Storing, Purifying, and Cleaning Water During a Disaster
In the face of a disaster, access to clean water becomes an immediate and critical need. Whether it’s a hurricane flooding streets, an earthquake disrupting infrastructure, or even a power outage affecting treatment facilities, the ability to secure safe drinking water can mean the difference between survival and succumbing to waterborne diseases. This paper dives into the essential strategies for storing, purifying, and cleaning water during a disaster, empowering you to protect yourself and loved ones in times of crisis.
Part 1: The Importance of Pre-Disaster Planning
The golden rule for water security is preparation. Before disaster strikes, prioritize building a reserve of clean water and acquiring purification methods. Aim for a minimum of one gallon per person per day for three days, though ideally, plan for a week or more. Here are some storage options:
- Food-grade containers: Choose BPA-free plastic containers or glass bottles with tight-fitting lids. Rinse and sanitize them with a bleach solution (1 teaspoon bleach per gallon of water) before filling.
- Water barrels: Consider investing in larger water barrels for long-term storage. Ensure they are made of food-grade plastic and follow the manufacturer’s cleaning and filling instructions.
- Rainwater harvesting: If you have the space, install a rainwater harvesting system to collect and store naturally filtered water.
Part 2: Purification Techniques
Even if you have stored water, disaster conditions may necessitate further purification. Here are some effective methods:
- Boiling: This is the simplest and most reliable method. Bring clear water to a rolling boil for one minute at sea level (three minutes at high altitudes), then let it cool before drinking. The only disadvantage to boiling, is the concentration of heavy metals, oils and other harmful compounds. Boiling water only addresses pathogenic contamination by killing the bugs.
- Chemical treatment: Use chlorine bleach (5%–9% sodium hypochlorite) to disinfect cloudy or potentially contaminated water. Add two drops per liter or quart of water, let it stand for 30 minutes, and then test the water for residual chlorine. If the smell of chlorine persists, add a pinch of baking soda to neutralize it. While this does work for pathogens, this once again does not address other forms of contamination, and introducing bleach to your drinking water may not taste very good.
- Water purification tablets: These readily available tablets are convenient and effective for individual servings. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for adding them to water and waiting for the recommended disinfection time. As the name imply, these tablets once again handle pathogens only and add a strange flavor to the water.
- Filtration: Water filters remove large particles and bacteria from contaminated water. Choose filters with an absolute pore size of 0.2 microns or smaller for optimal protection. Remember, filters alone may not remove viruses or chemicals, so consider combining them with other methods. Many ceramic filters have some form of activated carbon inside which acts like a magnet to heavy metals, chemicals, and many forms of contamination.
- Reverse osmosis (RO) water purifiers are one of the most effective ways to remove contaminants from your drinking water. They use a semipermeable membrane that allows only water molecules to pass through, while trapping most other contaminants, including:
- Dissolved solids: such as salts, minerals, and metals
- Chemicals: such as chlorine, herbicides, and pesticides
- Microbial contaminants: such as bacteria, viruses, and protozoa
- While RO works very well, the downsides to it include sometimes more than 50% of the water is wasted, RO membranes are expensive, and for emergency use, they are typically not viable since you need a constant water pressure for them to work.
- Water Distillation: Water Distillation will give you most pure form of water. This process removes all contaminants while leaving the all the contamination behind.
Part 3: Emergency Water Acquisition and Cleaning
In dire situations where pre-stored or purified water is unavailable, you may need to resort to alternative sources. Remember, never drink untreated water directly from potentially contaminated sources like rivers, lakes, or flooded areas. Here are some options, but proceed with caution and employ additional purification methods:
- Rainwater collection: In a pinch, collect rainwater using clean tarps or containers after the initial heavy washout. Filter and boil the collected water before drinking.
- Melting snow or ice: Snow and ice from clean sources can be melted and boiled for safe drinking. Avoid areas near potential contamination like roads or industrial sites.
- Distilling: If resources allow, you can create a makeshift solar still to evaporate and condense water for purification. This type of purification is typically the only viable way for someone to desalt (ocean water) during an emergency. All other forms of purification listed above cannot allow you to drink ocean water. (High pressure RO excluded)
- Downsides to distillation include the process is energy intensive and slower production of usable water. Most household water distillers operate on electricity which may become a concern during a disaster, although there are systems that can operate and produce water without using electricity. (Examples are solar and non-electric water distillers)
- Label all water containers clearly with the date of filling and purification method used.
- Rotate your stored water every six months to ensure freshness.
- Keep purification supplies readily accessible in an emergency kit.
- Educate yourself and others in your household on these techniques before disaster strikes.
The ability to access clean water during a disaster is crucial for survival. By taking proactive measures and understanding effective purification methods, you can turn a precarious situation into one of resilience and safety. Remember, planning and preparation are key. Start building your water security toolkit today and ensure you have the knowledge and resources to weather any storm, literally and figuratively.
Note: This paper provides a general overview of water storage, purification, and cleaning techniques. It is crucial to consult official guidelines and recommendations from trusted sources (e.g., Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, local government agencies) for specific instructions and updates relevant to your region and disaster scenario.