Prepper Supplies: Emergency Water Supply

Disaster Preparedness Water Supplies

Access to a safe, drinkable water supply after a disaster is critical. You can't survive more than a few days without water, and adults need at least 2 quarts of water every single day. So if you could only have one piece of prepper gear to help you survive a disaster - that item should be something to get you water to drink.

If the water taps stop working, people will be forced to find water from nearby sources. But water from fresh water sources such as lakes, streams and rivers contain various bacteria, protozoan, viruses and other parasites. Some of the most common bacterial agents that can make you sick include E Coli, Dysentery, Cholera and Botulism. Protozoan includes species such as Cryptosporidium Parvum, and Giardia Lamblia. And then there are larger creatures that can contaminate water such as tapeworms of various sizes. Some of these could be lethal even with hospital care!

At best, drinking contaminated water containing any these microorganisms can cause diarrhea and vomiting. In a survival situation, food and water are valuable resources to be conserved as much as possible. But should you get diarrhea and start vomiting, that drink of contaminated water would be counter-productive. You'll need to eat even more food to replace what you've lost, and instead of that drink hydrating you will actually become dehydrated! All on top of feeling horrible!

But contaminated water can be made safe for drinking using a number of methods. Water can be filtered, chemically purified, purified with UV light, boiled, distilled or some combination of these methods. Note: Be careful when handling potentially unsafe water - a splash on the skin, or in the eye could also make you sick.

Survival Water Filters and Water Purifiers

Water filters are by far the most popular prepper solution for providing safe drinking water. Most survival water filters will take as an input fresh water from sources such as lakes, rivers and streams, and output water safe to use for drinking and cooking.

However, 70% of the earth’s surface water is ocean water. Although humans need about 1 Tsp of salt per day to survive, sea water has far too much salt and drinking it will actually dehydrate you, making you sick (or worse). Common fresh water filters will not remove the salt, so if you only have sea water near you - you’re out of luck. But rest assured there are also desalination water filters which will give you access to that other 70% of the planets water.

Water filters work by having the filter pores at a size smaller than many microorganisms. The water passes through, while the pests are blocked. This works great to block larger sized microorganisms like bacteria and protozoan. However, most viruses are too small to be filtered this way. Luckily, the worst viruses are rarely found in North American surface waters.

The best water filters remove 99.99999% of target microbes and can then be called a purifier. But this should not be confused with other purifier types such as UV purifiers. Some filters are based on hollow fiber filtering, while others use ceramics. The ceramic type water filters have a long life, and be can renewed by scrubbing the top surface layer off.

Survival Water Filters and Water Purifiers

Emergency Water Stills

Another highly viable prepper solution for obtaining drinkable water is an emergency is the water still. While fresh water filters, water purification tablets and UV water purifiers can remove dangerous microbial life, they just can’t make sea water drinkable. And if you live near the coast, the biggest supply of water during an emergency will likely be the ocean. You could use a hand-pumped, reverse osmosis system to remove salt from sea water. But one advantage of survival stills is that can do double-duty as both desalinator and cooking pot (which you’ll need anyway)!

Stills work by boiling salt water, converting it into steam, and then cooling that steam so that it condenses back into water. During this process, the salt is left behind and only pure, desalinated and distilled water is output. A similar process is actually used to produce salt commercially.

Because as part of the distillation process the water must be boiled, any microbes (including viruses) will be killed. In fact, a water still can make drinkable water from nearly material containing water like fresh water, moist soil, plant matter, and even…urine!

There are two kinds of water stills – solar stills and fire stills. Solar stills for emergency purposes are usually made of plastic and can be folded up for compact and lightweight storage (but I wouldn’t put dirt or plant material in them since they could be damaged). Fire stills are metal but could also be powered by the sun with compact reflective Mylar focusing the sunlight.

Emergency Water Stills

Chemical Water Purification

Water can also be purified chemically. Water purification tablets or drops contain chemicals like iodine, or chlorine that chemically kill the microorganisms present in water. In fact, most ‘city’ water people get out of the faucet has been processed to some extent with chlorine to help kill microbes, so this is certainly a viable water purification method. And unlike many survival water filters, water purification chemicals will kill viruses too! Water purification tablets do have a few disadvantages though.

One major disadvantage to relying on chemical water purification for emergency water is that they are consumables – each batch of water you purify chemically uses up part of your supply. Unless you can somehow resupply these chemicals, when they are all gone you’ll need to find another way to provide safe, survival water.

Another disadvantage is that water purification tablets and drops have a shelf-life that is measured just in years. While these water purification chemicals are very cheap and easy to obtain, they are not an item you can just pack in your survival backpack and forget about. You’ll need to periodically rotate your supply, and replace your stock with fresh water purification chemicals.

While water purification tablets and drops are cheap and very effective, they should only be used as a last resort. Because these chemicals are harsh, long-term use could pose chronic health problems. Pregnant women should likewise avoid drinking too much chemically purified water. Oh…chemically purified water also tastes bad. But these chemical water purification chemicals are perfect for true survival situations where there is no alternative for obtaining safe drinking water available. For that reason, many preppers stock-up on at least some water purification tabs or drops.

Water Purification Tablets

UV Water Purification

Another novel doomsday prepper method that could be used to purify water is with ultraviolet light. This is the same technology used in hospitals and many wastewater treatment facilities. UV light water purification when done long enough, and if the light is of high enough intensity, wreaks havoc on microorganism DNA. This results in rendering microbes incapable of making you sick, or outright killing them.

As a prepper solution for water purification, a plug-in UV water purifier that needs power from the electric grid might not be the best choice though. If the power grid gets fried in a massive solar storm, you won’t have electric power to run the device. And as an electric device it also would be subject to the storm’s electromagnetic pulse and could be destroyed. Even, if it uses batteries – how are you going to recharge the batteries if the power grid goes down?

But don’t dismiss UV water purification devices just yet. The above limitations could of coarse be overcome with EMP-proof bags shielding the device and perhaps even a solar charger. If you’ve provided for off-grid electricity generation as part of your prepper gear, then you are set.

And then some UV water purifiers are actually hand-cranked. So provided you’ve shielded yours from EMP damage, you be able to sanitize water with human power. These hand-cranked devices usually have a USB port as well, providing UV water purification along with the ability to charge rechargeable batteries, or run other small electric devices.

Prepper UV Water Purification