Water is our lifeline in order to not only survive but thrive in a safe and secure homestead. Most medieval castles were built over a secure water source to be able to withstand a long term siege. If you wanted to drive a farmer off his land you simply had to stop the flow of water to his farm and he would be finished. The survivor’s rule of thumb is most folks cannot survive more than three days without water but I’m here to tell you that after one day in the hot Sun without water your body starts to shut down making it difficult to make good decisions. So we can all agree that water is extremely important.
Now having lots of water all around you is no guarantee you can drink it. I usually tell folks when looking for ground to buy for their homestead to make sure it has a well, a pond or a year round stream running through the property. However it is vitally important to get the water tested. Some wells and ponds can become contaminated or are so high in minerals that they require expensive filtering in order to be able to drink the water. Some streams may have some unhealthy activity going on upstream that may make your water less appealing or as pointed out in the above paragraph, someone can stop the stream from getting to your property. I was one of the fortunate few that backpacked during the 60’s. We carried Sierra cups on our belts and whenever we crossed a running stream, we would scoop some clear refreshing water as we walked. Unfortunately, these days all water must be treated with suspicion until tested or filtered. We will cover many methods of filtering water to make it safe for drinking but most of these methods take some time and materials so careful planning is necessary to insure a continuous flow of potable water.
In the absence of a continuous source of water you must be able to collect enough water for your families needs to cover a certain length of time until you can replenish your stores of water. As a rule of thumb, each person in your household should have a minimum of two gallons of water per day. So for a family of four you will need at least 8 gallons a day. The bad news is this amount is just what you should be drinking to stay hydrated and a little bit for food preparation. If you intend to wash, take care of livestock or garden, you will need more, much more water. Most folks don’t drink enough plain water to begin with instead getting most of their water in their soda, coffee, tea or prepared foods. Being completely hydrated will enable you to last a lot longer with the minimum amount of water so you must drink a lot of water everyday. Now if you want to consider how much water you use in your day to day living, a standard flush toilet uses about 6 gallons a flush, a 1 minute shower can use over 7 gallons and just washing your hands or brushing your teeth can use over 3 gallons a minute. Washing machines and dishwashers can use tremendous amounts of water. So replacing all your water fixtures with efficient water saving devices must be done if you are preparing to live on a limited water supply. Learning to conserve water in everything you do every day will prepare you for the day the tap water stops flowing. Installing a gray water system and a rain water collection system are two simple methods to collect a lot of the water you will need to get by.
In the energy section I suggested you try and go a weekend without energy. If your family is still speaking to you after that stunt, try going the weekend without water. I can pretty much guarantee you’ll have a mutiny on your hands so don’t try this unless you’ve prepared everyone for just such an emergency and have trained every member in the family on how to adjust to survive on a minimum amount of water. Don’t do this as a surprise drill! Now, least you think I’m blowing the conspiracy horn or trying to frighten you, understand that our municipal water sources are not invincible. An earthquake can disrupt our water supply just as quickly as an EMP can knock out the power grid which powers the pumps which makes the water flow. Restoring the water can take days and sometimes weeks. There have been some recent cases of water contamination as well as droughts that will or already have curtailed the amount of water available to a large segment of the population. Unless you have some means of collecting water in quantities sufficient to keep your family hydrated for the duration of the outage, you will suffer. As an old scouter, our motto ”Be Prepared” can mean the difference between suffering needlessly or being able to get by with some comfort until the taps start flowing again.
So along with providing shelter and energy you must secure a reliable water source. For those of us having to still rely on government water, you need to start storing as much water as you can. Most folks don’t have the room for a 2,500 gallon water tank which measures just under 8′ in diameter and stands just over 7′-6” high but this much water will keep a family of 4 with 8 gallons per day for 312 ½ days. That’s almost 11 months! Now before you run out and get one of these beasts you also need to consider this tank will weigh over 20,500 pounds. That’s over 10 tons so it becomes necessary to provide a stable foundation on the ground not on your second floor balcony. Most folks can start storing water in a few 5 gallon buckets with lids and find a few places to keep them out of the way and in a cool spot. There are 6 gallon containers sold at some big box stores which are rectangular and stack easily. Whatever container you decide to use, it is necessary to keep them out of the summer heat and winter freezing. For short term storage I personally like having more smaller containers than one big container just in case the water becomes fouled in the big container which can make all the water in that container undrinkable. You can utilize any type of container you collect from your everyday shopping such as milk cartons, liter size bottles and plastic buckets. This water should be used for flushing the toilet or washing the dishes as non-food grade containers may not be healthy to drink from. Storing water in non-food grade containers such as a 33 gallon trashcan might lead to polluting the water from off gassing of the plastic or chemicals from the releasing agent. You should rotate through these containers frequently replacing the old water with fresh. Start by storing a one week supply of water for your family. Plan on 4 to 5 gallons per day, per person in order to have plenty for all your uses. As you get more space add a few more containers until you feel safe and secure that your family will not go without water in an extended water shut down. A one month supply of water is not unreasonable.
As mentioned above, you can be surrounded by water and not be able to drink any of it. So once you’ve determined a water source and have plenty stored, you need to know how to purify it if it goes bad. There are several methods of water purification and which you use will depend on how bad the water is fouled. The simplest method is to start with relatively clean water and add 6 to 8 drops of bleach per gallon of water. Let stand for an hour and it should be good to drink. Pre-filtering as much gunk out of the water helps a lot. Boiling water is better if you have access to a fire and iodine tablets will make a canteen of water safe to drink. Boiling and iodine makes the water taste funny but it is better than getting sick. A better but more expensive method is to use commercial filter systems. There are several types and sizes from backpackers 2 to 3 gallons per day to 100 gallons per day for the whole house. These filters make the cleanest, best tasting water you could ever hope to have but they do come at a price. We will provide plans for making your own filtering system out of some 5 gallon buckets which can cost a lot less and still provide some great drinking water.
Once you’ve secured clean drinking water for the short term, you can work on long term projects that will insure you will always have clean drinking water. Building a cistern or getting one of those 2,500 gallon tanks will make life a whole lot easier. Designing a run off system which directs roof run off to the cistern will fill the tank with good clean rain water. Can you believe there are some states that make collecting rain water off your own roof illegal! (Oregon) A small pond is easy to build and makes a great place for animals and plants to thrive and if you’ve taken care of filtering methods, you can use the pond as a back up to your permanent storage. Having a gray water system will utilize every drop of water used in your sinks, showers and laundry, however your local jurisdiction might say that’s illegal too. Once you’ve washed the clothes, yourself and the dishes, that water can go straight to the garden. Make sure you use biodegradable soaps and keep anyone who has a serious communicable disease from using the system. Building a wood fired still will remove almost all impurities and provide sterile, distilled water for medical purposes. (And you can of course brew up some moonshine too!)
Water is vital if you hope to homestead, grow your own crops, water the herd and keep yourself clean and hydrated. Having your own clean water source makes you truly independent and self sufficient. It is what will provide us with life and happiness irregardless of what the rest of the world is going through so work hard at securing your water source, storage and filtering methods now and for your future.