Though we're still early on in our collective prepping journey, I wanted to expand on the importance of water beyond "go buy a gallon every time you think about water," which, you just thought about water, so go buy a gallon.
Water scarcity is a major issue across the globe, and it's one that will only become more widespread and acute as the climate crisis deepens. A few years ago, Cape Town faced "Day Zero," when the populace would no longer have water at the tap and would instead have to wait for water rations to be distributed. Vast swaths of the United States regularly face droughts, and the water resources they do have are tapping out (see the Ogallala Aquifer, the Colorado River, etc.). The day is coming soon that we will have to see water as a valuable commodity rather than a readily available resource—and capitalists already are.
Even if you live in a water-rich area, most every natural disaster has the potential to disrupt your supply, and as these become more frequent (and fair weather less frequent), our ability to predictably acquire more will be questionable at best. Those of you who think you'll be sitting pretty by filling your bathtub and sink need to consider other options—we've seen your bathroom, Greg. It's filthy.
So the time to start thinking about how you acquire water—and, importantly, drinking water—is now. To help, we'll tackle a few issues in this letter:
- Sanitation methods
- Off-grid supply options
Some of you have surely already thought about how wrongheaded it is for a leftist trumpeting climate change to ask people to go buy plastic gallons of water. You're not wrong to think that. But it's a big ask to tell people right out the gate to purchase a water filter and a 55-gallon drum. Something like that is the ultimate goal for your water prep, though. You want to have a reliable, reusable method for acquiring and storing safe water. It’s important that we reduce our prepping footprint as much and as quickly as possible, so buying gallon jugs forever is not the solution you’re after.
To save on plastic and keep from wasting water, once you are fiscally able, you will want to invest in a more permanent storage container(s). There are a lot of options, and a lot of them come with the grimace-emoji next to their price tag. Below are a few of your options, and remember: any amount of these that adds up to greater than 14 gallons/person in your home is going to keep you hydrated for at least two weeks, and that's a reasonable goal. If you step away from the letter after this, that's fine, but have 14 gallons/person stowed, and remember to add your pets into the equation (count them as a person to err on the side of caution). Be sure to store these containers in a cool place without exposure to sunlight.
- If you’re looking for the whole package: 5-Gallon Emergency Water Storage. I’d recommend this option only if you’re looking for 20 gallons or more so you can take advantage of the extras—spigot and water purifiers—and discount.
- If you’ve got a Tractor Supply Company near you: the Norwesco 35 Gallon. It’s a big boy, but it’s meant to be used. The option to go with if you’ve got some land and want utility beyond simple storage—throw it on a wagon and take it around to water your trees, should you have them.
- If you’re okay with Amazon: 7 Gallon Aqua-tainer. The cheap option for sure, but sometimes that’s what you’ve gotta go with.
It's important to remember that stored water will remain potable for a finite time—that is, if you’re a stickler for rules. It’s entirely possible that your container may degrade, you may have inadvertently exposed the water to bacteria, etc. In order to extend that shelf life, you will want to add a very small amount of household bleach (1/2 teaspoon per gallon), particularly if you suspect contamination. There are looser schools that will say water can stay viable indefinitely—I fall somewhere in between. I’d hate to get giardia post-storm just because I didn’t want to dropper in a little bleach to my container, but I’m also not liable to rotate my stored water every six months.
There are several methods for sanitizing your water to consider, and you'll likely want at least two, as redundancy is a prepper's best friend. Regardless of your methods, you should store the recommended 14 days of water to fall back on. This step is in hopes that you can continue to provide water through conventional means despite whatever emergency has struck.
Boiling is your regular emergency stopgap—we've all been through boil warnings in town. If your water is not visibly contaminated and you have no other reason to suspect a chemical spill or the like, boiling water suffices for sterilization. Bring your water to a roiling boil for one minute to kill most any tiny dirty thing. For any large-scale emergency, however, such as an earthquake or flood, you may not be so confident that boiling will make your water safe. Visibly contaminated water, or water exposed to unknown chemicals, is not safe to drink after a boil, and you should stick to what you have stored or can procure by other means.
Filtration is perhaps the most practical option post-disaster. There are heavy-duty systems that will set you back, such as a Berkey, and then there’s the smaller and far cheaper LifeStraw Home. Whatever you choose, be sure that it’s more than a simple Pur filter or the like—it has to be able to filter microbes or it will do nothing more than give your water a pleasant taste before the dysentery strikes. A good filtration system is going to remove a majority of contaminants, though, and between filtration and boiling your water, you can have something potable in almost every situation short of chemical spills.
The other methods are gadgety, for small quantities, or elaborate. Investing in one of these is a good idea, particularly because some of them transport well and will fit into a bugout bag.
- Steripen: Uses UV light to kill any tiny dirty thing (or at least render it harmless). Can be recharged via USB (we'll talk about all the cool bugout stuff someday).
- Iodine/bleach/sterilization tablets: Ideal for a bugout scenario and cheap.
- Distillation: A still is honestly a great prep. Distilled water has many uses that regular drinking water can't fulfill, and a still can obviously provide you with other potables that have great value either medically, economically, or for personal morale. (Be aware of local/state/federal regulations before you consider this.)
Depending on your situation, you may be limited to municipal water, which means you are either working with what comes out of the pipe or what you have stored. If you’re really hard up for water, think about odd places—your hot water heater, ice cube trays. Remember that while it may not feel like you’re getting hydrated, there is frequently a lot of water in canned foods that will keep you going.
If you're lucky enough to have some land, or at least an amenable landlord, you might want to invest in some rain barrels (check your city/state code, though. Drought-prone regions tend to regulate). There are other methods of procuring water that require a little real estate, such as collecting dew with a tarpaulin or digging a hole, spreading a plastic sheet, and allowing the moisture in the soil to collect in a reservoir. These will only get you so far, though, and are primarily methods of last resort for Bear Grylls and the like.
If you’re thinking of just plunging a bottle into the nearest creek, be sure to follow sterilization methods listed above. Virtually no source of water is reliably clean in an emergency situation, and urban areas tend to have particularly filthy water. Even rainwater can contain trace contaminants, so use an abundance of caution.
Being water-secure is a foundational part of being prepared, and that is only going to become more difficult in the years ahead. Investing in this prep can be expensive, and if it is prohibitively so for you, then sustainability be damned—use those gallon jugs. Individual blame for climate change is a sham argument, and I want you to live. But if you’ve got the cash to buy some more permanent solutions, you’re going to be more resilient in the days ahead.