Water is basically the most important thing to us humans, and virtually all living things. The problem is, all water is not created equal, and some can seriously mess you up – like kill you.
You can purify water by using chemicals, filters, and other processes. I recommend that each person not only store quality drinking and washing water, they should also hold the skills and supplies to produce clean drinking water. On top of storage and processing, thought should be put to how future water will be acquired; will it be cashed from rain? An on-property pond? Spring? Well? Hope and a dance?
If you don’t feel like reading everything below, here is the short version:
- Have a water processing plan/supplies
- Have a storage method
- Have an acquisition plan
Before we talk about “fresh” water, lets talk about salt water. It is generally well-known that you cannot drink pure salt water because of the negative affects on your body. According to Bill Bryson in A Short History of Nearly Everything:
Take a lot of salt into your body and your metabolism very quickly goes into crisis. From every cell, water molecules rush off like so many voluntary firemen to try to dilute and carry off the sudden intake of salt. This leaves the cells dangerously short of the water they need to carry out their normal functions. They become, in a word, dehydrated. In extreme situations, dehydration will lead to seizures, unconsciousness, and brain damage. Meanwhile, the overworked blood cells carry the salt to the kidneys, which eventually become overwhelmed and shut down. Without functioning kidneys you die. That is why we don’t drink seawater.
There are desalination plants that can produce fresh water from salt water, but the process costs about five times as much as getting fresh water. In an emergency, you can create drinking water from the evil stuff of the ocean – the process is pretty well outlined HERE.
An alternate product that filters salt water by using a “sports drink charge” is known as the SeaPack Water Desalination Kit.
An expensive hand-pump filter is one more option, but are quite spendy.
For those who like to read, this may be of interest, a report from the World Health Organization titled “Safe Drinking-water from Desalination”.
Filtering questionable water is a process preferred by many people. Hikers and outdoorsman have for some time have had portable filtration systems to make water found in the field – at a stream or pond – ready and good to drink. These type of filters are great for a BOB, but normally can cost about $100 bucks or more. I do not have a favorite hiking filter, but look for one that does not require additional chemicals or components beyond the filter elements, because in an emergency, resupply of these elements may be non-existent.
For bulk water filtration, the all out king is the Berkey family of filters. Just dump your questionable water in the top, and dispense the good stuff below. I recommend assigning one or more 5 gallon water jugs to store some of the filtered water as the process is quite slow. You can see my stored Big Berkey in the photo below (center of the photo, on the right side, in the white box):
The Berkey filters are quite expensive, but there are cheaper options available. You have to build your own system using buckets and the filters, and the quality is not at the level of the big name Berkey, but it is a viable alternative.
Another option is you can make your own filter out of natural elements; such as sand, pebbles, and charcoal. Basically you layer these elements and pass the water through it. I will try to create my own in the near future and create a full post to demonstrate it.
The Chemical option is only as good as the supply of said chemical additive. That being said, some of these chemicals can purify ALOT of water, so should be looked at in your prepper planning.
The first option is iodine tablets, the mainstay of hikers and military personnel before the development of effective filters. These tablets are still in use today, and can be found in most sporting-goods outlets, surplus stores, and Online.
I would not use these tablets unless it was a true emergency, the EPA advises that iodine is not 100% effective against Giardia and Cryptosporidium – which is kind of the idea of these things. They are portable and could help if your life depended on it.
Next, lets talk about bleach. Bleach is a good purifier that can purify a vast amount of water, for not much cost. We are talking thousands of gallons for only a few bucks (roughly 3,800 gallons of water per gallon of bleach.)
The general consensus on the process is basically:
- If boiling is not possible, treat water by adding liquid household bleach, such as Clorox or Purex. Household bleach is typically between 5 percent and 6 percent chlorine. Avoid using bleaches that contain perfumes, dyes and other additives. Be sure to read the label.
- Place the water (filtered, if necessary) in a clean container. Add the amount of bleach according to the table below.
- Mix thoroughly and allow to stand for at least 30 minutes before using (60 minutes if the water is cloudy or very cold).
The problem with bleach is it’s relatively short shelf life, here is Clorox’s official statement on the matter, and the recap:
- We add extra bleach during manufacturing to take into account expected temperature changes and to maintain our stated label 6% sodium hypochlorite level for Clorox Regular-Bleach.
- Under most typical home storage conditions this 6% active level will be maintained at least 6 months. Excellent performance should be expected for around a year under these conditions.
- Extreme exposure may reduce the active level below 6%, but excellent performance will be maintained for laundry and home cleaning for at least 9 months.
- Opening the bottle does NOT have an effect on hypochlorite stability nor make the product ineffective.
So bleach is great, but has a short shelf life – enter the best of both worlds “CALCIUM HYPOCHLORITE”, AKA “Pool Shock”. This product can be found in large retailers and obviously pool/spa supply shops. It is sold normally with a Calcium Hypochlorite concentration of about 70%, this is what you are looking for on the packaging: Active ingredients Calcium Hypochlorite 70% (ish)
The military has long used this product in its operations, as outlined in the technical bulletin: SANITARY CONTROL AND SURVEILLANCE OF FIELD WATER SUPPLIES. to quote the TB:
The preferred military water disinfectant is chlorine. The most common chemical issued to the military for bulk water disinfection is calcium hypochlorite that is approximately 68 to 70 percent FAC.
Most Calcium Hypochlorite has a shelf life of about 10 years, much better than the 6 months – year you get from bleach. Remember that once you mix it though, it will reduce down to the bleach level for shelf life.
To make your pool shock (Calcium Hypochlorite) into “Survivalist Bleach” you take about 2 level tablespoons and put it into 3 cups of water, mix, and you are good to go. Use the above chart for bleach, and you will have the appropriate amount to use to purify water. One thing to remember is that the end product should have a slight chlorine smell after waiting the 30-60 minutes, if not, put some more in, wait, and you should get the smell. At this point, if you don’t – throw out this batch and start over.
I have created both survivalist bleach as well as taken regular, unscented bleach and treated some water at my house with each. I could not scientifically say which worked better, but this was more of a test to see how to make the Calcium Hypochlorite solution, and to test the flavor. Imagine drinking water-downed pool water (without the pee), now you know how it tastes. If I had to choose which one was better, I don’t think I could (they were about the same – Calcium Hypochlorite was a little more “metallic” in taste.)
Treatment is a process that somehow makes the water safer through a process that does not include chemicals or filters. Understanding these procedures could be your best bet on a long-term event.
The first option is boiling the water in question – in fact, this is the most highly recommended way to purify water. This takes a considerable amount of resources and time, but is very effective. It is recommended to boil the water for at least a minute.
The problem with boiling, other than needing certain equipment, supplies, and time is it makes the water taste “flat”. This can be helped by passing the treated water from one container to the other, aerating it and improving the taste.
Another option is using the sun and clean bottles – know as “SODIS”. This is the brief explanation found in the full report on the technique:
Solar Water Disinfection (SODIS) is a simple, environmentally sustainable, low-cost solution for drinking water treatment at household level for people consuming microbiologically contaminated raw water. SODIS uses solar energy to destroy pathogenic micro-organisms causing water borne diseases and there- with it improves the quality of drinking water. Pathogenic microorganisms are vulnerable to two effects of the sunlight: radiation in the spectrum of UV-A light (wavelength 320-400nm) and heat (increased water temperature).
A synergy of these two effects occurs, as their combined effect is much greater than the sum of the single effects. This means that the mortality of the microorganisms increases when they are exposed to both temperature and UV-A light at the same time.
SODIS is ideal to disinfect small quantities of water of low turbidity. Contaminated water is filled into transparent plastic bottles and exposed to full sunlight for six hours. During the exposure to the sun the pathogens are destroyed. If cloudyness is greater than 50% , the plastic bottles need to be exposed for 2 consecutive days in order to produce water safe for consumption. However, if water temperatures exceed 50°C, one hour of exposure is sufficient to obtain safe drinking water. The treatment efficiency can be improved if the plastic bottles are exposed on sunlight re-flecting surfaces such as aluminium- or corrugated iron sheets
I could see this as a great option at the BOL for summer-time purification. Blend this technique with boiling water in the winter (so you capitalize on the heat produced so you don’t freeze to death) and you have a good overall plan that takes only minor preplanning.
That should wrap up your processing options, please let me know if you have any ideas of your own. The next part in this series will cover water storage and acquisition.