There is hardly a preparedness topic that generates more conflicting information than water storage. National authorities are a good place to start when looking for reliable information. The pamphlet "Food and Water in an Emergency" has been put out by FEMA and the American Red Cross.
In an emergency, water is important for drinking and for hygiene purposes. Authorities recommend storing a two-week supply of water or 14 gallons per person. This provides seven gallons of water for drinking and seven gallons for hygiene. People in hot climates, children, nursing mothers and elderly people will require additional water. Drinking enough water is critical. Even if supplies are running low, water should not be rationed.
Storing bottled water
FEMA and the American Red Cross say that the safest and most reliable source of drinking water is bottled water, stored in its original container. It is important to keep track of the "Use by" date.
Commercial water service companies, like Culligan, sell large bottles of water, which they deliver to businesses and homes. They recommend a shelf life of about 3 years and will carry old bottles away and deliver new ones.
If you want to store your own water ...
Municipal tap water is the least expensive water to store.
Store water in new food-grade plastic containers from an emergency supply or camping store. It’s hard to remove sugars and residual flavors from containers previously used for drink syrups. These could be used for storing hygiene water, however.
According to FEMA and the American Red Cross, two-liter plastic soft-drink bottles are the best containers to re-use for storing water. Clean bottles with warm soapy water and rinse well. Then sanitize the inside of each bottle with a mixture of 1 quart water and 1 teaspoon of unscented liquid household chlorine bleach, and rinse with clean water again.
Fill containers completely full of water and screw lids on tightly. Contrary to information that has been given out for years from some sources, if your tap water is treated with chlorine by your water utility company, you do not need to treat your stored water with bleach. FEMA has said, "Additional treatment of treated public water will not increase storage life." If using well water, add two drops unscented liquid household chlorine bleach per gallon water. Water stored in your own containers should be replaced every six months.
Some municipal water supplies are purer than others. Your local water utility company can tell you if water in your area can be stored longer before replacing it.
Bleach has a shelf life
Many people are not aware that bleach loses it effectiveness after a year. For bleach that is between one and two years old, double the recommended amount. It is best to replace bleach older than two years with new bleach. Keep track of the age of your bleach by dating it when you buy it.
If you run out of stored water …
You can find other sources of water in your house. After a disaster, protect water in your home from being contaminated by immediately shutting incoming water at the main valve. Water in your water heater and water pipes, and from melted ice cubes is safe to use. It is not safe to use water in toilet tanks or bowls, radiators, spas or swimming pools.
No outside source of water, no matter how sparkling clean it looks, can be considered safe to drink. Water from outside sources should be boiled or chemically disinfected before drinking; however, these methods will not remove pollutants. Look for water with the least possibility of chemical contamination.
Boiling is the safest way to disinfect water. FEMA and the Red Cross recommend boiling water for one minute. Because water boils at lower temperature with increasing altitudes, the CDC recommends boiling water for three minutes above 6,562 feet (2 kilometers), which adds a margin of safety.
If it is not possible to boil water, liquid household chlorine bleach (5.25-6 percent sodium chlorite) can be used to kill microorganisms. Add 16 drops or 1/8 teaspoon bleach to one gallon of water and allow to stand for 30 minutes before drinking. Water should smell slightly of bleach; if it does not, repeat the dose and allow water to stand an additional 15 minutes. If there is still no odor of bleach, water should be discarded and a new source of water found.
FEMA and the Red Cross say, "Other chemicals, such as iodine or water treatment products (sold in camping or surplus stores) that do not contain 5.25 to 6.0 percent sodium hypochlorite as the only active ingredient, are not recommended and should not be used."
It is possible to buy a relatively inexpensive filter with holes the absolute size of 1 micron. (This means there are no holes any bigger than 1 micron.) This will filter out the giardia, crypotosporidium and amoebas. Water can then be treated with bleach to kill common enteric viruses.
Be sure to follow manufacturers instructions for changing filters on water filters and purifiers as they can become clogged and reintroduce bacteria into water.
Leslie Probert has a bachelor's degree in home economics from Brigham Young University. She has spoken to thousands of people on food storage, is co-author of "Emergency Food in a Nutshell" and and is a mother of three. Leslie can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.