Over the weekend I received a couple questions about storing water for an emergency and about rain barrels. This is quite an involved subject (I’ve actually created a whole course on it). So I want to first take a basic look at storing water, then I will talk more about rain water.
First of all, let’s look at what the Red Cross has to say about storing water for an emergency (this is very basic advice).
If You Are Preparing Your Own Containers of Water
It is recommended that you purchase food-grade water storage containers from surplus or camping supplies stores to use for water storage. If you decide to re-use storage containers, choose two-liter plastic soft drink bottles—not plastic jugs or cardboard containers that have had milk or fruit juice in them. Milk protein and fruit sugars cannot be adequately removed from these containers and provide an environment for bacterial growth when water is stored in them. Cardboard containers leak easily and are not designed for long-term storage of liquids. Also, do not use glass containers, because they are heavy and may break.
Thoroughly clean the bottles with dishwashing soap and water, and rinse completely so there is no residual soap. Additionally, for plastic soft drink bottles, sanitize the bottles by adding a solution of 1 teaspoon of non-scented liquid household chlorine bleach to a quart (1/4 gallon) of water. Swish the sanitizing solution in the bottle so that it touches all surfaces. After sanitizing the bottle, thoroughly rinse out the sanitizing solution with clean water.
Filling Water Containers
Fill the bottle to the top with regular tap water. If your water utility company treats your tap water with chlorine, you do not need to add anything else to the water to keep it clean. If the water you are using comes from a well or water source that is not treated with chlorine, add two drops of non-scented liquid household chlorine bleach to each gallon of water. Tightly close the container using the original cap. Be careful not to contaminate the cap by touching the inside of it with your fingers. Write the date on the outside of the container so that you know when you filled it. Store in a cool, dark place. Replace the water every six months if you are not using commercially bottled water.
I agree with these points for the most part, but this is very basic advice, and in my opinion, it’s inadequate.
I think it’s important to look at water storage like this…
Look at it like there are two different types of stored water. The first type is “Ready-to-Drink Water”. The second type is “Treat-Before-You-Drink Water”. It’s important that you do not confuse these two types!
READY-TO-DRINK WATER is safe drinking water that has been carefully bottled and capped to ensure its long-term safety, so you can simply grab it and drink it whenever you need it. This includes commercially produced bottled water or water that you have properly stored away for an emergency. The key word is “properly.” It’s quick, easy, reliable, and easy to dispense.
Think about it this way. Imagine a disaster strikes right now. What do you do? Your immediate priority is the safety of your family. You may have to get one child from daycare and another from school. Maybe someone in your household is injured and you must tend to them, or you have to check on your father who is in a retirement home. The point is, for the first 24 to 48 hours you will have a LOT to do. During this period, the last thing you want to worry about is purifying your drinking water. But even more importantly, you can’t afford to drink untreated water that will make you sick at this critical time.
So what do you do? The solution is simple. You reach for your bottled water, whether it’s commercially produced bottled water or water that you properly stored for such an emergency. Another source for ready-to-drink water is the storage tank of your electric home water distiller, if you have one. Some distillers have storage tanks that hold 15 gallons or more. This distilled water has already been treated and is safe to drink. Having a supply of ready-to-drink water is one of the most important parts of your preparedness plan.
TREAT-BEFORE-YOU-DRINK WATER is stored water that needs to be properly treated before you consume it. This includes water in rain barrels, cisterns, or even pool water. As the name says, you should treat this water according to the Red Cross recommendations before you drink it.
As I said, don’t confuse these two types of water!
A FEW NOTES ABOUT RAIN WATER. You’ve heard me talk about the hydrologic cycle, which is water’s built-in purification method. This “water cycle” is the source of fresh water on the planet, from lakes, rivers, streams, underground aquifers and glaciers. Distillation actually duplicates this process of evaporation, condensation and precipitation. So rain water must be pure and safe to drink, right? Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Here’s why…
- While rain water is water that has been cleaned by the hydrologic cycle, it does pick up modern day contaminants on the way down. For example, you’ve heard of acid rain, right? This happens because of air pollution. Rain, as it falls to the earth, absorbs the airborne contaminants and becomes polluted before it even hits the ground.
- If a radioactive or chemical accident happened that resulted in a lot of dangerous toxins in the air, these toxins could travel hundreds of miles before rain washes them from the sky.
- In a rainstorm, the rain in the first 5 to 10 minutes of the storm may contain toxins because the rain is cleaning out the air on the way down. The rain water that falls after the initial 5 to 10 minutes will typically be extremely pure water (unless the air pollution is happening at a very fast rate, like a nearby forest fire).
- Rain barrels catch all rain water, including the toxins that are washed from the sky. This rain water can also become contaminated with whatever contaminants were on the roof, such as bird and raccoon poop and rotting leaves, etc.
- For this reason, rain water should be considered “Treat-Before-You-Drinking Water”, which means that you should follow the Red Cross recommendations for treating this water before you drink it.
As a final note, I do have a course on “storing water for an emergency”, because there is actually a lot of information that you need to know, such as the types of containers you can and can’t use, the proper way to treat the water, the proper way to ensure that the water will stay safe for a long time, etc. You can see this course here.