Water, Water Everywhere, but Which Drop Can You Drink?

We discussed the need for water storage as well as the complexities of “expired” water. What should you do if you didn’t store enough water? What if you didn’t purchase a WaterBOB or the like and your bathtub is a little more disgusting for drinking purposes that tolerable? Very clear guidance and multiple, inexpensive methods exist for disinfecting water.

According to the EPA, the very best way to sterilize water is to boil it. Boiling water is the most effective way to remove disease-causing microorganisms. If you are not able to boil your water, there are several other methods available to include household bleach (regular, unscented variety), iodine, and water purification tablets. Regarding the bleach, I have to point out that there is a shelf-life associated with the effectiveness of bleach. The normal shelf-life of bleach is 3-5 months (effected by the temperature of storage). After this timeframe, its potency drops below the level identified as required by the EPA to effectively disinfect the water. Dropping below this strength level negates the ratios of water to bleach as outlined by the EPA and will then essentially leave you guessing. Keep this in mind if you are counting on using bleach as a water purification option. You know this is the beginning of a new year, it is the perfect time to get yourself on an easy to remember rotation schedule for bleach. January bottles get switched up halfway through the year. The purification tablets mentioned can be purchased in the camping section of any common discount store and are extremely inexpensive. And now for our spoiled selves, there is a secondary bottle for water purification tablets that helps remove the taste/smell associated with using the traditional purification tablets.

The EPA makes a really great factsheet regarding water purification for survival needs. All the details discussed here plus more are available via this form. I’ve done quite a bit of research regarding water storage/purification for emergency preparedness and this is the most concise form of quick facts/directions I’ve found. The page can be found at:

http://water.epa.gov/aboutow/ogwdw/upload/2006_09_14_faq_fs_emergency-disinfection-drinkingwater-2006.pdf

One last reminder: These purification methods are not indicated as effective for removing chemicals in water/groundwater. If your water source has been contaminated by chemicals, there is no guarantee that these methods can remove said chemicals.

Questions, comments, or any concerns that we haven’t addressed, let me know.


5 responses to “Water, Water Everywhere, but Which Drop Can You Drink?

  • JoeCOOP

    Here is a great option for water purification in your go kit. I picked up three, one for each of the two family/car kits and one to send with my son for his study abroad trip this semester. If the link does not work, just web to Armageddongear, select their store and its at the bottom on the right.

    http://www.armageddongear.com/store/index.php?route=product/product&product_id=84

  • Joseph Travers

    I have been thinking quite a bit lately about this post as I read about the issues of water. The spring storms are tearing across the country and our annual hurricane season will be here soon and as you peer into the pool, the water seems to hum quietly with peril, and invisible infectious possibility. Now with the release of the Department of State’s Intelligence report of the state of potable water in the world (Global Water Crisis), I have more concerns as a Continuity planner.

    We do not see very often when a good-sized American city has both its potable water system and its sewage treatment facilities completely obliterated in a single swipe. And less often that we get to see what a modern American city and its suburbs are like with no regular water service.

    We routinely do without electricity. Are you prepared for infrastructure failure? We improvise when there is no refrigerator, or microware or driving with no traffic lights. But without regular water service, it’s hard to imagine the population proceeding. Water is basic. Our most fundamental need beyond air and one thing that without we cannot make it through a single day. In the developed countries of the world, most folks have no independent water source, no simple, safe alternative; the equivalent of a flash-light or outdoor stove. No alternative like a home generator or an ice packed cooler.

    In a devastated city, especially one devastated by water (flooding along our major rivers and tributaries from failed levees, dams, major supply water main and sewage line failures, large storm systems, along our coasts from tsunami, hurricane storm surge and topical rains), one of the first reconstitution tasks will be clean up, and even basic cleaning up requires clean water. In our homes we use on average per person 99 gallons of water a day; that’s 750 half-liter bottles (1 quart or 4 cups per bottle) of water. Think the most common size bottles of Poland Spring or Evian and even in a pinch, 750 half-liter bottles per day, per person will not save us, even in a crisis.

    In the course of my life and yours I bet reliable and safe water and sewer service available and a mystery. Most citizens have no idea where the water comes from or where it goes when the dishwasher finishes draining or when we flush the toilet. We also have little idea of what effort is required to get the water to us or what’s required to get rid of it.

    And none of that matters, until things start to go wrong with it.

    In the second week of September 2008 no one was thinking about Hurricane Ike as it lumbered toward Galveston Texas. That month would be one of the most momentous in modern American history. Unless you were staring straight into the mouth of this dragon, we were not paying it much attention. Even when the National Weather service issued its blunt morning message one day before Ike was to make landfall that it would be difficult to find shelter and its unvarnished “leave or die” hurricane warning. “Persons not heeding evacuation orders in single-family, one or two story homes will face certain death.” That is as blunt as a government weather warning gets.

    As the nation was facing the failure of Lehman Brothers, the sub-prime mortgage crisis unraveling the world’s economy, the arrival on the Gulf Coast of the hurricane could not compete. And as this blog reminds us, it does not take much to create a crisis and begs are you prepped for it. The straight line financial winds flatten one institution after another (are your finances prepped) starting with the take-over by the federal government of AIG, mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Wachovia was rescued by Citibank and then re-rescued by Wells Fargo and the Bush administration proposed the first $700 billion dollar bank bailout which the US House of Representatives rejected. The largest Bank in US history, Washington Mutual, fails and is seized by the FDIC. And as Hurricane Ike is gathering itself into a category 4 storm, Sarah Palin makes her national political debut with a speech at the GOP convention.

    My point of this comment to water is that the power of water can come to us in bad way. As hurricane Ike approached the coast, it filled the Gulf of Mexico. It was the largest Atlantic Ocean hurricane ever in term of diameter with hurricane force winds extending 240 miles out from the eye of the storm (the distance from Orlando to Miami) and tropical storm force winds above 39 mph spreading out 550 miles. It would fill the space between Atlanta and Detroit (are you prepped). Hurricane Ike crippled Galveston. Storm surge flooded the first floor of the University of Texas Medical Branch hospital, rendering the ER and operating rooms of one of the nation’s premier level 1 trauma centers useless for months. Are we prepped for the loss of our local medical services? The city loss 90% of its potable water and sewage treatment capabilities and what public water that was available was officially non-potable for 10 days or more. Loss of water can happen to us.

    As “The Keep” has pointed out, we need to be ready when disaster takes away our water. Whether a hurricane, or driving rain or flooding think about what might happen inside our own home or business if a window is shattered or a door gives way or if the roof peels off or storm surge starts pouring in over the windowsills. Unless FEMA directs a tractor trailer of palleted water to your home or safe house most of us do not have that volume of storage or the ability to move with it.

    So what is plan B? Learn how to filter and store water as described in the blog and learn how to dispose of waste water to protect your supply and family health. And remember, if you have it, others will need and want it so you must be prepared to protect it for your own needs.

  • Joseph Travers

    Yes, I know it seems like I am obsessed with this water thing but outside of power, its one of the most critical pieces of infrastructure we use. Here are two short stories within the last five years. One in the north and one in the south.

    In April of 2008 in the small town of Emlenton, Pennsylvania, its nine hundred residents were issued a boil-water order by the state. They were all customers of the Emlenton Water Company and they were not to use their tap water for any potable purpose without boiling it first.

    The water they used came to them straight from the Allegheny River, which runs next to the town. The water was not being adequately cleaned by the Emlenton Water Company. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmnetal Protection found intestinal parasites that the small utility company’s filtration process was not removing.

    The utility was owned by a husband and wife who had purchased it from another couple 10 years earlier, but never fixed the known problem. Pennsylvania ultimately revoked the operating license of Emlenton Water Company and forced the sale of the 100 year old company to get the water treated properly. The boil order lasted until January 27, 2009. The citizens had to boil their water for 273 days for their daily needs of cooking, washing fruits and vegetables drinking, and brushing teeth. This was a period long enough to conceive and give birth to a full term baby.

    The January of the following year, the city of Jackson, Mississippi, went without water for 7 days after a fourteen-day freezing spell which fractured the city’s water mains. This unrelenting cold spell which dipped deep into the south froze the Yazoo clay on which the city of Jackson sits. Fracturing the pipes. Even the pipes themselves froze.

    Except for the Northridge earthquake in California in 1993 was there an event more unprecedented in modern U.S. water history. In the space of eighty hours, the city of Jackson suffered 154 water-main breaks. The city itself is 107 square miles, meaning that on average there was more than one water-main break to every square mile.

    Of the 175,000 residents of the city, the ones that had water were placed under a boil-water order, the majority of them literally had no water at all.

    What did no water mean to the city of Jackson? Well, unlike Galveston I mentioned earlier, which was evacuated before hurricane Ike, everyone was home in Jackson. All public schools, three universities, including Jackson State were closed for a week. As the State captial, all State public services were closed as long also. Police headquarters had to be relocated.

    “If we had ice on the ground, people would be much more understanding,” the Jackson mayor said. ” We have a disaster. It’s just not one your can see.”

    The most remarkable thing about this water crisis in Jackson is the fact that it received literally no attention in the media. No New York Times, CNN, FOX News, or NPR, no one outside of Mississippi reported on the story that crippled a U.S. State captial’s water supply completely and shut it down for a week.

    Jackson’s water crisis started on Monday, January 11th and the devastating Haitian earthquake happened on Tuesday, January 12th, 2010 and Jackson became lost it the smoke. No outside help came to the city, it all went to Haiti.

    As these two stories show us and as we have heard in other blog items here, our infrastructure is not only essential to our lives but one of its weakest links. Its important to know how we are going to handle limited or no water for our personal and family needs and that we may have to supply it for more than our three day go-kits needs.

    • JoeCOOP

      I came across a few more interesting facts about our public water systems that I wanted to share with folks.

      It has not taken us very long to get use to indoor, hot & cold running water, to a water service that we never have to think about. Did you know that in 1940 (the orginial census version of which have just been released to the public) only 45% of the U.S. population had a home without complete indoor plumbing. This included ten states with a stunning 60% or more of the homes without it. In both the 1960 and 1970 census, the U.S. had startling benchmark. In the 10 years that the United States put a man on the Moon, more homes had television sets than had complete indoor plumbing. The 1960 figures show that 83% of the homes had plumbing and 87% had televisions and the 1970 figures thro increasing still showed 93% of the homes with plumbing and 95% had TV’s.

      What we took for granted was not the water itself, so much as the work, and money, necessary to provide the instant, safe water. Today it takes about $29 billion a year in the U.S. to just keep up with maintenance on the deteriorationg water pipes and aging water treatment facilities. The average American family is taxed about $34 per month for water utilities or $408 a year. BUT the water system really needs $260 per family, per year, in additional capital spending just to prevent parts of the system from corroding and aging into uselessness.

      And that cost isn’t even what is needed to improve the quality of drinking water and sewage treatment. Scientists wrestle daily with the new threats from micropollutants and this cost factor does not even included the additional capacity needed for growing water demands. Nor does it account for the costs of grappling with the problem of water scarcity, which is hugly expensive.

      Repair costs are running about $200 per foot to replace water pipe under a four lane road or about a $1 million a mile. Las Vegas is spending $700 million on a third water intake line which will draw straight from the bottom of its Lake Mead water source which is rapidly shrinking. In the face of lessen rain fall, five Australian cities are spending $13 billion on desalination plants to provide drinking water to their residents.

      The cost of no water is hard to measure or even imagine in advance and will be crippling in real time. As I meanted earlier, Jackson, Mississippi came to a standstill for a week when its water system was shutdown and the Island of Galveston, Texas was devastated from Hurrican Ike and the city was closed to its residents for eleven days. Thats how long it took the city staff, FEMA, the US Navy, and private contractors, all working flat out, to patch things together enough to let everyone back with the assurances that they could flush their toilets even if their homes were rotting messes. It took until the three week anniversity of the storm making landfall before the boil water order was lifted.

      I say all this to get and keep you thinking about your own water needs in the place where you live today. In your homes today, the average family uses 99 gallons of water person to meet all its family needs of washing, cooking, cleaning, and flushing. It does not take much as I have briefly spoken of over the last several posts to stop the supply to your tap or toilet. How are you preparing to work with an outage of a day, a week, or more. I would like to hear how you plan on doing it as I am sure others would also benefit. Reply and let us know your ideas.

  • JoeCOOP

    Well, it seems that its only me who wants to talk about water, so here is something on the bottled water industry and the general state of water supply in America.

    While wild fires, severe weather, and solar storms are grabbing the headlines of late, have you noticed what’s been happening with water in this country? From the major drought that spans our country from the Heartland to the Deep South or the major water infrastructure failures here in our own Baltimore backyard. Have you noticed just how much bottled water you use or how much you are planning to have available in your Keep? I have been reading up on our subject of water some more and wanted to offer some thoughts on the bottled water industry and domestic water infrastructure that we as prepper’s are so dependent on. Next to power (okay, we can argue food) it is the most important item we will need.

    In North America, the largest bottled-water factory is located in Hollis, Maine. The staging area for their finished product in the back of the plant holds 24 million bottles of Poland Spring water. The pallets are double-stacked as far as the eye can see with half-pint bottles, half-liters, Aquapods school lunch boxes, and 2.5 gallon jugs.

    It is a lake of Poland Spring Water. Walled off in cells of plastic that extend across six acres that is eight feet high. A week earlier, this lake was still underground and within five days, it will all be on its way to supermarkets and convenience stores all across the United States and replaced by another lake of bottles.

    Only one thought occurs when looking at the pallets of water, Americans are thirsty.

    Bottled water has become an indispensable prop in our day to day lives and culture. In our lunch boxes; it goes to our meeting, lectures, and soccer matches. It’s in our cubicles at work; on the treadmill at the gym; and rattling around half-finished on the minivan floor. On the ABC show Brothers & Sisters we see FIJI water and cameos of Poland Spring on NBC’s The Office. It is offered in every hotel room for sale right alongside the increasingly ignored ice bucket and drinking glasses. The emporium, Whole Foods, is devoted to sustainable food. Bottled water is their No. 2 item by unit sales.

    Bottled water barely existed thirty years ago as a business in the United States. We spend $21 billion dollars in 2009 on bottled water. This was more spent on Poland Spring, FIJI Water, Evian, Aquafina, and Dasani than was spent buying iPhones, iPods, and all the music and music apps loaded on them.

    If there is a “business of water” in the United States, a business that is both familiar and utterly at ease, it is the bottled water business. Bottled water is one of the spots in our daily lives where commerce and water routinely intersect.

    Bottled water is certainly a water mind-flip. We see a generation of American adults that were raised on tap water and water fountains that now drink a billion bottles of water each week, and raising a whole new generation of adults that view fountains with suspicion and tap water with disdain. Americans now drink more gallons of bottled water than milk. Cost conscious about everything from the monthly cable bill to microwave ovens, we have acclimated ourselves to spending good money, something along the lines of two or three or four times the cost of gasoline, for something that we have received and can still get, for free, from taps in our homes.

    It is easy to treat bottled water as a funny sidelight in the world of water. The volumes of bottled water can be staggering when it is considered a consumer product. We drink eighteen times more in bottled water today per person as we did in 1976. That is seventeen bottles a month for every man, woman, and child in the United States. The actual water involved is trivial. In 2009, 8.4 billion gallons of water was sold in this country. This is 27 gallons of water per person each year. That is the same as one bath per year. The U.S. water system leaks 7 billion gallons of water each day. Pipes supplying water to our homes will leak in 30 hours more drinking water than American’s will buy at stores in a year.

    Bottle water is not a curiosity or a business we are just familiar with but bottled water is a phenomenon of our times. As a business it remained stagnant for forty years. Even as dramatic innovation swept through almost every other arena of business and technology, from our car engines to how we cook, to the “technology” embedded in our Kleenex. If you were to look for water innovations you could point to, that you could appreciate in the last forty years, the chilled water from Fiji, the island nation, in the sexy square bottle at your local 7-Eleven would be a standout. Bottle water has turned out to be more popular and more prized, than, say, the dual-flush toilet.

    If you were to walk into the water aisle of any large supermarket; a section in the store which did not exist thirty years ago, there is water from three or four continents and water from the melting glaciers. There is water with oxygen added and SmartWater with added electrolytes, a one up on Mother Nature. The makers of the water fountain have not been as creative as the bottled water folks in the last thirty years.

    This new product is the wacky, funhouse-house of mirrors version of real world water. This new wave has ever so gently eroded our confidence in our tap water, which creates the illusion that bottled water is much safer, better, or healthier for us. The fact is that our tap water is much more tightly regulated and monitored than the bottled water industry. The largest brands, Nestle’ Pure Life, Coke’s Dasani, and Pepsi’s Aquafina make up 20% of all bottled water are nothing more than municipal tap water re-purified and packaged for our convenient purchase. This dependence on bottled water only undermines our financial and civic commitment to reliable and safe public water systems. Why would you vote yes on a new water bond issue or accept an increase in your water bill when you can always get your water at the supermarket? This is a spring-fed vision of water security which turns out to be a mirage the moment we have a disaster and need to depend on it. In May of 2010 more than two million people in the Boston metro area were place under a boil water order when one of the main aqueducts supplying the area failed. This order covered not only cooking but even washing their dishes. All the Supermarket and convenience store distributors were sold out of bottled water within hours of the boil water order going into effect. The Boston system did not fail to deliver water, they still had water pressure for toilets and showers; the water was not clean enough to be dependably safe to consume.

    In 2009, Americans spent $21 billion on bottled water. In the scope of things it does not seem like a lot of money, about $65 per person or about $1.25 a week, but in the water world, $21 billon is huge.

    In context, American’s spend for all the water delivered to their homes, about 350 gallons per family per day, 365 days a year about $412 dollars per year; which means we spend around $46 billion a year on all household water used year round. This is our morning shower, water to make boil pasta and water for the lawn and flowers. We spend $46 billion per year to always have water whenever we need it. And we spend another $21 billion, almost half of the home delivery cost on bottled water. The bottled water costs would not buy us eight hours of water delivered to our home for use on any given day.

    There is another stark comparison. In the United States, we spend about $29 billion to maintain the entire water infrastructure each year. That is the water treatment plants, the pumping stations, the delivery pipes underground and the waste water treatment plants. So in this nation we spend almost as much on water in disposable plastic bottles as we do on sustaining our entire water infrastructure.

    When we buy a bottle of water, it’s mostly the bottle we’re purchasing as much as the water in it. We are buying the convenience. A bottle purchased at the 7-Eleven is not quite the same as tap water any more that a cup of coffee from Starbucks is the same as one from our coffer maker at home. Besides the bottle, we are buying the artful story that companies tell us about their water product; where it comes from, how healthy it is and a status it says about us.

    This new habit is simply an indulgence but not a benign indulgence. To support our habit, we move 1 billion bottles of water a week by ship, trains, and trucks in the US alone. That convoy of movers is the same as 37,800 tractor-trailer trucks delivering water. Water weighs 8.33 pounds per gallon; which makes it so heavy that you cannot fill one of these trucks completely before you overload it.

    Meanwhile, while we swim in a sea of bottled water, one out of six persons in the world has no dependable, safe drinking water. While the global economy delivers to the developed world a variety of waters, not one of which are actually needed; the same economy denies the most fundamental element of life to 1 billion people. The real tension to all this is only complicated by the fact if our nation decided not to buy that lake of Poland Spring water from Hollis, Maine, that lake of water would not find its way to those really thirsty people.

    Our relationship with water is perfectly represented in the symbol of the chilled plastic bottle of water. It’s triumphant as a business. It’s hard to pick a water that’s right as is to pick the right toothpaste, or the right laundry detergent. There is water from the French Alps, the Italian Alps and water from an Indiana spring packaged in artistic glass wine bottles. Water’s with qualities that seem a bit out of place; skinny water, life water, zero-calorie water, water with anti-oxidants and vitamins or zest of raspberries which seem to be drifting from actual water. The last example of water marketing is the French mineral water, Evian. They have created an aerosol mister so that you can use this water to refresh your face as conveniently as you use it to quench your thirst. The Evian facial mister is the most expensive water routinely available in the retail market. It is 3.3 tablespoons in an aluminum can that fits in the palm of your hand and cost $5.50. That translates to a single half-liter bottle of Evian costing $55-$427 dollars per gallon.

    The chilled bottle of water is that last flower on the old water culture bush. What says indulgence more than paying for something that you don’t need? On the surface, it looks like a small and silly triumph for capitalism. Really smart and creative people can do with an utterly boring product like water. But in fact, it should be a reminder that the market place has created persuasive solutions for water problems that don’t exist, while failing to find a solution for our real water problems.

    While it’s suggest that bottled water is an answer to our prepper needs for water, by the end of 2010 bottled water was taking a beating in terms of public image. Cities like San Francisco, Seattle, and New York all banned the purchase of bottled water with public money except in emergencies. The environmental impact awareness of the plastic bottle is growing. As an economy, we only recycle 27% of the plastic bottles that we use for water. In the US alone we discard 115 bottles per person or about 36 billion plastic bottles per year.

    The amount of bottled water sold in 2004 grew 8.6 per cent. It grew 10.8 percent in 2005; 9.5 percent in 2006 and peaked in 2007. Whether the recession or skepticism, sales fell in 2008 2 percent and fell in 2009 by 2.7 percent. While the drop was small, it was smaller than other bottled beverage sales. The real significance is that in 2008, bottled water sales fell for the first time since 1976. The first fall in thirty-two years of non-stop growth with the Beverage Marketing Corporation report stating in 2009 that, “While not specifically measured for this study, tap water was likely one of the winners in 2009, driven by cost-conscious consumers.”

    It’s just bottled water and not very high on the list of sins one might commit; hardly as big as the impact of driving a Hummer or a Prius while texting. The only category of drink, carbonated soda, in the United States outsells bottled water and is hardly better for you or the environment and soda is after all mostly water. In the United States where 1/3 of the population is obese, we could use a little more water and less soda.

    Is the bottle water aisle in our supermarkets any different from the cookie aisle, where varieties of Oreos cookies along now number at least ten?

    Bottle water variety and the marketing intensity is not a signal that the water economy is flourishing with creativity. The signs are that the water economy has malfunctioned. The bottle water aisle is not any more a sign of intelligent life in the water business than it is water illiteracy. Despite the marketing ads, bottle water is not, in fact, smart water.

    Bottled water has been a phenomenon of the last thirty years and FIJI water is the phenomenon of the bottled water boom. With carefully cultivated celebrity customers and fashionable distribution outlets, it has become the number one imported bottled water in the US. Beating out popular brands Perrier and Evian; it received a big branding boost when on election night 2008 the president-elect Barack Obama and family were photographed drinking FIJI water. And he since has been reported to drink it after his workouts.

    So, while we are stuffing our closets and basements with cases of water creating our own little ponds for our Prepper needs, just consider this miniature miracle of the modern global economy, FIJI water. Straight from an aquifer on the isolated island on Fiji’s main land to a state-of–the-art factory that fills and packs over a million bottles of water a day. Water that then makes it way by truck, cargo container and ship, around the world to the hippest clubs and restaurants. And while we pack the shopping carts with our emergency water supplies, half way around the world residents of the Island of Fiji do not have safe and reliable drinking water themselves. This means that it’s easier for the average American living in Beverly Hills or Miami or Manhattan to get a drink of safe, pure, refreshing water than it is for most of the inhabitants of Fiji.

    Let’s review one of the first keep articles (Water, Water Everywhere, but Which Drop Can You Drink?) and talk a bit more about our alternatives to bottled water and how we can ensure that whatever supply of water we have is safe for us and our families to drink in an emergency.

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