We are living in uncertain times, as the world around us seems to be collapsing into chaos. We have seen a global pandemic, the economy come to a standstill, freedoms evaporate, and civil unrest sweep across the nation. As we don't know what 2020 will throw at us next, we must remain prepared for anything. According to the EPA, "Drinking water distribution systems are also increasingly vulnerable to interruption in service from a terrorist attack, an industrial accident, an extreme weather events [sic], and aging water infrastructure." While we can't predict or prevent a sudden disruption to our water source, we can ensure our individual water supplies remain resilient.
In case of a sudden loss of running water, you will need to act quickly to best position yourself to address the water shortage. You will need to first take inventory of all the water you have available, and categorize it into drinking, cooking, washing, and flushing water. Categorizing the water will help you use the water more efficiently, as you may not know how long the water shortage will last.
Drinking water: Securing potable water will be important immediately in a water shortage, as this water will be the most difficult to acquire. To most effectively preserve this water, use it only for drinking. Your best source of drinking water will be commercially purified bottled water. Stores will immediately sell out of bottled water during an emergency, so you must have bottled water ahead of time. Recall how at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, stores sold out of bottled water for several weeks. They now have it available again, so now is the time to stock up, if you do not have an adequate supply. Store one gallon of water per person per day for as long as you expect to need drinking water. The Department of Homeland Security recommends three days' supply of water for disaster preparedness. This should be enough when dealing with natural disasters such as earthquakes, flooding, or hurricanes, and this assumes water supplies can be restored within that time. Think about your personal situation, and determine how many days you may need to prepare for in case of civil unrest or extended water shortages. You may decide that you need to store water for more than three days. Besides bottled water, you can find drinking water in your hot water heater tank, toilet tank, in pipes, outdoor hoses, ice in your freezer, or fresh snow. If you know ahead of time that you might lose water, such as before a hurricane, you can fill your bath tub with fresh drinking water. You can also replenish your drinking water by purifying cooking water. You can purify cooking water by boiling it, distilling it, chemically purifying it, or using a water filter. You should not ration drinking water, as your body needs water to operate efficiently. Drink what you need, and find more drinking water later. If you do not drink enough, your body will work less efficiently, and you could unnecessarily create a life-threatening situation.
Cooking water: Cooking water is water that is clean, but not potable. You can collect cooking water from fresh rainwater, fast moving streams, or using an improvised filter. If you find a river or pond, you can dig a hole a few feet away from the shore until you reach the water line. Let the sediment settle, and then you can collect this water as cooking water. By digging a few feet away from the shore, the earth acts as a natural filter, eliminating bacteria and particulates. Take care to avoid water that has a glistening surface, a strong odor, or dead carcasses nearby. Also note that filters will eliminate most bacteria and particulates, but will not eliminate dangerous chemicals. Check out the video below for instructions on how to make a simple improvised water filter.
Remember to reuse and recycle your cooking water as much as possible. For example, after you boil eggs, you can use that same water to bake bread. If the water becomes too cloudy, you can filter it, and start over. Use cooking water, rather than drinking water, for brushing teeth and washing dishes. When washing dishes, start with cups, forks and spoons, then wash plates and knives, and pots and pans last.
Washing water: Water that may not be suitable for drinking or cooking could still be useful for bathing and washing. You can collect washing water from rivers, ponds, swimming pools, or the ocean. Washing water should be free from odors or significant particulates, but is not suitable for human consumption without additional steps for purification. Hygiene will be important during an emergency to prevent chaffing, smells, or infections Make sure to have washing water available to bathe yourself, wash clothes, and keep high-touch areas clean. If washing water remains scarce, prioritize areas to wash in order of hands, face, hair, underarms, groin, crack. Everything else can wait until you find a river, pool, or ocean. Keep baby wipes available as an alternative to washing water. Avoid drinking washing water, as it could cause you to become sick and lose more fluids. Purify river water by filtering it to convert it into cooking water. To remove chlorine from swimming pool water, let the water sit in the sun in a shallow container for a couple of days. Ultraviolet ray from the sun help dissipate chlorine from pool water. Then filter swimming pool water to take out hair, leaves, dead skin cells, and other impurities. At that point the pool water becomes cooking water that you must boil before drinking. Boiling pool water will also eliminate chlorine, if you don't have the time to let the sun dissipate the chlorine. Never drink salt water unless you distill it first.
Flushing water: Save any water that is too dirty for anything else, as you can still use it for flushing toilets. Flushing water can be any water from a pond, river, ocean, or used washing water. Since you will only use this water for flushing, you will not need to purify it before using it. In a water emergency, you should never use clean water for flushing or watering plants, unless you have a plentiful supply. Save any flushing water, and pour it into the toilet tank (after taking out the drinking water). You can then flush the toilet as needed. If you are short of flushing water, place a plastic kitchen trash bag in the toilet. Once it is full, tie it up and dispose of it.
Containers: Just as it will be important to inventory and categorize your available water, you should inventory and categorize your water containers. Label your containers clearly so that everyone in your family understands what type of water goes into that container. If you take a drinking water container and fill it with washing water, that container becomes a washing water container. You can use containers for going down in levels, but you must clean them appropriately before going up in levels. Five gallon buckets with lids make great storage containers for food, water, and other emergency supplies. Military-style Jerry Cans work great for storing or transporting water.
Water is essential to life. You will die in about three days without water, though you will lose effectiveness and performance before that. Keeping sufficient water supplies will be critical to remain effective during an emergency. Now is the best time to ensure that you have enough water for yourself, your family, your pets, and anyone else you are responsible for. Take note of what you have available, and plan out your emergency strategy now. When the water supply gets cut off, you will need to conserve water, recycle, and reuse it. By ensuring sufficient water supplies during an emergency, you can remain focused on all the other tasks you need to accomplish. Others depend on you for their needs, so you must be able to care for yourself and them. We must remain resilient through all these challenges so we can put this nation back together again.