Water Storage for an Emergency

15 September, 2005 (09:51)


By Rae Udy

“Water, Water everywhere but not a drop to drink.� This line from the Samuel Cooleridge poem was never more real as the world watched the struggle for survival from the murky waters of the Gulf Coast.
Hurricane Katrina’s devastation gave a wake-up call to all Americans on the readiness of the nation. Local, state and federal governments urge all Americans to be prepared for disasters by storing a minimum of emergency supplies.
The Monday morning after Katrina hit New Orleans, I went grocery shopping after returning home from a short vacation. Bottled water was almost impossible to find. At Wal-Mart the shelf usually holding gallons and two-gallon jugs of water was empty except for about six gallons of water specially used for mixing baby formula. Although we live hundreds of miles from the disaster drinking water was in high demand.
Having an ample supply of clean drinking water is the top priority in any emergency. A normally active person needs to drink at least two quarts of water each day. According to the Department of Defense and the Office of Civil Defense, a quart of water a day will sustain life in an emergency.
The rule of thumb is to store at least one gallon per person per day for at least three days. This will allow two quarts for drinking and two quarts for food preparation and sanitation. A family of four should store a minimum of 12 gallons of water. The Department of Homeland Security recommends at least a ten day supply of water and a 30 day supply if at all possible.
Store water in clean tightly covered containers away from direct sunlight. Any plastic or glass container that previously held food or beverages may be used. Plastic containers should not be stored near gasoline, kerosene or pesticides because they may absorb harmful hydrocarbon vapors. Large 55 gallon drums are available for water storage but can be difficult to transport in an emergency.
Adding five to seven drops, about one-eighth of a teaspoon, of chlorine bleach per gallon of water protects against harmful bacterial organisms. Clearly mark all water containers as “drinking water� and include current date for rotation.
When water is properly stored, it should have an indefinite shelf life, however, it is a good idea to use and replace the stored water every six to 12 months. If you have freezer space, storing some water in the freezer helps keep foods in your freezer frozen longer if the power goes out. Leave two inches of space in containers because water expands when frozen.
In an emergency, unless you are advised the water supply has been contaminated, don’t forget the water in your own plumbing system. A typical water heater holds 30-60 gallons of water and can be drained into gallon containers for emergency drinking. Allow the water heater to cool so it does not scald you when you open the valve. Add chlorine bleach to each gallon and shake to mix solution. Set aside for thirty minutes before using.
Rainwater, streams and rivers with running water, ponds and lakes and natural springs are all emergency outdoor water sources. Always treat water before drinking with chlorine bleach or boiling.
Water can be purified by boiling three to five minutes. After boiling water allow it to cool and pour into storage containers. Add 5 to 7 drops of chlorine bleach to each gallon of cooled water and shake to mix.
Use liquid household bleach that contains 5.25 percent hypochlorite. Do not use bleaches with fresheners or scents because they may not be safe to consume. Adding too much chlorine to water can be harmful so it is important to be as accurate as possible when measuring. A two-fold process of boiling along with adding bleach is recommended for best results.
Keeping emergency water is a habit everyone should adopt. Years ago East Texas was hit by an ice storm that knocked out power for five days at my house. My family had a taste of survival mode we won’t forget. Luckily, we had water stored because our house has a well and we never know when the pump will act up.
I urge everyone to check the Homeland Security website, www.nationalterroralert.com, for more information on emergency water storage. The 72 Hour Go Pack is a wonderful list to help you get started on your own disaster supply kit.
The American Red Cross website, www.redcross.org, contains hints for gathering water, food, first aid supplies, clothing, bedding, tools and special emergency items you may need during an evacuation.

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