Ultimate Guide to Long Term Emergency Water Storage
When starting out, most Preppers focus their efforts on having the perfect bug out bag or every day carry kit. While these are admirable and worthy projects, many new Preppers overlook the need for long-term emergency supplies - the stuff you’ll need if a true large-scale disaster strikes.
Many people know that they should have a small stockpile of food at home, just in case. Unfortunately, this is often where people’s emergency supplies preparedness stops. They tend to think that a few cans of beans, some whiskey, a couple granola bars, and a case of water bottles will probably hold them over for a few days until the stores open back up again.
But what happens when the stores are closed for days, weeks, or months on end? What do you do if the water lines are damaged or contaminated? Will you be able to provide for yourself and your family?
At the end of the day, there's one thing you really need to make sure you have long-term supplies of - water. Sure, food is important, but relatively healthy people can survive for weeks without it. We can only survive without water, for just a few days. So, while long-term food supplies are certainly important, having the best water storage containers for long terms storage can really make all the difference in an emergency.
It's an easy thing to overlook when you're out buying all the latest gadgets and survival gear. However long-term water storage should be one of your top priorities as a Prepper. Without an emergency water storage supply, you'll be left with few alternatives if the water in your area is cut off for more than just a few hours.
To help you out, we've created the ultimate how-to guide for long-term water storage.
Emergency Water Storage is Critical for Preppers!
As we all know, water is one of the few things that we truly can’t live without. We can die from dehydration in just a few days under ideal conditions and in hot climates, dehydration can have serious life-threatening consequences even more quickly.
A lack of water isn’t always our biggest threat. Sometimes, we have plenty of water, but it’s contaminated and not safe to drink (like in Flint, Michigan). Contaminated water can cause a wide range of problems, from minor illness to death, so, even when we have access to water, we might need to find an alternative source.
Plus, we often need water to cook with so that we can have enough food to eat on a daily basis. Particularly in a long-term survival context, we might be reliant on freeze-dried and other non-perishable foods, which require water to be consumable. A 30 day supply of freeze-dried food is a beautiful thing (read this), but it’s not terribly useful if you can’t actually rehydrate it.
We need water for so many different things, so it’s essential that you have a long-term water supply ready at all times for when an emergency arises.
How Much Water to Store for Emergencies
Now that we know why we need to store water, we need to figure out how much we need. Everyone’s situation is different, so instead of giving you a specific quantity of water you should have, Ready.gov suggests having at least one gallon of water per person per day.
Of course, individual needs vary, so, before you decide that one gallon per person per day is the quantity you want to commit to, consider the age and physical health of the people in your family. Children, nursing mothers, and people who are ill often use more water than the average healthy adult. Moreover, if you live in a particularly warm environment, you may need up to two times more water than someone who lives in a cooler climate.
Once you have an idea of how much water you might need per person per day, you now need to decide how long you want your water supply to last. While we would all love to have an infinite supply of water, space and budget constraints make that impossible.
Most committed Preppers have a 30 day supply of emergency food in their home, so it does also make sense to have at least a 30 day supply of water. But, since a 30 day supply of water is approximately 30 gallons per person, this can easily become an unreasonable quantity if you have a somewhat large family or if you live in a small apartment. It’s important to be realistic with yourself about how much water you can reasonably store without letting it impose too much on other areas of your life.
Long Term Water Storage - The Best Water Storage Containers
While it might seem like a pretty simple task, storing water can be a bit more complicated than it seems. Unfortunately, some think that you can just fill up any old jug with water and put it in a closet for the next two decades with no ill effect. Nope, improper water storage can have some serious negative health implications.
The very last thing you want is to use up valuable time, money, and space storing 100 gallons of water just to find out that it’s all dangerous to drink. If you are using clean, potable water to fill your water storage containers, any problems that arise with your water stores are likely due to the containers and how you’re storing them.
The number one most important rule when storing water is that you ONLY use food grade containers to store your water.
Repeat after me: only use food grade containers to store water (FYI - nearly all food grade containers are BPA free, but be sure to check).
While home improvement store buckets, new gasoline jugs, and metal cans are cheap and tempting, don’t give in - don’t use them for your water storage. You should never store water in anything but a food grade container (have we said it enough yet?). This is because non-food grade containers can leach harmful chemicals and compounds into your food or can allow harmful bacteria and microbes to enter your water. Don’t use cardboard containers, non-stainless steel metallic containers, open containers, or anything but a food grade container to store your water.
How can you tell if something is a food grade container, you ask? Look for these signs:
- Only plastics #1, 2, 4, and 5 are used for food storage. You can find these numbers inside the small recycling triangle, often found on the bottom of a container.
- The container’s packaging will likely say “freezer, fridge, or pantry safe”.
- Most food grade containers have a small symbol on them depicting a cup and a fork - this means that the plastic is food grade quality.
Although you might also be tempted to use food grade containers that have previously stored other foods or drinks, such as milk jugs, beer kegs, or soda bottles, to store your water, DON’T. Regardless of how many times you’ve washed out the container, trace amounts of sugar and bacteria will still be on the plastic and will contaminate your water over time.
There are plenty of food grade water storage containers out on the market that you can buy, including:
- 5-7 gallon jugs (what I personally use at home),
- 55-gallon drums, and
- unique 100-gallon water storage bags
What you decide to buy depends on how much water you want to store, how much space you have, and how readily available you want your stores to be.
The smaller jugs are ideal for individuals or couples who live in smaller apartments or houses and can only reasonably store a small amount of water at a time. They’re easy to move and they’re relatively cheap to invest in. They are easy to fill, clean, and rotate. My go to option.
The larger drums, on the other hand, are great for families that have garage or closet space for lots of water. They’re pretty difficult to use if you live in a small apartment and are very heavy when full. But, they’re a cheap way to store large amounts of water all in one place. Just consider how you will fill them, and how you will empty and clean them when you rotate your water.
The bath tub storage bags, however, are a good option for people who need to store more water during hurricanes or other natural disasters but don't have the space for longer-term stores. You place the empty bag into your bathtub, fill it with water from the tap and - voila! - you have 100 gallons of water ready to go, just in case the water supply is cut off. Obviously, this means you can't use your bathtub for some time, but this is a great option for use during impending natural disasters.
Regardless of what option you choose, however, it’s important that you store your water properly or you’ll simply risk ruining your supplies. Keep your water containers in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight. This will help prevent rapid spoilage and disintegration of plastics, which can cause chemicals to leach into the water supply.
How to care for your water supplies
Once you figure out how much water you need and what you’re going to store it in, you can just fill up your containers, tuck them away and forget about them, right? Wrong! While water doesn’t technically have an ‘expiration’ date, even purified water placed in proper storage containers and kept in ideal conditions won’t stay good forever.
Even the perfect food storage container will eventually allow smaller microbes to enter your water supply, so you’ll need to rotate your stores - we recommend once a year (or every 6 months if you want to be extra careful). This might seem like a bit of a pain, but the last thing you want is to get sick from you water supplies during an emergency – big waste of time, effort, and energy - not to mention harmful to your loved ones!
Thus, you need to be sure to empty out your water supplies once a year and clean out your containers. To wash a water container, follow these steps:
- Wash out the container with dish soap and water, being sure to rinse completely with clean water.
- Use a solution of 1 tsp of liquid bleach in one quart of water to sanitize the container.
- Cover the container and then shake it to ensure that the sanitizing solution touches all of the inside surfaces of the container.
- Let the solution sit for at least 30 seconds before pouring it out.
- Let the empty container air dry completely before use.
Although it might seem silly to dump out your water stores just to refill them again, it is critical that you keep your long-term water supplies as fresh as possible. If you have trouble remembering to keep tabs on your water supplies during the busyness of your day-to-day life, set an alert on your calendar to check in on it once a year - you'll be happy you did if you ever need to rely on these supplies.
4 Best Methods to Purify Water for Drinking
While having a large stockpile of water in your garage or basement is an invaluable asset, you don’t want to get stuck in a situation where you run out of your stored water and yet still don’t have access to your regular local water supply. In an emergency, we might be stuck without utilities for weeks or months at a time - a situation which most people would find is nearly impossible to prepare for.
Rather than rely solely on our own supplies, we can use several different water filtration and purification methods to make other water sources potable and okay to drink. In the aftermath of a flood, you may need to go down to the still swollen river and grab some water to drink - but do you really want to drink flood water without purifying it?
There are several different ways to treat water to make it okay to drink, each with their own pros and cons. Here are a few to consider for your home:
1. Boiling Water
In the world of water purification, boiling reigns supreme. Through boiling, we can kill pretty much all the microbes in water that cause illness in humans. After a solid, rolling boil, a pot of water might still have some sediments that make it seem unappetizing, but it won’t have any live bacteria, parasites, or viruses that can make you sick, which is pretty important, particularly for children, the elderly, and people who are sick or immunocompromised.
The main downside to boiling water for purification is that it takes time and required a fuel source. For an emergency preparedness kit, we recommend investing in a small backpacking stove and some fuel so you can have clean water when you need it most.
2. Fluoride Filters
In recent decades, fluoride has become the chemical of choice for purifying water on a larger, industrial scale. It’s super effective at removing dangerous microbes from the water supply and can even extract heavy metals from your water, too. These days, one can even by a smaller home fluoride filter for use in an emergency supply kit.
Fluoride filters are great in situations where you don’t have electricity or water pressure, such as during a natural disaster. That being said, many people are uncomfortable with the idea of using fluoride as a water purifier because of its potential health risks. These home fluoride filters are good for people who want to purify large amounts of water all at once.
3. Chemical Treatments
Chemical water treatments, like Potable Aqua are incredibly effective at killing a variety of different microbes in large amounts of water. These treatments often come in tablet form, which is easy to store alongside your water containers for when you need them during an emergency.
These treatments are effective at purifying water, but some people dislike how they make the water taste and some people are allergic to certain chemicals. But, they’re great, affordable options for water purification during a disaster and could make a great part of your emergency preparedness kit.
4. Water pump filters
Unlike fluoride filters, which rely on chemicals to purify water, pump filters push water through a screen which physically removes dangerous microbes from the water. They work quickly, so there’s no long wait time like when you boil water or when you wait for chemicals to work.
The primary disadvantage to a pump filter is that they don’t remove the smallest of microbes, like viruses, which can cause some serious gastrointestinal distress and other medical issues. But, for most locations in the western world, the pump filter will be enough for an emergency situation. They’re easy to store, simple to use, and a great addition to a water storage supply.
Be Sure to Store Enough Water for You and Your Family
Ultimately, water is essential for human life and it’s one of the most important things you can have in your home. A well-prepared stockpile of water can make a real difference during an emergency, so it’s up to you to make sure your home is prepared.