Water is the most precious resource on this planet and yet most of us in the U.S. and Canada have no idea just how serious a global water crisis is becoming. According to water.org there are 345 million people without access to water and 3.4 million people die every year from a water-related disease. They also report that 780 million people lack access to clean water. We may sit here in North America and say “oh that doesn’t happen here” – or does it?
Long gone are the days in which we can dip our head in a cold body of water and enjoy the freshness of that water without fear of contamination. This incredible experience is rapidly vanishing from even remote wilderness areas of the U.S. and Canada. As industry infiltrates remote locations bacterial contamination is on the increase.
Many people are fed up with town or city water because it is heavily chlorinated and in far too many communities, is fluoridated as well. Some of these people have taken matters into their own hands and collect water from safe natural springs or they collect rainwater.
The first line of defense in purifying water is knowing how to with the available resources around you. Please don’t ever think that you’ll never be in a position that will warrant you having to purify your drinking water; the odds are quite high that we all may be in a vulnerable position and will have no option at some point in our lives.
Earthquakes and Volcanic Eruptions
Natural catastrophes can take the infrastructure and cause serious damage to it leaving communities without access to clean water. This scenario is quite possible for those living in earthquake zones such as along the New Madrid and the west coast.
Should you be in an area near a volcano, an eruption may have a negative effect on drinking water. “The addition of volcanic ash to water supplies can lead to a change in water quality. The most common ash-contamination problems result from a change in turbidity and acidity, but these usually last a few hours to a few days unless the ash fall occurs for prolonged periods of time.” (http://volcanoes.usgs.gov/ash/water/)
Hurricanes, Tornadoes and Flooding
Although hurricanes and tornadoes are mostly a central or east coast threat, floods can happen anywhere at anytime. Any one of these can potentially damage the infrastructure creating a horrible situation for millions of people needing fresh water. Floods can potentially increase the transmission of communicable diseases as well.
If you think the government or any agency is going to be there to help you get fresh water then please keep in mind it may not happen. One only needs to recall the horror stories that came in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
Pipelines, Fracking and Agriculture
How many of you live near an area in which there is a gas pipeline, an oil refinery or there is fracking? Fracking is a rapidly increasing industry and with it there is rapidly increasing ground water pollution. This has become a nightmare for far too many people. (If you haven’t already seen Gasland and Gasland 2 by Josh Fox then I highly recommend you watch these well-researched documentaries.)
Over-and-over again we see in the news how there is ongoing natural disasters with pipeline leaks or oil spills into our fragile water supplies. There certainly are no shortages of natural disasters occurring as a result of the oil industry.
Let’s not forget big agricultural farms that spray an inordinate amount of fertilizers and chemicals onto the soil; these chemicals make their way into groundwater which in turn affects the quality of drinking water. In countries such as China and India these chemicals are creating water pollution that is costing billions of dollars every year.
Yes, many prescription and over-the-counter drugs are in your drinking water if you use water from a public system. There is a huge percentage of pharmaceutical and personal care products that end up into our water supplies.
In 2008, USA Today reported that many drugs such as antibiotics, anti-convulsants, mood stabilizers and sex hormones were found in the drinking water supplies of at least 41 million Americans. Anti-depressants are another common drug found in some of our drinking water.
If this is something you were not aware about then I recommend you read the (Associated Press) USA Today’s article Drugs found in drinking water.
What to Do To Get Pure Water
Now that you’re probably feeling pretty upset about the state of our water you can be empowered to take action and have some control over your drinking water. Please keep in mind that many of these methods are intended for survival situations only.
Boiling water is the best way to kill germs, parasites, viruses and bacteria. Bringing the water to a boil is not enough. The water needs to boil for a full minute. If you live at an elevation over 6,500 feet then the water must be boiled for two minutes.
Store your (cooled) water in clean containers made for storing food or water. Label it and store in a cool dry place.
Boiling does not make heavily polluted water safe.
If you are in a situation in which you cannot boil water then you can use unscented household bleach. Never use scented bleach, color-safe bleaches or bleaches with added cleaners.
This method will not kill all types of germs, only some and it won’t work on heavily polluted water either.
Bleaching is not a preferred method of purifying but if you are in a survival situation and have no other option then this is better than nothing. Remember, this method will NOT kill parasites. If you are ever unsure about the safety of your water, even after it has been treated, do not consume it.
Bleach works best when added to water that is about room temperature, 68˚F. Add 2 drops of unscented household bleach to 1 quart of warm water. Mix well. Cover and let it stand for at least 30 minutes before drinking. There should be a slight chlorine smell; if not then add another 2 drops. Let the water to stand for another 15 minutes.
If the water is cloudy and colder than 50˚F, or if the water is from a lake, stream, or shallow well use 4 drops of unscented household bleach to 1 quart of water. Mix the bleach and water together. Cover and let it stand minimum 2 hours before drinking. If the treated water has a strong taste of chlorine, let the water stand open to the air for a few hours.
You can also use chlorine tablets but be sure to follow the directions on the package.
Cloudy or Murky Water
If the water is cloudy or murky, it must be filtered before boiling or treating. Pour the water through a clean cloth or a coffee filter.
Iodine to Treat Water
Iodine can be used but long term use (more than one to two months) may result in thyroid problems. Pregnant women should never use this method. Iodine is never to be used if you have an iodine allergy.
Iodine works best when added to room temperature water 68˚F. To treat water, add 5 drops of 2% Tincture of Iodine to 1 quart of warm water. Mix well. Let it stand for at least 30 minutes before drinking. To treat cold water (41-59˚F), use the same amounts, but let the water stand for 40 minutes before drinking.
If you are using iodine tablets, always follow the directions on the package.
Water Filtration or other Treatment Options
If you are in a situation in which your drinking water will require treatment for a long period of time, other sources of water may become necessary. Bottled water is an option but certainly not a sustainable choice. Installing a filtration system is an option or you can go to many outdoor shops nowadays and purchase handheld filtration systems.
To remove some types of germs, such as Giardia, filters must have an absolute pore size of 1 micron or less, and be certified by the National Sanitation Foundation International or another accredited third party agency. Jug-type water filters (such as Brita), are not made to remove germs from an unsafe water supply and will not remove Giardia.
A SteriPEN is another option as it uses ultraviolet light to destroy 99.9 percent of bacteria, viruses and protozoan cysts (ie giardia and cryptosporidia).
A final word on water filtration: there is a huge difference between a water filter and a water purifier. Filters do not filter out viruses. There are water purifiers that pass the water through both a filter and an iodine compound that kills smaller organisms that have passed through the filter. These purifiers kill all microorganisms down to 0.004 microns; however, anyone with an iodine allergy must not use these.
Last but not Least . . .
Every single one of us is vulnerable to having our clean water contaminated at some point in our lives. Knowing the source of contamination and how to purify it is mission critical.
Finally, be sure to store as much bottled water as possible in your home. Be creative, place bottles under your bed, in closets, anywhere there is space. Never think it’ll always happen to someone else because one day you will be that someone else.
Sources: Curtis, Lewis. The Backpacker’s Field Manual. New York: Three Rivers Press, 1998, 2005. Print