We have much to appreciate about our lifestyles. Given a challenge to think of which of the modern conveniences we most enjoy in our homes, we might choose an appliance — a microwave, dishwasher, clothes dryer or even an electric blanket.
However, kick it back a step further, and think about the fundamentals, like flipping a switch to get light in a room, cooking a meal by just turning a knob and having heat that turns on and off automatically according to the temperature inside the house.
What could be a more fundamental and essential than clean, safe, running water? Whether it comes from a fancy faucet or a spigot on the outside of our homes, we can count on it. Except when a pipe breaks or a faucet leaks, we don’t think much about our water supply. It is just there.
We can get a drink whenever we want one. We can turn on the washer or dishwasher with full confidence that water will come. Although we do face water rationing during most summers, it mostly applies to our landscapes and some judicious use inside our homes.
What would happen if that supply of safe, fresh water were cut off? Lots of events could trigger such a cut off. Natural disasters can lead to water contamination or worse yet, disrupt water lines.
While long-term power outages are uncommon, they are possible and such outages would cut off the power to the pumps that supply water to our homes.
A power outage in the cities of Tooele County would not result in instant water losses because the city systems can still deliver a fair supply of water for a while in such an event. However, in case of an extended power outage, water could be unavailable. In case of a natural disaster, you can’t count on good water in any case. Earthquakes can break lines and pollute or disrupt water supplies. Water is more essential than food to sustain life. If something happens to disrupt our safe water supply, the public quickly succumbs to serious diseases. Among the first supplies sent to a disaster area is clean water.
Tucking away enough fresh water for such a contingency makes sense, but safety must be the key consideration and the supply must be rotated to assure cleanliness.
Emergencies such as floods, storms and power outages in recent years have demonstrated the importance of a supply of stored water. Although there was a need for food, blankets and more, water is the first and most important requirement.
The Department of Defense recommends an emergency storage of at least 14 gallons of water per person. A quart of water or other fluid per day will sustain life, but people will be much more comfortable – especially in warm weather – with a gallon per day. Juices and other drinks can be a part of this supply, but caffeinated drinks actually dehydrate rather than hydrate – so don’t depend on coffee or caffeinated sodas to keep you hydrated.
Tuck away another half gallon per day for washing, tooth brushing and dish washing.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency agrees that an ample supply of clean water is a top priority in an emergency, but the agency is more specific. For drinking, a normally active, healthy person should be supplied with at least two quarts of water daily — twice as much in hot weather. Children, nursing mothers and people who are ill require even more.
FEMA goes on to suggest more water for food preparation and hygiene. Their recommendation is to store a total of at least one gallon per person, per day with enough to provide at least a two-week supply of water for each member of your family.
FEMA also suggests that if supplies run low, never ration water. Drink the amount you need today and try to find more for tomorrow. You can minimize the amount of water your body needs by reducing activity and staying cool.
Putting away water is not too difficult, but it must be treated in some way to make sure that it stays safe to drink.
The American Red Cross suggests purchasing commercially bottled water bottled in PETE or PET and keeping it in its original sealed container. Change and replace the water following the “best if used by” dates as a rotation guide.
Use appropriate containers. Glass is effective as it is not permeable to vapors and gasses, but it is heavy and breakable.
PETE or PET plastic jugs make good storage containers, but stay away from milk jugs because they do not seal well and tend to leak as time passes. Don’t count on a waterbed for water storage either because the plastics in them are not approved for food storage. Bleach jugs are heavy enough but they are treated with anti-static agents to prevent dust from accumulating in storage. These agents can leach into water.
Use only food-grade containers. Smaller containers made of PETE plastic or heavier plastic buckets or drums work well. Plastic bottles with secure lids which have contained edible substances like juice and soft drinks are safe for water storage. Wash thoroughly to eliminate traces of original substances in containers.
Do not use plastic milk jugs, because they do not seal well and tend to become brittle over time.
Do not use containers previously used to store non-food products.
If you have empty fruit jars you can use them. Fill clean quart jars with clean water, leaving 1 inch of headspace at the top of the jars. Place unused, clean lids and screw rings in place and process the water in a boiling water bath the same as processing fruit. Process quart jars 20 minutes and two-quart jars 25 minutes. Keep in mind that the water in the canner must cover the jars by at least 1 inch during the entire processing time to ensure even temperatures during processing. No other treatment is needed. The water will stay pure and clean as long as the bottle remains sealed.
Clean, sanitize and thoroughly rinse all containers prior to use. Water from a chlorinated municipal water supply does not need further treatment when stored in clean, food-grade containers.
Non-chlorinated water should be treated with bleach. Add eight drops of liquid household chlorine bleach (5 to 6 percent sodium hypochlorite) for every four liters (one gallon) of water. Only household bleach without thickeners, scents or additives should be used.
Empty and refill containers regularly. Tuck your water storage into an area where potential leakage would not damage your home or apartment. Close containers securely. Check stored water occasionally. If any changes, such as cloudiness or an odor are noted, replace the water and treat as before.
Protect stored water from light and heat. Some containers may also require protection from freezing.
Improve the flavor of stored water by pouring it back and forth between two containers before use.
Store water in a clean place – away from gasoline, kerosene, pesticides or similar substances.
In case of an emergency you may have access to water but not certain whether or not it is clean. Treat it to make it safe to drink.
The best method for sterilizing water is to boil it at a vigorous roiling boil for five minutes. Improve the taste of the cooled water by pouring it back and forth between clean containers several times to incorporate air.
Chemical treatments are not as effective as heating because organic matter may be in the water or the time between treatment and water use can affect it. If water looks cloudy, chemical treatment is not recommended. Boil before using it if no other supply is available.
Chlorine bleach is an effective water treatment compound. Treat clear water with 1/4 teaspoon (16 drops) of liquid chlorine bleach per gallon. Mix the water and allow it to stand for 30 minutes before using. A slight chlorine odor should be detectable in the water. If not, repeat the treatment and let stand an additional 15 minutes before using it. Use fresh bleach, less than a year old. If water looks cloudy, chemical treatment is not recommended. Boil before using.
According to FEMA, the only agent used to purify water should be household liquid bleach. Other chemicals, such as iodine or water treatment products sold in camping or surplus stores that do not contain 5.25 percent sodium hypochlorite as the only active ingredient, are not recommended and should not be used.
Heating and bleaching will kill most microbes in water, but will not affect heavy metals, salts and most other chemicals. Distillation will take care of these problems.
To distill water, boil it and collect the vapor that condenses back to water. To distill, fill a pot halfway with water. Tie a cup to the handle on the pot’s lid so that the cup will hang right side up when the lid is upside-down (make sure the cup is not dangling into the water) and boil the water for 20 minutes. The water that drips from the lid into the cup is distilled.