Survival Water: The Elephant in the Room

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(Dr. Bones says:  From time to time, we get articles from aspiring writers in the preparedness community.  This guest post with images comes from Aaron Pocat, aka A-POC, from, and it talks about your survival options when it comes to getting drinkable water.  Thanks to A-POC for his contribution to our website.)


One thing that I notice a lot when people start talking about what they have in the way of disaster preparedness, is the lack of sufficient water.  In fact, most of the time I hear people talk about the cool gadgets they have but when I ask about their water situation I get responses like, “Well, I need to work on that” or “I don’t really have any water stored”  or even, “I’m sure I can find a garden hose somewhere”. I have also heard, “I live close to a creek/pond/lake/pothole”. Come on, folks, it’s time to confront the elephant and acknowledge it is there!

THE single most important thing your body needs is WATER!  (I said MOST important; get your mind out of the gutter!).  But seriously, what happens if you don’t have enough water in a disaster situation?

Let’s say a major earthquake has just hit and Bob is at home and has noticed the main waterline feeding his house must have broken in the quake because he has no water at the tap.  He has a GPS system, a survival knife, really expensive flashlights, a ham radio, a really cool multi-tool, an AR-15 with 10,000 rounds of ammo, and various other cool items in his bug out bag.  Unfortunately, he hasn’t gotten around to taking care of his water situation!  What do we have for him, Johnny?

Well, Bob, you can look forward to three days of misery and being really thirsty. Especially since you chose the saltiest freeze dried meals you could find for your bug out bag!  Then on day 3, you’ll begin to notice that your mouth just isn’t producing any saliva!  That’s odd, you think, but no matter, on day 4 you’ll have plenty more things to worry about, like dry mouth, dry and sunken eyes, and yes, that always enjoyable rapid heartbeat!  AND THAT’S NOT ALL!  Why, by day 5, you’ll get to spend the day in your luxurious home nauseated and vomiting!  It’s no wonder you are irritable and lethargic!  But this will only be temporary.€I think you can probably guess what comes after the nausea and vomiting. Let’s just say that the earthquake and Bob’s lack of water will no longer be a problem for him.

This is just Bob’s case.  Many people would not last 5 days.  In fact, they say that most people today walk around dehydrated because they just don’t take in enough fluids throughout the day.  Factor that in, and a person might not even make it three days.  Pretty scary stuff!

Ok, ok. I know that situation may be a little far-fetched.  That is assuming Bob is just sitting on his butt not doing anything, right?  What could he do?

Well, I guess if Bob were a little resourceful, he could probably harvest anywhere from 40 to 60 gallons of water from his water heater.  If he is home alone and he rations it, that could last him way more than 3 days.  If you figure that the recommended amount of water per person in a disaster situation should be at least 1 gallon per day, then Bob could last almost a couple of months on that alone.

(Dr. Bones says:  Although it is true that you can survive on a gallon of water a day, don’t forget that you will also need water for cooking and for purposes of hygiene.  Think about what volume of water it would take for you to clean and prepare your food, as well as what the minimum amount of water would be to stay clean and, therefore, healthy)

What else could Bob do? Well, he could go to the highest water outlet in the house, like maybe an upstairs bathroom sink or shower, and open the tap to let air in the line.  Then he could go to the lowest water  faucet, perhaps in the basement if he has one, or an outside hose bib; that way, he would be able to harvest water from the water lines in the house.  Depending on the size of Bob’s house, he could get several gallons that way.  (For those not taking notes, these tips will be on the test!  When is the test, you ask? Oh. It could be in ten minutes or maybe a couple years; maybe even never.) Are there any more sources?  Well, if Bob got desperate enough, he could get a few gallons from the back of his toilet tanks (darn those low flows!). That would be relatively clean water.

(Dr. Bones says:  Although the toilet tank probably has cleaner water than the bowl, not all toilet tanks are created equal.  Older toilets with lead or other metal plumbing could be poisonous if particles leach into the water. Also, the tank may be coated with biofilm.  Biofilm is a layer of algae or other micro-organisms on the porcelain walls of the tank.  Do your best to sterilize water from this source.)

So you see, there are some options for you if you, well, get caught with your pants down, so to speak.  But let’s be honest:  You probably wouldn’t be here if you were planning to get caught with your pants down!  You are a prepper, for Pete’s sake!  Or, at the very least, you are thinking about being one.

You don’t want to have to drain your water heater, or toilet tanks: You want to have water stored!  So, how about some tips on that?

Ok, how about this then.  I’ll tell you one thing I do: I watch deals at the grocery store.  Every so often, they will have a deal where you buy some food item and they will give away a free case of water, or sell it very cheaply.  I grab those when I can.  I don’t mind re-filling the bottles and storing them, either.  Also, if you drink sodas, wash those bottles out and store water in them.  Just start saving them up and then filling them from the tap. You’ll want to store them in a cool dark place.  A handy tip is to write the date on them and rotate them out every six months.  Remember, you need at least a gallon a day per person, so keep that in mind when you are stocking up on it.

Ok, storing water is pretty easy, isn’t it?  It only took one paragraph! Well, it usually is easier to plan ahead than to get caught off guard and then have to scramble to figure out what you are going to do.

Let’s look a little more deeply: Suppose your water stores have gone dry.  This disaster has just lasted longer than anyone could have anticipated.  Suppose you have gone through your stores, you have a decent-sized family, and you have exhausted the water heater and water pipes.  Now what?

You are going to have to locate some water.  Now might be the time to consider that pond you have been eyeballing.  Or, maybe, you would feel more comfortable with the creek up the road.  It has running water, after all, and moving water is almost always preferable to stagnant water.  No matter where you get your water, though, you are going to have to purify it.  So let’s look at a couple of options to purify whatever water you are able to scrounge up.

The best thing you can do to purify water is to boil it.  If it is cloudy or if there are large particles in it, you will want to filter it first.  If you don’t have water filters, then a coffee filter will do.  You can use anything, really. You can use a handkerchief if you want to, it will just not filter out as much as a coffee filter will. Boiling will kill the nastiest of critters in your water.  There is no need to boil for fifteen minutes; you’ll just lose too much in steam.  They say that you only need to boil it for about a minute.  I would go two minutes, just to be on the safe side.  The problem with boiling water for drinking is that it tends to make it taste kind of flat.  So, once it cools down to drinkable levels, just pour it back and forth from one glass to another several times to aerate it.  If you do this, It will make it taste better.

If boiling is not an option, you can purify it with household bleach.  You will want the kind of bleach that is between 5% and 6% chlorine and doesn’t have any dyes or perfumes in it…just plain ol’€bleach.  It does not take much, so here is another tip:  Tape an eyedropper to the side of your bleach bottle. That way, if the need arises, you have it right there ready to go.

Again, you will want to filter this water as best you can.  The ratio  to sterilize water is about 2 drops of bleach per quart or 8 drops per gallon.  Let the water stand for about thirty minutes.  Make it an hour if the water is kind of cloudy and then open it and smell it.  There should be just the slightest whiff of bleach to it.  If not, you may want to add a couple more drops and let it sit again. Also, you might want to aerate the water before you drink it or it may be a little flat.

Alright, so let’s say that you don’t have any bleach in the house and you don’t have any way to heat up the water.  I guess you are just out of luck and get to look forward to those 5 luxurious days, huh?  Not exactly:  There is one other thing you can do that doesn’t require bleach or heat.  All you need is a clear container and the good old sun.  That’s right:  The sun has been keeping people alive for years. It just so happens that ultraviolet light will kill almost all bacteria. Just put your water in a clear container and let it sit in the sun for 6 hours on a sunny day.  If it is cloudy, let it sit for 2 days.  You can see that this is a pretty slow method, so if you see yourself heading toward a water crisis, you’d be best served to start early so that you don’t get caught with a few cloudy days.

Well, there you go.  I’m sure there are a ton of other things you can do, but these items should keep you stocked with water for quite some time in a disaster situation.  And if you are like me, and still a gadget person, there are also lots of cool gadgets on the market that you can get to filter and/or purify water.

So, now that you have acknowledged the elephant in the room, get him out of here! He’s stinking up the place!

Aaron Pocat

Hey, don’t forget to check out our entire line of quality medical kits and individual supplies at Also, our Book Excellence Award-winning 700-page SURVIVAL MEDICINE HANDBOOK: THE ESSENTIAL GUIDE FOR WHEN HELP IS NOT ON THE WAY is now available in black and white on Amazon and in color and color spiral-bound versions at

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