Of all the resources that a prepper has to be concerned about in the event of a disruption of civilization, Practical Preppers consultant Scott Hunt says that water is the most critical need. “You can’t last very long without it,” Hunt explains. “Just how long may be affected by the temperature and how much you’re losing because of exertion, but on average, three days is about the limit. There have been extreme cases—people who’ve been pulled out after being buried alive in mine disasters, for example—who’ve lasted longer, but it’s not something you want to test.”
How much water does a person need? To stay in good health and be able to function normally, Hunt says that a person should plan to have at least a gallon of drinking water each day, plus another four gallons for personal hygiene. And most of that must be potable—that is, sufficiently free of dangerous microorganisms and contaminants that would be safe to drink. “You can use gray—that is, recycled, non-potable water—for toilets, but you want any water that is going to touch the body, for showers or washing your hands, to be potable.” People accustomed to living in an over-sanitized American culture, he says, quickly become ill when exposed to water with high levels of bacteria. “Lake water, for example—my dogs, cows and chickens could drink it and not get sick, but my family couldn’t drink that water,” Hunt says. And it’s not just a matter of feeling terrible. Water-borne microbes that cause dysentery and dehydration can prove fatal, and the usual treatment—oral or intravenous re-hydration solutions that replace lost salt, glucose and minerals, plus antibiotics—may not be available if hospitals are shut down by a crisis.
Additionally, preppers who grow their own food and/or raise farm animals may need 10 or 20 times the amount required for personal use. “If you go eight days without water, your vegetables, beans, and lettuce are all going to be endangered,” says Hunt, who himself grows much of his own food.
That’s why Hunt recommends a multi-pronged approach to ensure that preppers have a reliable water supply, in case water treatment plants are driven offline and the spigots in our sinks go dry. “95 percent of our present water supply is dependent upon electricity, chemicals and/or transportation,” he says. “So if those vanish, so does water.”
Water Storage: The easiest way to guard against a sudden shortage of water is to keep an ample reserve supply. Hunt recommends that preppers put at least one 55-gallon drum or tank in a basement or another secure location, fill it with tap water, and change out the water every three months to keep it fresh and contamination-free. “Storage is the easiest part of the solution, and it’s easy for anybody to do, whether you live in downtown Manhattan or Idaho,” he says. Depending upon the number of people in the household and the availability of storage space, preppers may want to up that 55-gallon emergency supply. In the event of an extended disaster, stored water won’t last that long, but it will give preppers a chance to get their re-supply and purification plans going.
Water Resupply: No matter how much water you’ve stored, it’s going to run low eventually, and you’re going to need more. So now is the time to think carefully about where you would get water that you can purify in the event of a disaster. Distance is a crucial factor. A lake or river that’s a mile away may seem close, but for a disaster survivor relying on muscle power to haul it, that’s too far, and the security risks may make the route unsafe. Hunt advises having multiple sources, if possible—rain barrels and a catchment system for your roof, a well, a spring, or stream or other body of water that’s within easy walking distance from your house. It’s critical to figure out how much water you can expect from a source, and to make contingency plans if you have a shortfall. “Know the average precipitation in your area,” Hunt recommends. “I had a guy in Pakistan contact me, and he gets eight inches of rain a year, which is horrible. So relying on rain barrels for him is not a good option.”
Purification Methods: Most likely, preppers will have to treat the water from their resupply sources to render it potable. Fortunately, Hunt says there are multiple technologies available that can reliably produce clean water, from chemicals and filters to ultraviolet light. One of Hunt’s favorites is the basic ceramic gravity filter. “You just dump the water in the top, and it filters down,” explains. “The bacteria can’t get through the top. And there’s no power required.” He recommends testing the water source in advance to determine what sort of microorganisms or contaminants it might contain, so that a prepper can have the right filters to deal with each problem.
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