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.
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.
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.