IN CASE OF AN EMERGENCY: HOW TO OBTAIN DRINKABLE WATER
By Albert Burns
December 30, 2004
Water! Without it, you will die in three or four days. Unfortunately,
with it, if it is contaminated with chemicals or germs, you might die
even faster. As Coleridge put it in his Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner,
"Water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink." His mariner was on
the sea, surrounded by water, all of it undrinkable. Sometimes, on land,
the situation can be just as dire.
Most of the world's deadliest diseases are waterborne. Dysentery,
typhus, cholera are all spread by contaminated water and are the causes
of more human deaths than virtually any other cause, as I fear we may
soon see in south east Asia..
Where and how, then, do we get water which is safe to drink? As
mentioned previously, as a rule of thumb you will need to have one
gallon, per person, per day for drinking purposes only. This is for
drinking ONLY and does not include water for cooking, bathing, waste
handling or for pets. For each dog, you need another gallon per day and
for a cat about a pint a day.
For those who have made NO preparations at all at the time a disaster
strikes, there are still a few sources. If you think of it in time, the
upper tank on each toilet holds several gallons of water which can be
dipped out and drunk. Your hot water heater, depending upon its size,
will have thirty to fifty gallons of water which you can drain off
through the clean out tap at the bottom. The ice cubes in your
refrigerator are water which is available. Depending upon your home, you
may be able to drain back the water from all the pipes in the house to
obtain more gallons of drinking water.
What to do if you have used up the water from these safe sources?
Especially in a time of disaster, consider that ANY water not stored or
purchased is contaminated. Even a crystal clear stream may be deadly.
If the water you locate is murky or cloudy, first strain the dirt our
with several layers of paper towel, clean cloth or coffee filters. Then
purify it with one of the following methods.
BOILING: This is generally the safest method to destroy any disease
organisms. Bring the water to a rolling boil and maintain the boil for a
minimum of ten minutes plus one added minute for each 1000 feet above
sea level. After purifying water in this manner, be sure to keep it
covered to prevent re-contamination. Unfortunately, this method
presupposes having a means and a container to do the boiling and uses
considerable fuel which may not be available after a disaster.
LIQUID CHLORINE BLEACH: Be sure the bleach you have on hand for this
purpose contains ONLY sodium hypochlorite (5.25% solution) with no soap,
phosphates, scents, etc. For one gallon of clear water, add 8 drops (1/8
tsp) of bleach. To five gallons of clear water add 32 drops (1/2 tsp.)
If the water is cloudy, double these amounts. Use this eye dropper or
spoon for nothing else. At the time the bleach is purchased, it should
be dated. Bleach which is over a year old has lost about half its
strength so the quantities you use would have to be doubled. After
adding the bleach to the water, mix well and allow to stand for thirty
minutes before using.
IODINE: If there are no directions on the iodine bottle, use 12 drops to
the gallon of water. If the water is cloudy, double that quantity.
Again, mix well and allow to stand for thirty minutes.
Both chlorine and iodine will impart a taste to the water. Pouring the
water from one container to another several times will help dissipate
some of that taste by re-oxygenating the water. If you have some Tang or
Kool-Aid they will help disguise these tastes for children.
Another possibility is to have on hand some form of water filter to use
in treating any water you intend to drink. Such a filter must not only
remove any chemical contamination but also be able to kill any disease
organisms. Such filters are, normally, available at such stores as
Emergency Essentials or Out-N-Back. Katadyn is one of the better known
brands. These filters are made in various sizes and output capacities.
Some are small enough to be carried in a backpack. It would be advisable
to have several of these on hand. The demand for these is beginning to
rise because of increasing public awareness of the terrorism problem so
you may have to look for them in several places or, even, place an order
and wait for delivery.
In some areas there may be free-flowing wells. Ask around to see if you
can find out where one or more of these may be located. Water from one
of these MIGHT be safe, but to be sure, under disaster conditions it
should be treated as above.
Freshly falling rainwater can be drunk if it is caught in a clean
container before it touches any other surface. After it touches some
other surface, it must be considered contaminated.
Freshly fallen snow may be drinkable without treatment but it must be
melted and warmed before ingesting it. Old snow and ice will almost
certainly contain bacteria and will need to be treated before using.
You are the best container. Store as much water as possible in your
stomach. In any emergency situation, you must always ask yourself this
question: "Am I willing to risk my life on this drink of water?"
2004 Albert Burns - All Rights Reserved