When Filtering Won’t Work: Storing Potable Water

By Suzanne Wiley published on in Camping & Survival

Imagine having to drive 35 miles just to find water. That is what happened just 45 minutes from where shooters are competing in the Camp Perry National Matches in Port Clinton, Ohio. An emergency water crisis over the weekend in Toledo forced people to drive up to 50 miles away in search of safe drinking water.

On Saturday, August 2, 2014, the city of Toledo, Ohio told residents to stop drinking the tap water. The ban included using tap water to wash dishes and brushing the teeth with the contaminated water. For two days, Toledo citizens had to depend on store-bought water or wait in line for hours for government handouts. Deployed National Guardsmen handed out 300 cases of bottled water and the Red Cross delivered water to homebound citizens.

Picture shows a green algae bloom on Lake Erie.

Microcystin is a toxin found in algae that forms in water sources from fertilizer run-off.

The ban came after tests of treated water from Lake Erie—Toledo’s main source of drinking water—tested positive for microcystin levels unfit for consumption. Safe levels of microcystin are one part per billion or less. The water sampled at the treatment plant was measuring 10 to 20 parts per billion. The microcystin toxin came from a blue-green algae bloom formed in Lake Erie.

Microcystin is a toxin found in algae that forms in water sources from fertilizer run-off. The algae itself can be filtered out; however, the toxins left after the algae is gone or dies remains in the water. These toxins can make people and animals very sick and can even cause permanent liver damage. Boiling infected water makes the situation worse by producing a higher level of concentration of the toxin.

Lake Erie supplies about half a million people with water. As soon as the city issued the ban, people fled to grocery stores to stock up on bottled water. At the time, no one knew how long the ban would last and commercially packaged water quickly ran out. Further, many restaurants and schools were forced to close. Let’s quickly do the math. If the minimum amount of water needed per person per day is one gallon, for two days of the ban, Toledo needed to supply its citizens with 1.5 million gallons of water. No wonder people were driving an hour to find stores stocked with drinking water.

Though using filters utilizing activated carbon or chlorine will help purify water, even the most high-end water filtration systems cannot guarantee the safety of water contaminated with microcystin. NOAA says that the threat of toxic algae threatens water sources in every state. To be fully prepared, you truly need an alternative source of safe-to-drink water. This means storing water now while your tap water is not contaminated.

The easiest way to have long-term water supplies is buying cases of commercially bottled water. Prepackaged drinking water will remain safe to drink for up to a year if stored in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight. Do not store in garages, attics or sheds. For many people, space is always an issue when storing long-term food and water supplies. Cases of water from your local grocery or warehouse store are fortunately stable and stackable. They fit under beds, on closet and pantry floors and on most shelves. For example, in my guest bedroom closet, I have 10 cases of 0.5-liter bottles of water stacked on top of each other for a total of 30 gallons of stored water.

A cheaper way is to treat and store your tap water using cleaned and sanitized two-liter soda bottles. After finishing the soda from a two-liter plastic bottle, wash it with warm water and dish soap. Rinse it out thoroughly, so no soap is left. To sanitize, fill it with tap water and add non-scented household bleach using this formula: one teaspoon of bleach to every quart of water. For a two liter soda bottle, drop in two teaspoons of bleach. Alternatively, you may treat the tap water with chlorine or iodine tablets. Let the bottle sit for 30 minutes. Pour out the bleach and water mixture and rinse the bottle thoroughly again with water. After rinsing, fill it with just plain tap water and replace the cap tightly. Label the soda bottle with the date you bottled it. Rotate tap water every six months.

Picture shows shelves empty at a grocery store.

This grocery store near Camp Perry ran out of bottled water. Photo courtesy of Anette Wachter

If space inside your home is a serious issue or for more long-term prepping plans, you can harvest rainwater through a rain barrel underneath your gutters or use a cistern to catch rain straight from the sky. Containers for collecting rainwater vary from industrial-sized metal and concrete structures to cheaper 55-gallon food-grade plastic drums. Before drinking collected rainwater, you need to treat and purify it just as you would treat water found in the wilderness with a filter, by boiling or treating with chemicals.

Though I believe having water filters and large storage containers in case of natural disasters is essential—in the case of a “water crisis” as just what happened in Toledo, Ohio, water stored in a WaterBOB or other bathtub-fill method would not be safe to drink. Nor would I attempt to drink water from the toilet tank, hot water heater or treated water from the tap. A chlorinated pool is typically safe to drink from, as long as you have electricity to pump, filter and circulate the water. However, not many of us have that luxury.

Water is not only essential to life, we use it to cook, clean and wash. Having it in case of an emergency is imperative to our survival. Having more than one way to have safe drinking water is a smart move. Of all the discussions The Shooter’s Log has had on water and survival, we have yet to have one about what to do when even boiling or treating the water will not save you from getting sick. Toledo, Ohio has taught us a valuable lessen. Have back up for your back up.

Do you collect rainwater? Tell us about your set-up and help others who would like to do the same in the comment section.

SLRule

Introduced to shooting at young age by her older brother, Suzanne Wiley took to the shooting sports and developed a deep love for it over the years. Today, she enjoys plinking with her S&W M&P 15-22, loves revolvers, the 1911, short-barreled AR-15s, and shooting full auto when she gets the chance. Suzanne specializes in writing for the female shooter, beginner shooter, and the modern-day prepper. Suzanne is a staff writer for Cheaper Than Dirt!

View all articles by CTD Suzanne

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Comments (46)

  • MadDog

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    Water is 4.6 billion years old. Do you really think a couple of months past the ‘due date’ on the label is going to make that much difference?

    Reply

    • Servitor

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      @ MadDog

      One “Hole” in the Theory? The “Moon” was created as a By Product of a Collision of the Earth Prime to create the Moon ~4.5 Billion Years Ago. An Impact of “That Magnitude” Would Have Boiled Off any Preexisting Water. And “New Earth”, would have to start from Scratch to create “New Water”.

      Reply

  • Real Skinny, The

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    The HTI “LifePack” filter utilizes a proprietary Forward-Osmosis Membrane. In independent laboratory test, the LifePack filter meets or surpasses 6-log bateria (99.9999%), 4-log virus (99.99%) and 3-log parasites and crysts (99.9%) reduction as specified by the EPA for water purifiers. Hydration Technology Innovations, LLC. (http://www.htiwater.com)

    Reply

  • Secundius

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    @ OLD&GRUMPY. (If interested)

    At Home Dept, just $49.00 USD. Perfect Home Model EWDH4 AC/DC Thermo-Electric Dehumidifier, 2-Quarts/Day, 3-1/2-pounds weight, 13-inches by 8-inches by 5-1/2-inches and life expectancy 5-years.

    Reply

  • Secundius

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    Growing as a child in the ’60’s, just outside Washington, DC. In the Virginia suburbs, we had a Well in the back yard. It was capped-off, but it was still there. For those of you that are looking for long-term water storage, might what to consider getting a Well. Or check local ordinance laws, about having a 60,000 to 100,000-gallon Double-Walled, Vertically or Horizontally placed in the ground Potable Water Storage System buried. Depending on you Lawn-Size that is.

    Reply

  • Mark

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    I just wondered if stored for a long time, would water be dangerous to drink? In a time of need, I would gladly drink “flat” water.
    I did make a water purification set-up out of two 5-gallon buckets (with lids) bought new from Home Depot and a military-grade filter from CTD.
    I store water in one-gallon plastic bottles that had apple juice in them, bought from Kroger. I clean them well before filling them, but don’t add bleach to them either. Is the bleach really necessary?
    Thank you all in advance for helping me in areas I don’t know much about.

    Reply

    • Secundius

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      @ Mark.

      Probably a better way to go, is go to your local Marine Center, and Purchase a Self-Contained Non-Networked Reverse-Osmosis System/Cube as it usually called. Their small, compact, don’t require a lot of power, and can filter large amounts of water. Can’t remember name of hand, it’s eithe WaterPure, H20Pure or HydroPure.

      Reply

    • OLD&GRUMPY

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      A little bleach does help it keep. Remember drinking water is only half your need in crises. Water that is slightly off can still be used for washing hands and faces and pits.Keeping clean helps stop you from getting sick. KIDS are festering germ pots even on a good day! Just ask a school teacher.DISEASE KILLS more than the disaster will. Lay in a big supply of baby wipes to keep you all clean.

      Reply

    • Mark

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      Thanks, I will add a little bleach the next time I do a water change. I usually pour the stored water into my 75 gallon fish tank; but probably won’t do that again if I’ve added bleach to it in the future.
      I already have tons of baby wipes, canned food, dry beans and rice, beer/liqour, ammo, 13 gallon garbage bags to line the toilet with, gas masks with suits, etc., and enough firewood to heat the home for a couple of years.
      I hope I never need this stuff, and have to drink the fish tanks water.
      W.C. Fields said he could never drink water, because it has fish f**k in it!

      Reply

    • TAIN

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      response to Mark.

      In my 35-years in the restaurant industry. The Old Stand-Bye Rule, was one level cap of bleach per 5-gallons of water.

      Reply

    • OLD&GRUMPY

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      1 cup to 5 gal is for washing counters and stuff. Too strong to drink.1/4 to 1/2 tsp per gallon is for drinking water.

      Reply

    • TAIN

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      OLD&GRUMPY

      Read it again, I said one level CAP full of bleach per 5-gallons of water!

      Reply

    • OLD&GRUMPY

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      TAIN- Old-Grumpy and now Blind! Sorry some times the brain and eyes don’t click. Something to do with enjoying the 1970s! Not the first time I wish we could edit after posting!! You had a good tip!

      Reply

    • TAIN

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      OLD&GRUMPY

      I’ve been wishing that for a long time now. Ans pretty sure most everybody else has too. OFWU!!! It was funny, the first time is saw it, and still is.

      Reply

    • Secundius

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      @ TAIN.

      I’ll join the club, too. OFWU – Old Fart’s of the World Unit, got to love it.

      And on the subject of EDITING, Change the Light Blue Font on White Background. I can barely read the text, I mean, I’ve seen Larger, reading fine print on a legal contract, Easier too read than this!!!

      Reply

    • OLD&GRUMPY

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      W.C. must have looked like a prepper. May West asked him if he had a gun in his pocket. No. Just happy to see her!

      Reply

  • Mark

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    I have a question, (and admit I am a novice prepper): How dangerous would water be if stored in a cool basement, in the dark, for say, 2 years?
    Is it undrinkable?

    Reply

    • OLD&GRUMPY

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      Have one of the systems to purify water also. then if the bottled water is bad just run it through. It is a good idea to have a filter also. Something small you can take with you.

      Reply

    • Secundius

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      @ Mark.

      All liquids break down or in the case of wine, turn to vinegar. My suggestion would be to DISTILL IT first, then store it. Distilled Water is drinkable, but, usually has a FLAT taste to it. or you can get Water Stabilizers to put in to the water. An 18th century Naval trick, was to put an 6-pounder cannon ball at the bottom of each water cask/barrel. While this did give the water an Irony (no pun intended) or rusty tast. If was still drinkable. Your Choice.

      Reply

  • Secundius

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    I ran across with this website by happenstance, and I thought I would share with you. A, UK-based outfitter called Lifesavers, has this 5-US. Gallon (18-Liters) Royal Blue Jerry Can, which is actually as Self-Contained Water Filtration System, which can process 20,000-Liters (~5,283-US. Gallons) of Potable Water. Before it needs to be recharged. Its called, The Lifesaver Jerrycan 20000. It normally goes for $365.99 USD. But, it seem the company is having a limited sale price run of $284.99 USD. A 24.8% savings. You can contact them at (http://www.lifesaverusa.com/products/lifesaver-jerrycan/htm.)

    Reply

  • Steve Cullen

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    Good article…
    I am using a spare bedroom to store my stash.
    I buy 4 cases of bottled water from Wal-Mart $2.48 per case.

    I am also collecting 2 liter bottles or any other plastic bottle washing and sanitizing them and filling with water.

    I’ve also taken some and put them in the freezer to us as either cold water or to help keep food cold like in a ice chest for short term.

    Also have 4- 55 gallon plastic barrels to collect rain water. Then transfer to 32 gal barrels stored.

    I will tarp the roof then use gutters to direct the rainwater into the barrels.
    1″ of rain collected in a 20′ X 30 ft area will result in approximately 200 gal of water.

    Reply

    • Shayla

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      FYI Steve, those cases of water from Walmart will be getting flimsy after about a year of storage. I had about 8 cases stored and discovered after a year the plastic starts to weaken and the stacked cases were near to falling over. I used it up and switched to buying gallons of water in the heavier plastic bottles, not the milk jugs.

      Reply

  • Secundius

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    @ ANYBODY WANTING TO KNOW.

    Williams Brewing, is offering 3-Gallon Polycarbonate Carboys and 5-Gallon Glass Carboys. Carboys, are those Jugs that you find on top of Water Coolers. (http://williamsbrewing.com) PS. They also offer accessories for Carboys.

    Reply

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