Water is essential to human survival and drinking contaminated water is a leading cause of death after a major disaster. Your homes water supply from the city is highly unlikely to survive a major earthquake. The general rule is to prepare for 1 gallon of water per person (or large pet) per day. Unfortunately length of time to prepare for varies greatly based on the severity of the earthquake or disaster.
We have compiled a presentation on Emergency Water and you can download it in our Downloads page. There is a script to each slide in the notes of the PowerPoint presentation if you would like present the presentation or read along.
Recommendation - Water Storage
Recommendation: Store enough water for 14 days (Gallons=14*number of people or large pets)
Stretch Goal: Store enough water for 30 days (Gallons=30*number of people or large pets)
Supplies: A 55 gallon drum of water will supply a family of 4 for roughly 14 days. It can be stored in a garage, basement, shed or even outside.
Recommendation - Water Filter
Recommendation: In addition to storing water you can extend your water supply capacity with a water filter. It is highly recommended if you cannot meet the stretch goal because we believe you will be on your own for at least 30 days.
Supplies: Water Filter/Purifier and 5 gallon container (to go get the water with).
Shopping List - Water Storage
Option 1: New 55 gallon water barrel kit
Total Cost: $130
Option 2: Reuse a 55 gallon food grade barrel and buy new accessories
Total Cost: $30 (accessories) + $25 per barrel
55 gallon barrel from Craigslist (503-793-3368 or 503-793-3370)
Additional: Water preserver to extend the shelf life of your water from 1 to 5 years
Total Cost: $12
Additional: Smaller 3-7 gallon water container with valve for daily use.
Total Cost: $9-18
Explanation - Water Storage
Many of the city’s underground water pipes that supply your drinking water will be damaged in a major earthquake and may become contaminated with sewage (even without you knowing). After a major earthquake you should turn off your main water valve into your house until you have confirmation that it is safe. The new city reservoirs should withstand a major earthquake but should not be used as your primary water source post earthquake. Storing water is still your safest option.
The primary rule for storing water is to store it in a food grade container. You want to ensure that it is a BPA-free container and that chemicals were never stored in it. In general, the larger the container, the more efficient the use of space. A common large container for water storage is a blue plastic 55-gallon drum. It blocks UV light to prevent algae growth and they are readily available new and used ($85 and $20 respectfully).
Water shelf life
Water does not spoil. However, things can grow in your water supply. It is recommended to change out the water in water storage containers every 6-12 months if you use city water. If you use a water preserver, you can extend the shelf life to 5 years.
Swimming pool water
If you are confident in chemical additives and levels in your pool, you may be able to use your swimming pool water for potable water for the first few days after an earthquake. However, without electricity to run the pumps, algae will grow and then after a few days it will not be drinkable without using a good water filter such as the Lifestraw Mission. However, these filters will not filter out any of the chemicals that you have added previously.
Storing water in a 55-gallon water barrel
Here is a video of how to properly use a food grade 55-gallon barrel to store water.
Shopping List - Water Filter
Option 1: Lifestraw Mission 12L
Total Cost: $130
Option 2: Puralytics SolarBag Water Purifier 3L
Total Cost: $40 per person
Additional: Having an additional 5 gallon water storage container will help with day to day water management, transportation and increase your storage slightly.
Total Cost: $12
Explanation - Water Filter
Filtering and purifying
First I’d like to clarify the difference between filtering and purifying. Let’s use making coffee with a standard coffee filter as an example of a water filter. The paper filter keeps the big chunks out of your coffee but lets the caffeine and color through into your coffee. Emergency water filters like the Sawyer Mini or Lifestraw are simply filters like your coffee filter. They filter out the big chunks like dirt and debris. If the filter is small enough it will filter out bacteria that we might see in a typical water source (E-coli, etc.). However it will not filter out viruses, human waste or heavy metals (human introduced pollution into the water) that have been dissolved into the water. To remove or kill the remaining harmful pollutants before it is safe to drink, the water will have to be purified. However there are a couple of caveats when you look at different purification methods. I have found that all of these products will tell you what they will filter or purify, but they never tell you what they will not.
You should always filter and then purify. This will remove the “chunks” before you treat it with the purification method. If you have a source other than a major waterway (ie. rain water harvesting), you have more options to purify your water. In that case, most products that you find at REI will work for you. A common, but harsh way to purify water is to add chemicals to it to kill the harmful bacteria and viruses. The typical chemical added is simple Clorox bleach (8 drops per gallon). Rather than consuming chemicals, you can boil your water (rolling boil for one minute), but this will consume a lot of energy in an emergency situation. Ultrafiltration refers to a filter with such small holes, it will block even viruses. The other option is with UV light. There are UV pens that take about a minute to sanitize a pint of water. The only filter system that can be labeled as a water filter and purifier is the Big Berkey Water Filtration system. It is the only system to also filter out some heavy metals too.
However, if you plan to use a major waterway like the lake or a river, we really won’t know what will have contaminated it after an earthquake. Between the sewer line running through our lake, and or flood waters entering the lake, the lake might be contaminated with more things than most products can render harmless. However, if you plan to use a major waterway, I’d recommend using the Puralytics SolarBag. As you can see in the chart, it is the only product to kill some major contaminates that might pollute our waterways without us knowing.
Here is a quick video of how to use the Lifestraw Mission water purifier.
The Sawyer Mini is a great compact filter. It is great for keeping in the car or your 72 hr bag. However if you want to rely on filtering for your family at home, the Lifestraw Mission is a safer option that will filter out more than the sawyer mini. For $20 it's cheap insurance.
The solar bag is a great alternative. It has the ability to break down some chemicals and heavy metals by using a catalyst and the sun. Here is a short video to explain how it works.
Emergency water sources
If you choose not to store water, or your water runs out you can use your hot water heater for drinking water. However, there a few details before you plan to use this as your primary source. You need to shut off the water into your house immediately after an earthquake to prevent it from becoming contaminated. You should drain the tank yearly to remove the calcium deposits from building up at the bottom where the valve is that you will need to use without water pressure. You will need to be able to attach a hose to the bottom valve and preferably a food grade hose, but I know we have all drunk from a garden hose before and didn’t get sick. Either way, you should flush out the hose before use.
Here is a video to demonstrate using your hot water heater for an emergency water source:
In most cases, if you have a rainwater collection system you will have to filter and purify it before consuming it using the methods described earlier. If you have a treated cedar shake roof like I do, you should not use water collected from the roof to drink. In my case, I will have to use tarps or plastic to help capture any rain water I want to use for drinking or cooking. There are endless options for this and I suggest you investigate yourself if you want to use this as an option. In any case you should use a food grade container to store to rainwater. Checkout THIS guide for Oregon.