Water Purification: Boiling, Filtering, Bleaching

Within an hour of the water main break in Boston, many grocery stores had sold out of bottled water. There was an altercation at the local BJ’s over water.   A couple of million people who are now on a ‘boil alert’ are discovering the foundation of modern prepping is adequate access to clean water.

To be clear, I’ll say it again!  Water needs to be on the top of your list of preparation supplies.  As I mentioned yesterday, Ready.gov suggests having at least a 72 hour supply of water, with 3 gallons stored for each person in your home.  I’d more than double that and suggest a seven day supply, or seven gallons for each person in the house.

My wife and I currently store 30 gallons of stabilized water and we keep at least another 10-15 gallons on hand in either bottled water or one-gallon jugs in a little cooler we have in our basement.  We use the bottled water regularly and buy more as needed.  My goal is to double the amount of stored water we have over the course of the next year.

However, as one of my friends (I’ll refer to him as Scout on the website, as he is an Eagle Scout, and quite proficient in the ways of the wild!) says quite often, every prep we make should contribute to ‘The Rule of 3’.  Simply, this means that we should have 3 sources of every item or supply we are counting on in an emergency.  For example, when it comes to being able to start a fire, 3 sources might be a Bic lighter, a magnesium fire starter, and a Fire Piston. (Nice article here on the fire piston, h/t Instapundit)

So how do we do that with water?  Well, after storing water, a good suggestion is to store a gallon of plain bleach, without any of the scents available nowadays (As Clorox once advertised a gallon of their bleach is the equivalent of 3800 gallons of drinking water!).  First, find a clean container, such as a gallon jug that held water previously.  Fill with your suspect water.  Then add 8 drops of bleach per gallon of water, and double that if the water is cloudy.  You can use a handkerchief , a washcloth or even a t-shirt as a pre-filter to remove any large debris.   Wait 30 minutes or so before drinking to let the bleach do its thing.

The drawbacks to bleach disinfection of water is that it doesn’t kill everything.  Additionally, most water purification methods don’t do anything about chemicals and heavy metals that might be in the water.  With this warning, do not ever use flood water as your base, as flood water can contain a gajillion chemicals, fuel, and other toxic items! 

That being said, in a water emergency your hot water heater can be a source of a significant amount of water, assuming the incoming lines are still clean (or haven’t been used since the event requiring you to search out water!).  You can still treat this as suspect water and disinfect as you would above.

The oldest method of water purification also remains one of the best ways to decontaminate water:  boiling.  While many suggest different boiling times for water, I agree with this post at SurvivalTopics that if you bring water to a rolling boil, you’ll have killed 99% of bacteria.  If you still have power or the ability to hold the boil longer, feel free, but in many cases if you are boiling water for drinking, fuel could also be a priority.

As this has gotten a little long, we’ll discuss another option for water purification, and that is filtration, in our next post!

Update:  The conservation of water efforts in Nashville are not having enough of an effect, says the city.

It’s also interesting to note that the average water usage daily is 170 gallons.  Remember that when deciding how much you can store:  more is better!

A high-five to my friends at Mafiaoza’s Pizzeria and Pub mentioned in the article for their good efforts!

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05 2010

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