1. After access to a sanitary toilet, water will your next most precious commodity. Generally, we cannot survive more than three days without water – sometimes less. This becomes even more acute after a disaster.
2. For an emergency, have enough potable (drinkable) water to provide each member of your household at least one gallon per person per day for one week. Two weeks is much better.
3. For emergency potable water, we recommend commercially-bottled water, unopened and stored away from direct sunlight (ideally in a darkened place). This can be stored for 18 to 24 months. Storing Tap water is another, less expensive option, however, it can only be stored for six months and requires specific kinds of storage containers that must be sterilized. Commercially-bottled water involves much less time and trouble than storing tap water.
4. The best bottled water deal we know of are the Kirkland drinking water packs from Costco. You can get a pack of six one-gallon bottles or a pack of 40 16.9 oz. bottles (total 5.28 gallons). At last check, either were priced at less than $5 per pack. Similar packs can be found at other grocery stores, but, these usually cost a bit more.
5. Some grocery stores offer water in soft, opaque, milk jug-style plastic containers. These are not recommended. These containers are not meant for long-term storage and are prone to leaking.
6. After the shelf-life period of stored water expires, the water may still remain potable, but, may have lost oxygenation, tasting flat (think of an open glass of water sitting out overnight). Flat-tasting water can be re-oxygenated simply by pouring it back-and-forth several times between two water jugs.
7. In an emergency, potable water can also be found around your home. Water may still be in your pipes (drain from taps), in ice cube trays, and in your water heater (remember to open the water heater's pressure relief valve at the top when draining). The only household water you should not consider potable is any water in your toilet – either in the bowl, of course, or in the tank. Technically, toilet tank water is clean, supplied from the same source as all other water in your home. However, toilet tank interiors are almost never cleaned and can be home to bacteria and mold. You could use tank water as "gray water" (see Gray Water below). You could possibly turn tank water into potable water, specifically for cleaning and washing, after filtering and sanitizing it (see paragraph 10). Toilet bowl water should be considered "black water" (possibly containing human waste). Leave it be. At least toilet bowl water helps to block sewer gas.
8. From every gallon of water used in an emergency, half (two quarts) should be for drinking. The third quart is for cooking or cold-soaking (see paragraph 2 in Food). The fourth quart is for washing and cleaning.
If your water supply is limited, try to avoid foods that are high in fat and protein, and don't stock salty foods, since they will make you thirsty. Try to eat salt-free crackers, whole grain cereals and canned foods with high liquid content.
9. Even for washing and cleaning, you need potable water. One quart of every one-gallon-per-person-per-day should be for washing and cleaning. That's not a lot of water and, as with all water, you should use it carefully. If you have space, hold onto at least some of your stored water that hits its shelf-life expiration (see paragraph 3). Bottled water is likely to still be potable, at least for washing and cleaning, even if you don't reoxygenate it. Tap water that has exceeded its shelf life should be re-sanitized before being used as potable water, even for cleaning and washing. If there are any doubts about the status of stored water, sanitize it (see next paragraph).
10. In a pinch, questionable water can be sanitized, at least for washing and cleaning. Sanitization is treating water in such a way that makes it potable. See Three Easy Ways to Sanitize Water.
11. Water from a swimming pool/hot tub/Jacuzzi is not recommended for consumption, even if you try to sanitize it. Although an occasional gulp of pool water won’t likely kill you, regular consumption poses too many risks from chemicals, algae, bacteria and pathogens. If necessary, sanitize this water only for washing and cleaning. Otherwise, unsanitized pool water should be considered gray water (see Gray Water below).
GRAY WATER is any water that has been used for cleaning or washing or is otherwise not suitable for consumption. It can be used in sanitation (see Twin-Bucket Toilet System). Water in toilet tanks (not toilet bowls) is also gray water. Unsanitized pool water should be considered gray water. Do not try to re-use gray water for any purpose, other than for spreading in your yard or as described in the Twin-Bucket Toilet System instructions. Unless your gray water has a lot of boron or salt in it, it probably won't hurt plants in your yard.
Return to: Prepare for the "Big One"