July, 2010

EP Water Basics

So you have decided to get prepared and you are zeroing in on your first priority – that would be having enough SAFE drinking water for you and your loved ones. You have numerous options as to how to store water (prepackaged versus package yourself; bottles, jugs, barrels; locations; types of containers; etc.). Here are a few suggestions regarding containers and ensuring the water you have is safe to drink.

First off, lets assume you know how much water you need. An easy formula to follow is to have one gallon of water per day per person set aside. Most agencies suggest you build up to a month’s supply of water (28-30 gallons of water per person). The important thing is to get started and build up your supply if need be, so I encourage you not to put it off or be overwhelmed by the suggested quantities.

The container you pick is important for a number of reasons. Ease of use, durability, safety, storage capability are all factors to consider. If you choose to set aside a few cases of water, we recommend you follow the container’s “best if used by” dates as a rotation guideline. Believe it or not all water is the same and some store better than others. I suggest you choose water that has been bottled in PETE or PET containers.

If you are packaging your own water, use only food-grade containers.  Avoid using plastic milk jugs as they tend to become brittle and leak over time. Do not use containers previously used to store non-food products. If the container had been used previously, it is a good idea to sanitize and thoroughly rinse all containers with a mild chlorine bleach solution (1 teaspoon to 1 quart of water) before using. 55 gallon drums, 5 gallon jugs, and other food grade poly-plastic containers are recommended.

Water from a chlorinated municipal water supply does NOT need further treatment when stored in clean, food-grade containers. If the water comes from a non-chlorinated source, simply treat it with a bleach that does not contain thickeners, scents, or additives. The formula is 1/8 of a teaspoon (8 drops) of 5-6% sodium hypochlorite (liquid household chlorine bleach) for every gallon of water.

Rotate water every couple years or so just to be safe. Water goes stale and can taste “funny” after it has sat for a long period of time. You can improve the taste of stored water by pouring it back and forth between two containers (such as two water pitchers) before using.

Water storage for emergency preparedness is easy. You just need to get started.

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Rotation of Water: Keeping it Fresh

You may have noticed we have suggested you rotate your water storage every year or so to keep it fresh. I can just hear you, “What, you want me to not only buy and fill water containers, you want me to empty and refill them as well? It’s too hard, its too much work.”

Truth is, it takes some effort to get and stay prepared. It doesn’t just happen over night. So lets break down the process of water rotation. First off, I am going to assume you already have water storage. Great!

It is smart to rotate your water every couple years or so. Obviously the fresher the water, the more likely it is to be clean and drinkable right out of the drum/jug/container if and when you need it. Fresh water tastes better. Water looses it oxygen after a while and can taste stale. Aerating the water (that is mixing it up, such as pouring water between two containers) helps, and if you can drain and refill the containers, it is easier.

A 55 gallon drum full of water weigh in the neighborhood of 500 pounds (8.34 lbs/gallon times 55 + the weight of the container) and can be difficult to move. While some store their water by drains to aid in rotation, I prefer to let the drums drain in my yard and/or near my gardens. I simply put it on its side and roll it out of the garage. Not everyone can tip a barrel over or move it. Drum dollies or a wheel cart, makes the drums easier to move. Some drum carts are designed to set the drum on its side, which makes it ideal for gravity filling or emptying. Siphon pumps are an option, as well as using a hose and drawing the water out that way.

Refilling your drums or water jugs is as easy as filling. A hose can be pulled nearly anywhere. Smaller bottles can be filled at your kitchen sink. Water outlets are in all major cities. Five gallon bottles can be filled for pennies. Emergency Essentials sells a “drinking water safe” hose if you are interested. It is about a buck a foot. Historically I have used my garden hose and I have had no problems.

Water storage for emergency preparedness is easy. You just have to start.

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Solving the EP Water Storage Riddle

Are you puzzled as to what to do in an emergency situation when it comes to water? You are not alone. In an emergency, you may not have access to clean drinking water. It is a good idea to have a back up plan in finding water during a disaster situation.  Here are five suggestions:

  1. In many cases, your tap water may still be flowing and pure. Listen to authorities for instructions (another reason to have a radio and extra batteries) as to the purity of your tap water. If there is any question, boil it or filter it.
  2. The water you have set aside for emergencies is ideal. Your 72 hour survival kit, or the cases, jugs or drums of water you put together for just this situation will come in handy.
  3. There are water sources within your home as well you might not have thought about. Water lingers in your garden hose and water pipes (first shut off the incoming water supply so you don’t contaminate this water, then turn on your lowest faucet to access the water). It is available in your toilet, and in your hot water heater (turn off the gas/electricity to the tank first).  The water found in the water feature in your yard (if you have one) or swimming pool (if you have one, play pools for your kids work as well) can be used to flush toilets or cleaning (not for drinking).
  4. Rain barrels are a great source of water. Cisterns have been used for over 5,000 years! Rain water can be pretty dirty and needs to be filtered using one of the “stand alone” water filters that are readily available in stores such as REI (think back country). Some have a solar still. This is a shallow hole, approximately four or five foot square and three feet deep. A collection container, such as a plastic 5 gallon bucket is placed in the middle of the hole and a six foot round piece of plastic is put over the hole. A small rock is put in the center, which causes the plastic to slope to the container. Water condenses on the plastic and drips into the collection container.
  5. Lastly, there are outside water sources to consider. Nearby streams, ponds or rivers can be a source of water, but obviously you should take measures to make the water safe by filtering it. Boiling, distilling and chlorinating it may help as well. You should never drink flood waters.

I hope this list helps you in an emergency. I hope you never have to tap into the emergency supply of water you have set aside for a “rainy day” or a catastrophic event, but if that emergency happens, take some peace in the fact that you will be prepared.

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3 Simple Methods to Ensure Safe Drinking Water

There are numerous ways to treat water in order to make it safe to drink. In previous articles we discussed several of them. I want to talk about two methods that have, over time, proven to kill most microbes.  As good as these methods are they are not perfect and they will not remove other contaminants such as heavy metals, many chemicals, and salts. Before treating, we suggest you let any suspended particles settle to the bottom, and/or strain them through layers of cheesecloth or a paper towel.

Guessing you do not have an adequate stand-alone filter system, lets start with the safest method for treating water first, boiling. I am also going to guess you have access to a heat source, if so, bring water to a rolling boil for 3-5 minutes.  You have options here – one is to let the boiling water vapor evaporate, another is to collect the vapor. The collecting of the vapor is a process called distillation. The condensed vapor will not include salt and other impurities. 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. Keep the cup from dangling in the water. Boil the water for 20 minutes. The water that drips from the lid into the cup is distilled. If you choose not to catch the evaporated water, simply let the water you boiled for roughly five minutes cool before drinking (unless you are drinking tea or coffee). Sometimes boiled water tastes better if you put oxygen back into it by pouring the water back and forth between two containers.

The second method of treating water in an effort to make it safe to drink is called disinfection. Simply add a 5-6% solution of sodium hypochlorite (regular household liquid chlorine bleach) to the water. Do not use bleaches with additives, thickeners, scents, or color-safe type. Most recommend adding between 8-16 drops (approximately 1/8 – 1/4 of a teaspoon) of bleach per gallon of water.  Stir this solution and let it stand for 30 minutes.  Any other chemicals, such as iodine or water treatment products sold in surplus or camping stores, that do not contain 5-6% sodium hypochlorite as the only active ingredient, should be avoided.

Boiling water and disinfection by treating the water will kill most microbes in water. Distillation will remove microbes that resist these methods, and heavy metals, salts, and many other chemicals.  I am often asked when is the right time to treat your water. BEFORE you use it is the appropriate answer. Why? Purifying chemicals will eventually wear out and bacteria can again, begin to grow.

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Rain Barrel Basics

Hard to believe at one time it was illegal in Utah and I some surrounding states to capture rainwater. A practice done since Adam and Eve were created and actively done in communities all over the world, rain water is ideal for many situations.

Utah is a desert and the plants (as well as our bodies), need enough water to sustain themselves.  Utah has experienced an occasional drought therefore water is a commodity that at times, is regulated. It only makes sense to get it when you can. Water barrels and cisterns are one method in making that happen.

Assuming it rains (and this year, so far so good), rain water can be a source for water in an emergency. This is a common practice in many cultures around the world. Some have water barrels and cisterns on their roofs to provide water where water supplies are limited.

To start, simply put a plastic 55 gallon drum at the bottom of your gutter. I recommend putting a screen over the gutter spout or the drum (or both) to screen out any leaves, gravel, sand, or twigs that may wash through. Some barrels are designed specifically for the purpose of collecting rain water. You will notice on our website and FaceBook pages that some have elected to “dress up” their barrels by painting them and adding floral designs.  A good rain can fill up a 55 gallon drum in minutes.

Typically the drums have spigots that have been tapped in the bottom, whereby you can opt to attach a hose or just pour out into containers. There often is a tap on top for overflow. This is a great place to put a hose as well so the excess water can be distributed to other containers, plants, or a nearby garden.

Rain water can be used as drinking water, however, it is usually dirty. We recommend filtering it using any one of the handful of water-treatment methods such as boiling, disinfection, distillation, or by using a water filter itself.  It is important to have safe water to prevent sickness, disease, or worse case, death.

Getting and staying prepared is easy. You just have to get started. It all starts with a single step.

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