Camping & Survival

When Filtering Won’t Work: Storing Potable Water

Picture shows a green algae bloom on Lake Erie.

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.

[suzanne]

The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (46)

  1. 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?

    1. @ 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”.

  2. 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)

  3. @ 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

    1. @ 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.

    2. 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.

    3. 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!

    4. 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.

    5. 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.

    6. 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!

    7. 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.

    8. @ 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!!!

    9. 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!

  6. 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?

    1. 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.

    2. @ 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.

  7. 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.)

  8. 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.

    1. 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.

  9. @ 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.

  10. I also have to disagree with one aspect of article.
    I have found keeping water stored with zero light in non-clear containers works better than clear or opaque containers. I used a 15gal opaque container for deer lease water and in a matter of days, interior was coated with a layer of green algae and algae chunks floating in water. I now add chlorine to prevent and use for cleaning. On the other hand, gray 5gal containers and black 55gal poly drums I have yet to detect algae growth. I do whole-hearthedly agree with Archie about freezing (they can be clear jugs if freezing) for all the reasons he indicated.

    1. @ WilliamWayne.

      You might also try using Water Bladders, which range in sizes, from 5-gallons to 55,000-gallon capacities. Or, you can go to a Cooper, and 40-gallon wood barrels made for you. But, you best bet, would be too try Used Whiskey Barrels. Though, the interiors are charred for the whiskey making process. The Potable Water, might have a slight whiskey taste, its still a practical storage of water substitute.

    2. Thx for the tip Secundius. If I ever have the need for more containers and the funds, I will consider. I was just offering difference of opinion in articles recommendation of clear and opaque containers. As of now, I already have five black poly drums, a 200gal galvanized water well tank with top cut off to catch rain water and an unlimited supply of free 20 liter square gray seal-able poly jugs. The latter stacks and stores well (they don’t roll :-). I plan to concentrate on dehydrating meats, fruits and veggies for awhile and vacuum seal since my honey got the equipment for me last Christmas. Stay alive and Well…

    3. @ WilliamWayne.

      Thanks, but I’m already set. As a side note, and don’t laugh. The actually have 3D Printers now, that can actually produce FOOD, A 21st Century version of 22nd Century, Star Trek Enterprise series “Protein Resequencers” that will actually produce food that Tastes, Smells, Color. But sadly, not the texture and look of real food If I had to describe it, it looks like the food aboard the Discovery Spaceship, in 2001: A Space Odyssey. I’m not sure weather its available to the general public yet, but, MIT students created it in 2013 or 2014.

  11. I use several methods for water storage. I have an electric distiller that I use to fill sterilized gallon jugs. Distilled water has a better shelf life than tap water.

    I also bought 100 gallon trash bin to collect rainwater. I replaced a down spout with a flexible one and when it rains, I lift the lid on the bin, insert the down spout, and refresh the water. To keep it clean between rainfall I have a small, floating chlorine dispenser designed for hot tubs.

    Finally, I have an above ground pool that holds 20,000 gallons. I can also run the flexible down spout to the pool. Combined with my filtration and purification chemicals, we should be set for any emergency.

    1. @ Blake Gabel.

      Mil-Spec Plus, offers a Military Grade Aluminum Potable Water Tank/Trailer configuration, that will hold 500-US. Gallons of Non-Corrosive Liquid. or, you might also try a Military-Surplus 500-US.Gallon Potable Water Storage Bladder. Which comes in a Aluminum Support/Protective Cage. Or, you might go with the same information I provided WillianWayne, your neighbor below.

  12. 1) Most municipal water systems are very basic…pull “fresh” water from reservoir, lake, or stream…screen for large particulates…run through a fish tank…add chlorine to kill bacteria & keep bacteria down for up to 3 days in pipes to your house. It’s that simple. Filter particulates and add chlorine.
    2) Most municipal water systems cannot handle a toxin in the water. Some plants reclaim sewer water and utilize RO as an last step, but the process is still the same…Filter particulates, chlorinate, then RO.
    3) Short of having prepared stored water…you can take a chance the water in the heater & toilet is safe. Depending how far you are from the treatment plant, there could be water 3 days earlier still in the pipes that is not polluted.–Check with your municipality how and where your water is coming from. Second, research the size of the pollutant molecule and see if your filter/RO can filter that out. RO’s filter to a very small size, but there are toxins that are small enough to make it through.
    4) In AZ, having a water purification system is common. I’ve had ROs in all my houses as a everyday use due to hard water. It’s a cheap investment of less than $200 for a 5 stage filter at Costco or elsewhere.
    5) I, and I tell the fam elsewhere in the country…store at least 1 case of water per person. You never know when a water pressure pump fails, or the water system is compromised like in the article. Something is better than nothing.

  13. Drinking water is only half the need.Store bought drinking water is easy to stalk pile.The other half is for sanitation and keeping clean. This is just as vital as staying hydrated. I use empty laundry soap and bleach bottles.I rinse them fill with water then add 1/2 tsp of clorox bleach per gallon. You may not want to drink this but it will keep you clean. —— Learn to make a basic SOLAR STILL. This will turn dish,bath,and laundry water back into more utility water thus saving drinking water. — In the bunker keep a box of diotomaceous earth from the pool supply and some fish tank charcoal. With this and some PVC parts you can make a drip filter.

  14. I know they warned of boiling it, but what about distilling it? With micrcystins being more concentrated when boiling, I know that’s bad, but will they rise with water vapors as well, or stay behind?

    1. Might work. Check out solar stills . You won’t need power or a back woods friend with a black pot.— PS I am looking for a back woods friend with a black pot!

    2. @ Rev & OLD&GRUMY.

      You might also consider trying a Single Stage Reverse Osmosis Water Purification System form AquaCave.com. The Spectra Pure Max Cap Di Single Stage DI System, for around $80.00 USD. which will (and I’m not guaranteeing it) to filter approximately 50-Gallons of Potable Water/Day. Or, you might try (and don’t laugh) a Small Portable Dehumidifier, which will draw the water out of the air/ground/wherever. I live on the East Coast, where it gets extremely humid during the summer months.

    3. Secundius. I am old, grumpy and CHEEP! “try to build it first.” Your all probably tired of hearing about my dad and his junk box. But that is a quote. I like the dehumidifier trick. I catch the drip from the AC for plants.Even in DRY SoCal I get 5–10 gallons a day.

    4. @ OLD&GRUMPY.

      They have RV model available that can run on low-voltage DC batteries, too. As far as the Reverse Osmosis Water Filter, It was only a suggestion. For my personal use, however, I would prefer a 5-Stage system, or even go for a 3-Stage System. The more stages, the better, the safety value of the potable water is concerned. But that’s just my opinion. I wasn’t trying to be rude, or a butinski. In my suggestions.

    5. I was not offended. my skills at self deprecating humor are not strong. I am sort of cheap . My humor didn’t work. “Butinsky” is a good word I had forgot. Will try to work it in next Thanksgiving. Some time I still have to tell you about the bear the cops and the grenade launcher.

    6. @ Rev and OLD&GRUMPY

      I found a Portable 3-Stage Reverse-Osmosis System for you guys, if your still interested. The Product is called “The Brondel Cypress Counter-Top, 3-Stage Reverse-Osmosis System”. It measures 3.75″W x 10.5″H x 13.5″D, and weights just 4.8-lbs. And produces 1/2-Gallons/Minute, of Potable Drinking Water. The cost is $175.99 USD. And can be obtained, at (http://healthproductsforyou.com).

  15. I store gallon jugs of water in my freezer for 2 reason. 1 for water, 2 in case electricty goes out it helps keep the freezer cold. The plus side is I always have ice when I need it for coolers etc.

  16. I’ve worked in the food services industry for over 30-years. And I agree with Hank Alvarez, that any Chlorine based with kill any known pathogen put into the general populations water supply system. Besides that, most Large Metropolitan Water Supply Systems , come more than one source And its not the easy as it looks and sounds to Contaminated a Populous Water Reservoir. It would be like, breaking into a Nuclear-Power Facility.

  17. When ISIS (already here in the United States according to what I saw on a couple of recent TV news casts) poisons the water supply to any major city it wishes to, we gonna be in a heap of trouble.

    Maybe such an action on their part might be difficult, but it seems to me that it would only be natural for these rats to figure out how to kill, cripple or sicken as many of our population as easily as possible, and I am not talking about a couple of thousand people as was the case on 9/11. Poisoning the water supplies to major populated areas would be a mega-disaster to those who have no other source of water.

  18. I carry a Forward Osmosis Water Filtering System, on me a all-times. Because of very rare case of Rheumatoid Arthritis in/of which I have. This Forward Osmosis, will filter all kind of brackish water sources, including salt water, oily waters, and if the manufacturers claims are to be true (Nuclear Wast Water too). Mind you I never had a chance too test out that claim, and with second thought. I don’t have any desire too do so. It will filter up too 50-gallons of water per day. Again, I’ve never tested that claim either.

  19. After the Whittier earthquake I was sent to LA for disaster preparedness training by my employer. I’ve tried to stay up on the subject and a few things in this article just don’t agree with what we were taught.

    First, I think the daily amount of potable water required per person is off. I taught Standard First Aid and Personal Safety at the community college and the ARC recommendation was, “two gallons a day per person,” not one. This was for cooking, drinking, teeth brushing and washing. I know FEMA recommends only one but I’d rather have more than not enough especially in a hot climate.

    I agree that stored commercial water is probably the best and I’ve noticed the stamped expiration date is usually about a year. I’m assuming that it’s stored out of direct sunlight as where I live you can get algae to start growing in about a week in a glass of our tap water in direct sun light. For a lot of us city dwellers though the garage is the only practical place we have to store water that much water. Mine gets into the mid to high eighties during the heat of summer but I fail to see why that would be a problem. I do keep two cases of bottled commercial water on hand but I invested in a number of five gallon clear plastic containers from Walmart for the rest and they’re well designed with handles and screw on lids.

    The purification with unscented chlorine bleach for a shelf life period of six months seems off in this article and this is another area I have to challenge. Almost every phone book I’ve ever seen seems to be quoting what I recall the ARC recommended: Clear water: 2 drops per one quart, 8 drops per gallon and 1/2 teaspoon for five gallons. The formula for cloudy water is double strength. I paper clipped the page just so I can’t forget. They recommend it being shaken and left to sit for 30 minutes.

    I don’t think you can have too much water on hand and if you have a basement or a barn to store it in that might be okay but don’t do like a friend of mine who has it stacked up about four feet high in the corner next to his kids bed. In a good shaker he’s going to have another problem when that stuff comes tumbling down. But that’s the same guy who got glass bottles from work and put them on the top shelf in his garage.

    I’m very much against the use of swimming pool or spa water for drinking as it not only has chlorine but acids. That would be okay for bathing or washing or use in your toilet tank if the sewage system is still available but we were warned against that years ago. I’d be interested in what others have to say about these things.

    1. Re-read the article. It said to treat with bleach, one teaspoon per quart to sanitize. That is not the drinking water. Did you miss where it said to pour it out and refill?

      “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.”

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Time limit exceeded. Please click the reload button and complete the captcha once again.

Your discussions, feedback and comments are welcome here as long as they are relevant and insightful. Please be respectful of others. We reserve the right to edit as appropriate, delete profane, harassing, abusive and spam comments or posts, and block repeat offenders. All comments are held for moderation and will appear after approval.