a weak one. In hot weather I can drink a gallon in the morning and another in the afternoon, and that is doing not particularly hard work in the shade.

Study up on heat stress and work to avoid it. That season is coming.

Anonymous said...

Hahahahaha, I have to laugh. People DO NOT understand.

Just some crazy African off his meds sitting and rotting in a major cities water reservoir for a month. Nothing to see here.

Paul, Dammit! said...

What is truly infuriating to me is that we have been warned of the critical vulnerability of our utilities management hardware for OVER 20 YEARS.

Michael said...

When in doubt, scream and shout...

No. No when in doubt go to the BASICS

Rule of threes of survival:

You can survive three minutes without breathable air (unconsciousness), or in icy water.
You can survive three hours in a harsh environment (extreme heat or cold).
You can survive three days without drinkable water.
You can survive three weeks without food.

I've added the Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn Gulag without Hope or Faith you'll die soon enough. Man is more than air, water, shelter and food. Man has to have a REASON to Live through bad times.

As Peter pointed out Waiting Until EVERBODY NEEDS Water is a bad time to be running around with that credit card trying to buy storage containers and securing water.

grnadee said...

Do this experiment--I did.

Take a gallon of bottled water. Only use this gallon as you go through your day.

I made a little coffee, some soup, drank most of it. Nothing for washing except my hands before eating.

At the end of the day I had 1/4 cup left over to brush my teeth and a swig to swallow before bedtime.

A gallon is the bare minimum for one person to get you through a day.

Try it. A gallon is not enough.

Rob said...

When I was camping in my van in the desert for awhile I was using almost 3 gallons a day, keeping it to one gallon was hard.

Think about a water filter system, it could be bought like a Berkey system, (shop around) or you can buy the filters & build your own. If all you have is outside/pond water a filter can get you by.

With the water storage, keep in mind water is heavy & if you put a large container somewhere you probably won't be able to move it.

Jonathan H said...

Why are these critical systems still connected to anything external?!?
They should be on a dedicated isolated network!

I'm not worried about water - I have a well. What I am working on is making sure I have power to run the pump when I need it.

Anonymous said...

Under normal conditions, the average household uses 30-40 gallons per person per day.

A batch of laundry uses 30-50 gallons, depending on washer size and efficiency.

My home is off-grid and I harvest rainwater. At the end of the rainy season I have approx 5000 gallons stored, and it just barely gets me through the dry season (I live alone).

Anonymous said...

I agree, one gallon is not really enough. we have stored water in gallon jugs, for use during outages. One gallon is enough for one meal, prep, clean up, and a couple drinking cups. Over a day, for 2 people, I use more than 2 gallons. That does not include washing underwear or bodies, toilet flushing, and I must be stingy with how much I’m using. In hot weather, we’d be drinking more water and would need much more than 2 gallons each.
We do have barrels of rainwater, which can be used for flushing, or filtered for washing up.
Southern NH

boron said...

I guess I'm off my meds as well:
Why are we focusing on water, reservoirs, water distribution systems?
If we weren't living under American Socialism (moving further and further left every day), I don't believe we'd be having these problems.
Electric/water/food production and distribution ... all controlled one way or another by our government (for our own safety - heh!) - all open to the rule-making vagaries of some government weenie off his/her meds; all open to any computer hacker; all open to any psycho/sociopath wanting to disrupt the system - or throw paint at a classical painting just to prove they can.
Go ahead: convince me I'm wrong!

HMS Defiant said...

Far and away the most dangerous and lethal aspect to exploiting vulnerabilities that destabilize America and kills Americans are the operatives of the Democratic Party, antifa, earthfirst, eco action and the rest of the morons. Iran is way way down on the list. Just look at who is flooding the country with enemy aliens every single day.

Mind your own business said...

If the hackers would only screw around with all the traffic signals in DC, I might support them.

Seriously though, we've been ignoring the warnings about this kind of stuff for decades. Whatever happens, we deserve it.

(Which is easier for someone like me who is on a well and septic system to say. My kids, however, are not.)

Sherm said...

Ain't cheap but it puts 320 gallons in a fairly small footprint.
These have doubled in price since I last paid attention and are probably cheaper elsewhere. (must be that controlled inflation I've been hearing about)

Anonymous said...

Doesn't have to be hackers. The Texas brushfires came very close to damaging the water supply system for eight cities and towns. The ash would probably compromise water quality of the reservoir were not so big, and the worst of the fires downstream. You don't have to hack the systems to ruin a lot of people's days.


michigan doug said...

HD is out of those buckets but they have plenty of lids. LOL

Anonymous said...

For those who (like myself) use Reliant Aqua-Tainers, it might be helpful to know that they changed the thread pattern on the spigot in/around 2015, so if you have an older container it will not be compatible with the newer spigot. Yes, I found this out the hard (and more expensive!) way.

FeralFerret said...

In December, we went 20 days without water service due to a leaking line between the meter and the house. I had to shut the water off due to the massive leak. By the time I dealt with the water line warranty company and they finished playing musical plumbers, It was December 26 when I finally had water service in the house again. There are two of us living here.

I started out with three 55 gallon food grade poly barrels of water stored in my basement. I also filled around 20 gallons of other containers before I shut off the water. Our drinking water was totally separate. The barrels were for cleaning and flushing. Two weeks in, I turned the water on for an hour an put up with the leak so that we could do a load of laundry. My wife has a psychological issue with using a public laundromat. We also spent three days at our daughter's house out of town.

Seventeen days of actual usage went through every drop of water in the barrels. With the other small containers that was a total 185 gallons for two people. That was nearly 11 gallons per day. Part of the toilet duties were done into a bucket toilet in order to stretch the water that far.

Barrels with at least a hand pump are much more space efficient if you have a suitable place for them that can handle the weight. You can also use the barrel tops to store other things upon, especially if you put a thin piece of plywood on top.

I bought an electric pump shortly thereafter, but still have the hand pump in case of no power. That was a lot of hand pumping at 6 ounces per stroke.

Dqn said...

If possible, have a well. And have the means to pump water from your well. I have a well with solar power to drive a soft start pump AND a separate Simple Pump that allows me to hand pump into my pressure tank. Not everyone has a well as an option, but if you can you should.

Anonymous said...

I used to work decafes ago at a water bottling plant. The 5 gallon jugs have a shelf life before having to be sold of 18 months. You can often pick them up for cheaper than a bucket.


Anonymous said...

We have a generator and our own well. We run the genny every 4 hours or so, to refill water jugs, run the freezer and fridge. This helps with water usage. But as I said earlier, for two people, for each day, you need more than 1 gallon per person. We can use the rainwater collection to flush toilets, but cooking, drinking, and cleanup, hand washing, still takes 2 to 3 gallons per person per day. No real bathing or clothes washing in that allotment.
Southern NH

Anonymous said...

Has americans stopped and asked themselves why Iran doesn't hack the water supplies of say...Sri lanka? Maybe if america doesn't interfere in the affairs of other nations like bombing them and regime changing them, America won't have to worry about stuff like this.

Joseph said...


I live in South Texas, where summer temps usually top out over 105F for a few months of the year. I agree, 1 gal. is far to little...2gal per person per day a minimum, 3 gal/day is better. But this implies staying in place; Water is about 8 lbs/gal so you are talking a lot of weight and volume.