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Water is one of the most important things that you should have access to in a survival situation. Second only to shelter, water precedes food in the list of items needed to survive. Without clean drinking water, you won’t be able to survive for more than a week.

Disasters, whether natural or man-made, can interrupt your regular water supply. Water lines could rupture or your water supply could get cut off (accidentally or on purpose). Even if you have a deep well pump as a backup for your water service, it won’t be of much use during a drought or when flooding hits your area. So, it makes a lot of sense for you to store an ample amount of water that will last you at least a couple of days, or until you can find a more stable source or water service returns to normal.

Unlike food, water doesn’t spoil, but it can get contaminated with bacteria that can cause problems like nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. These ailments are some of the most common, but death is also a risk. One of the things that are worse than being thirsty is a case of the runs, which will make you lose more fluids from your body. There are procedures that you should follow to make sure that your stored water will last and be safe to drink when needed.

How Much Do You Need?

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recommends at least one gallon of water per person per day, for three days. Most of it is for drinking, but also for hygiene and other purposes (like cooking). This is easy if you’re on your own, but if you have a family with three other members, this amounts to 12 gallons.
This is the absolute minimum amount that you should store because your requirements per person can increase depending on a lot of things. Nursing mothers, children and sick people may need more than one gallon of water in a day. Do you keep animals or pets with you? If so, they will also need water. Intense physical activity will also increase your water requirements, as well as the temperature of your environment—in very hot temperatures, your water requirements can quickly double. Add to this that, in many cases, it could take more than three days before the water supply gets back to normal, and you may decide to increase your stores.

You will need at least a gallon of water per day for hydration, hygiene and other purposes like food preparation

So, now how much water do you really need? It depends on a lot of things, as well as how much you can store, but a good starting point is 1 gallon per day, for two weeks. So, if you’re storing enough water for two weeks for a family of four, that’s 56 gallons, minimum.

We now have a rough idea on how much water you’ll need, let’s get to how you can store it.

Bottled Water

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This is the easiest route to take when storing water. They come in different sizes, from 8oz bottles to 5 gallon containers and are available in almost every store. They’re well-sealed and pre-packaged in food-grade portable containers, so you won’t have to worry about contamination and bringing them with you when needed. Just open the cap and drink– you don’t have to treat the water before using it.

The only downside to this plan is it can get a bit more expensive compared to storing water yourself in containers, but you’re also paying for convenience.

Storing bottled water is the most convenient route, but can also be a bit more expensive

Water Containers

If you’re a DIY kind of person and would like to collect more water to last you a longer time, you can collect and store water yourself in water barrels and other large containers.

First, make sure that you’re going to be storing water in food-grade containers. You can verify this by looking for the High-Density Polyethylene or HDPE mark on the container, usually shown as a recycling symbol with the number “2” in it. Glass jars are also an option, but you’ll have a hard time looking for a jar that is big enough for your needs (good luck finding one that can hold more than 5 gallons), and they can easily break during a disaster.

55 gallon barrels are easy to find and can hold enough water to last for more than a week for a family of four

One of the best options is a 55-gallon plastic barrel. You can easily find barrels that meet safety requirements and each container can hold enough water for you and your family to last more than 10 days (or more than a month, if you’re on your own).

But be warned that containers can also be expensive, and if you decide to bug out, you won’t be able to bring the larger containers with you. A full plastic 55 gallon water barrel will weigh more than 475 pounds!

The HDPE mark on the container means it’s rated “food grade” and can store items meant for human consumption

Other Storage Solutions

If money’s really tight, you can recycle empty water or soda bottles and fill them with water from the tap. Don’t recycle containers that previously held milk or juice– milk proteins and fruit sugars can be difficult to remove from these containers, and promote bacterial growth later on.

You can fill your bathtub with water when in a pinch, but since it’s open to contaminants (and depending on how often you clean your tub), the water stored using this method may not be safe for drinking and will require treatment for use

You can also fill your bathtub with water if you know there’s a large chance that your water will be cut off. A regular bathtub can hold around 100 gallons of water and serve as a storage solution in a pinch, but because it’s open to contaminants, you will have to treat the water you collected if you’re going to use it for drinking.

Clean Your Containers

If you decide to store water yourself, whether with a store-bought container or recycled ones, you will have to clean the containers to minimize the risk of contamination and the growth of organisms.

Thoroughly wash the containers with soap and warm water. If it’s a recycled container, fill it with water halfway and add a teaspoon of unscented household bleach for every quart of water. Swish the water around to make sure your bleach solution touches the entire surface, then rinse carefully.

Sourcing and Storing Your Water

If you’re in the U.S. and have access to tap water, you can store water straight from the tap. It’s already chlorinated and treated to take out contaminants and safe to drink. Just fill your container to overflowing with water straight from the tap and seal it. If you’re using large containers, like 55-gallon barrels, you’ll have to use a hose— there are hoses available that are rated safe to drink from.

If you’re using well water or don’t trust the water coming out of your tap, you can treat the water by boiling it for three minutes and using a filter to take out sediments and other toxins. If it’s not possible to boil your water, you can also use unscented household bleach. Just add half a teaspoon of bleach for every 5 gallons of water, mix it a bit, and let it sit for one hour.

You can also store rain water, but it will be better to use this for hygienic purposes.

Tap water in the U.S. is safe to drink, but if you’re cautious, you can use decontamination and filtration methods to make sure you have safe drinking water

After transferring the water, seal your containers tightly. Remember not to touch any of the inside of your containers or their seals to avoid contamination. Label your containers with the date you bottled them, and store them in a cool and dark place. Keep your containers away from sunlight and toxic substances like gasoline or pesticides. Sunlight can damage the plastic container and contaminate its contents, and promote the growth of microorganisms in clear bottles. The chemicals present in concrete can also react with your plastic container, so raise them with the use of wooden pallets.

Bottled water will be good for an indefinite period if it’s not opened and the seal is intact, but the water that you stored should be rotated every 6 to 12 months. If done properly, the water you stored should be clear and not have a funny smell. It could taste flat because of the absence of air, but this can be easily remedied by aerating the water (just pour it back and forth between two containers). You can purify it if you want, but this shouldn’t be necessary if you followed the steps outlined above.