Week 1: Water

14 Gallons of Water

After this week, you should have 14 gallons stored. The Program goal is 28 gallons. We will address Water one more time (in week 11).

Why store water?

Water storage is one of the simplest and most important, yet most neglected areas of emergency preparedness. Many people store freeze-dried/dehydrated foods such as powdered milk, beans, rice, etc. which required water for eating, but they don't account for this extra water requirement in their water storage. Water is more essential than food in sustaining life. Fact: You can live for about 3 weeks without food, but you can only live for about 3 days without water. This tells us where we should put our priorities.

There are two kinds of water!

There are basically two kinds of water: Potable (drinkable) and non-potable (not-drinkable). We all take potable water for granted because for most of us, it is always there when we need it. In the event of an emergency, the power will most likely go out. And make no mistake about it, the water plants run off of power. It will only be a matter of time before that precious water stops flowing, and when that happens, there will be two kinds of people out there: those that are glad they planned ahead and those that wish they had planned ahead.

During this emergency, non-potable water probably won't be terribly hard to find, unless you live in a desert. You can capture it from your roof when it rains, pull it from rivers, streams, ponds, lakes, swimming pools, etc. Potable water, on the other hand, is going to be much harder to come by. For those that have been storing it, life will be a lot less stressful. For those that have not bothered to store it, you are going to have to rely on filtering and purifying it. More on this in a bit. But for now, if you're reading this, I'm assuming you plan on storing your own. So lets discuss potable water.

Water fact:

Did you know the average American uses about 70 gallons of water per day!!! Drinking water constitutes about 1 gallon of that. The rest is laundry water, toilet flushes, dishwasher, showers, etc. So when it comes to storing water, how much do you need? Good question.

How much water should I store?

According to the Red Cross and Civil defense, you need a minimum of 1 gallon per person per day for a 2-week period. This is how long they estimate it could take to either get the water back up and running or to provide assistance. So each person in your family will require 14 gallons. A family of 5 would need 70 gallons for two weeks (14x5). This water is all allocated for drinking only. You need to consider food preparation as well. Many recipes require water, and depending on how much dehydrated or freeze dried food you have stored, you will need extra water for this. Do you have pets? Don't forget to include extra for them. And what about personal hygiene, dishes, cleaning, etc? So basically, in addition to your drinking water, you might need to store up to an additional 3 gallons of water per day, for two weeks. You can decide how much of this water needs to be potable. For example, I store about 200 gallons (and counting) of water in 1-gallon containers and I have allocated this as our drinking water, so I rotate this out every 6 months or so. I also have seven 55-gallon drums full of water, but I don't rotate this very often (maybe every 5 years or so). The reason I don't rotate this water is because I don't plan on drinking this water, but rather, it will be used for cleaning and other non-consumption purposes. So, while nearly 600 gallons of water definately meets the two week requirement for our family of five, I am constantly adding to it. But don't use this as your benchmark; I've been doing this for years. Just start storing something and before you know it, you will surpass your two week requirement and be well on your way. So start storing something, because something is better than nothing. This is one area you do NOT want to ignore. Remember...3 weeks without food, but only 3 days without water.

Shelf-life of water?

Water does not expire or go bad...ever. Their containers, however, do eventually break down, and can eventually leach chemicals into your water. So for peace of mind or if there is risk of contamination, it is best practice to cycle out your water every 6 to 12 months. Water must be stored in clean containers and out of sunlight. This is why most water containers are blue. It helps avoid sunlight and thus prevents algae growth. It is best practice not to store water containers directly on the concrete. Instead, just lay down a couple of 2x4’s as barriers between your big water containers (55-gallon drums) and the ground. Why, you ask? See Myth #5 at the end of this article for the full explanation. Water, if stored properly, should have an indefinite shelf life. Sandy City, for example, treats their water with chlorine and fluoride, which is sufficient to keep your water purified for long periods of time. After sitting for a while, water will taste flat. This is due to its lack of oxygen. Prior to consuming, pour it back and forth between containers to aerate. This will reoxygenate it and restore its taste.

How can I store water?

Water should be stored in a food-grade plastic container. The safest containers are polyethylene-based plastics, or plastics listed as #1, #2, and #4. Examples include:

  • 2-liter pop bottles (I do this)

  • Gallon juice bottles (I do this)

  • Mouthwash bottles

  • V-8 bottles

  • Punch bottles

  • Gatorade bottles

  • Most bottles that come with food liquid in them can be used, but know that plastics absorb flavor, so your water will forever have a slight taste of whatever was originally in your container. You may want to allocate this water as your "cleaning" water.

  • Large drums (55-gallon) designated for water (I do this). These are great, but not portable, so have some portable containers stored as well.

  • 5-gallon plastic water containers. These are available at army surplus, sporting goods stores, discount stores and preparedness stores.

DO NOT USE metal containers! They can rust or corrode.

DO NOT USE milk cartons! These usually have an "HDPE" rating and are designed to biodegrade, therefore are not suitable for long-term water storage.

Tip: You can also keep your old dish washing soap bottles and liquid soap bottles. After you use it all, don’t rinse it out (maybe even leave a little bit of soap in there), but fill them with water and label them as "soapy water." That way, you will have it to use for sanitation purposes, and can avoid having to use precious drinking water for washing dishes, cleaning, personal hygiene, etc.

Where can I store water?

Water is bulky, but if you use smaller containers, you can tuck and hide them almost anywhere. And they are portable. Consider storing them in:

  • Cold storage room

  • Empty cupboards

  • In the outer dark corners of kitchen cupboards

  • In the backs of closets

  • Corners of upper closet shelves

  • Book shelves

  • Behind and under beds

Be sure and keep water out of sunlight, in a cool place, and off of concrete floors (good practice, but somewhat of a myth...read on).

How do I treat water?

It is not necessary to treat water from a public water supply if it has already been chlorinated (Sandy City does this; check with your city water facility). If your water is known or thought to be contaminated, it must be filtered and/or purified. Filtration is NOT the same as purification. What is the difference?

Filtration vs. Purification:

Filters use a fine screen to capture particles down to a certain size, and they may even remove some chemicals, but viruses are so small that they can slip right through the filter element, depending on the tolerances of your filter. There are numerous products on the market where water is either pumped or gravity fed through a filter to remove particles. There are many filter options that will remove the major “chunks” and extend the life of your filter.

  • Paper towel

  • Clean cloth

  • Coffee filters work great

Purification, on the other hand, involves disinfecting. This may be done via heat, chemical, or even evaporation. Purification will kill bacteria and other organic material. Boiling, Bleach, Iodine, Tablets, and distillation are all examples of purification.

  • Boiling is recognized as the safest treatment method. FEMA and the EPA both recommend bring water to a rolling boil for at least 1 minute (at least 3 minutes for altitudes over 5000'). But remember, boiling removes chlorine as well as bacteria and therefore, impacts the taste. Enter drink mixes (Week 43: Drink Mix).

  • Liquid chlorine bleach usually contains about 6% sodium hypochlorite, and should not contain soap, scents or phosphates. Read the label. Most Clorox bleaches meet this standard. Add prescribed amount of bleach (see below) to water, mix well and allow to stand for 30 minutes before use. Chlorine bleach is the preferred method over iodine for long term water storage. Note: Chlorine will lose its potency after about 18 months, so this needs to be rotated. Chlorine/Water ratios per the FEMA and EPA guidelines are as follows:

    • For 1 gallon of water, add 8 drops of bleach.

    • For 5 gallons of water, add ½ tsp of bleach.

    • For a 55-gallon drum of water, add 1 Tbsp of bleach.

      • Note: If water is cloudy, double the above chlorine amount.

For more information on Liquid Chlorine Bleach, see week 47's module on Bleach here:

  • Iodine emerged as a water purifier after WWII, and was found to be in many ways superior to chlorine. Iodine is less sensitive to the pH and organic content of water and is effective in lower doses. Mix well and allow water to stand for 30 minutes. If no instructions are provided on the iodine container, use 12 drops per gallon of water. If water is in question, double the amount of iodine. This is not a method for long term storage, but a purification method for immediate (30 min) use.

    • Warning! Water that has been disinfected with iodine is NOT recommended for pregnant women, people with thyroid problems, those with known hypersensitivity to iodine, or continuous use for anyone for more than a few weeks at a time.

  • Purification "tablets" are either iodine or chlorine based. Note: Chlorine doesn’t remove viruses. It destroys them through an oxidation reaction, but Giardia and Cryptosporidium are chlorine-resistant. You can remove these with a 1-micron filter. Chlor-Floc, Aquatabs, Puritabs, Steritabs, and LifeSystems usually can be purchased from drug and sporting goods stores.

  • Purification "devices" usually cause water to interact with iodine (often in the form of iodine resins) or chlorine, which renders viruses inactive. Other purifiers use a positive electrostatic charge in its filter medium to capture viruses.

  • Distillation, as indicated in the chart below, is the most effective way to get rid of all contaminants, chemicals, bacteria, and viruses, while preserving taste. Distillation involves boiling water then collecting the vapor that condenses back into water. The condensed vapor will not include salt or most other impurities. To distill, fill a pot halfway with water. Tie a cup to the handle on the pot's lid so that the cup will hang right side-up when the lid is upside-down (make sure the cup is not dangling into the water), and boil the water for 20 minutes. The water that drips from the lid into the cup is distilled.

While I only cover a few methods of treating water, I've included a great chart that shows the pros and cons of most treatment methods out there.

10 Common Water Storage Myths

Myth #1: Water can expire!

False. Water does not expire…ever. The containers, however, do expire, and it is these containers that give the water the false reputation of expiring. As containers get old, they can leach chemicals into your water. But water itself doesn’t naturally go bad or spoil. What can happen to water is that it can go stale and look or taste bad. One thing you can do to make water that has been standing around for a while taste better is to aerate it by stirring it up or pouring it from one jug to another to introduce some oxygen. If the cleanliness of the water is in question, it can be purified with purification tablets, fresh bleach, or a filtering system.

So technically, if water is stored in a cool, dark area and away from chemical and toxic fumes, it should last forever.

Myth #2: Water can be stored in any old container that you find around the house!

False. Water should be stored in a UV-resistant, food-grade plastic container or in metallized bags. Traditionally, water storage barrels are blue. The reason for this is that the blue color limits light exposure and biological growth (bacteria and algae) and also signifies that what is stored in the container is "safe for human consumption." The safest containers to store water in are PET or PETE polyethylene-based plastics labeled #1, #2, or #4. Most water barrels are made out of plastic #2 and are BPA-free. Do not use milk jugs for water storage. Since milk jugs are biodegradable, they will break down over time and in so doing, will leach chemicals into the water. In addition, it is almost impossible to remove all of the milk sugars from the used jug, opening the risk of contamination. On the other hand, repurposed soda or juice bottles (made from PETE plastic) make great water storage containers. Just be sure to rinse them well beforehand with a mild bleach solution. This will eliminate any residual soda or juice plus lingering odors. But all plastics absorb odors, so no matter how much you wash out your old containers, they will probably always carry a slight reminder of whatever was in there before.

Myth #3: I have 10 55-gallon water barrels, so I’m set!

Maybe. Let's say you're off to a good start. But this alone is somewhat comical. I can just see it now: the big one has hit and you need to evacuate. Strap on your 500-pound (8.34 x 55 + container weight) water barrel, get your bug out bag and you are good to go. Got two 55-gallon barrels? Great. Give one to your wife as well. NOT! 55-gallon drums are convenient for storing large amounts of water, but they are not portable. Make sure you have the necessary hardware to get the water out of your barrels, such as a siphon or handpump. And keep some of your water stored in smaller containers that are portable. Or at the very least, have several containers available that you can use to transport this water.

Myth #4: Since I have a water purifier, I don’t need a water filter!

False...depending on the situation. According to water specialists, water purifiers like Chlorine Dioxide will kill 99.9% of all microorganisms (like protozoa, bacteria, and viruses) in your water. Chlorine Dioxide is excellent for sheltering-in-place, and also great for treating water from your barrels or water you collect from streams or rivers while hiking. Bleach is also a decent purification method as long as it is fresh (less than 18 months old) and the unscented type. But water purifiers alone will not remove dirt, silt, gunk, and chemicals from your water. For this nastiness, you need a filter. Using a purifier and filter together are an ideal combination to make sure your water is clean enough for drinking.

Myth #5: It is ok to store water barrels directly on the cement!

Actually, this one is true, for the most part. The key is not to store water barrels on heated cement (above 80 degrees F, or so). Storing water in the basement on the cement floor is absolutely fine. Cement leaches chemicals only when it gets hot, for example, if the water stored in the garage where the sun heats up the connecting driveway cement. This situation is not recommended. Now, if some kind of chemical has been spilled on the cement, then of course, you do not want to store barrels directly on top of that. But, if in doubt, it's almost easier to lay down a couple of 2x4's just to be safe.

Myth #6: Treat water and then store it!

False. Actually, the fact is, if you use regular tap water, its already treated. No additional chemical is needed. But, if it does need treatment, do it at the time of consumption, not the time of initial storage.

Myth #7: Stored water tastes bad!

This is true, but there is a fix. Over time, stored water loses its oxygen and goes flat. Fortunately, there is something you can do to get it's taste back. Pouring it back and forth a couple of times will reoxygenate the water and get rid of that flat, stored taste. If this is not enough, there are always drink mixes you can add to mask the taste.

Myth #8: Boil water for 10 minutes to make it safe for use!

This information is somewhat outdated. FEMA and the EPA both recommend bring water to a rolling boil for at least 1 minute (at least 3 minutes for altitudes over 5000'). Actually, you do not need to even boil it at all. Boiling water can be a waste of precious fuel. Water boils at 212 degrees and will not get hotter than this (it will just evaporate faster as you add more heat). So, getting your water to a heat of 160 degrees for 30 minutes will kill all pathogens, and 185 degrees for only 3 minutes will work as well. This is true even at high altitudes. So, your water does not need to reach a rolling boil. But, if you don’t have a thermometer or are not worried about fuel, then the boil away. You won't burn it.

Myth #9: You do not need to drink a gallon of water every day!

Have you ever tried to drink a gallon of water in a day? It's hard, if your days' workload is low. But if you're working hard, you actually might be able to drink a gallon in a day. So, while you may or may not be drinking a gallon a day, the recommended amount of one gallon per person per day is not just for drinking, but for usage. This includes bathing, cooking (how much of your food is dehydrated?), cleaning, sanitation and medication. So, based on this, a gallon per person per day may probably be on the shy side. 3-4 gallons per person per day is proven to be more realistic.

Myth #10: Food is more important than water!

False, although you will eventually need both. Remember the fact about food vs water at the beginning of this article? You can live without food for about 3 weeks (I had a friend that actually went 2 weeks and he was just fine), but you can only live without water for about 3 days (sorry, I don't know anyone who's tried this). Without water, the muscles start losing elasticity, the organs shut down and the senses dull. So where do you want your priorities to be?

Page updated: 10/29/20