Prepping 101 (Storey, 2018), by Kathy Harrison, is a guide for families hoping to prepare for emergencies and disasters that could threaten them and their surrounding community. Harrison is a national spokesperson who promotes family preparedness and foster parenting. In addition to authoring Just in Case, Another Place at the Table, and One Small Boat, she has also appeared on the National Geographic’s Doomsday Preppers, The New York Times, People, and NPR. The following excerpt speaks to the importance of planned water collection and usage.
Plan for Long-Term Water Usage
After you have taken care of your short-term water needs, your next task is to think about how you’d handle a longer-term water shortage. The sad truth is that the world is changing. Our systems are fragile, and things do fall apart. It is tempting to think that catastrophes happen to other people in faraway places, but more and more often we see a different reality. Families in Flint, Michigan, have been unable to drink the water from their taps for more than a year. In other places, water-main breaks from aging infrastructure have left people without potable water for many weeks. With that in mind, taking a wider view of our water vulnerability is a good idea.
There are five critical steps you can take to ensure your ability to meet your family’s long-term water needs in a crisis.
- Assess your risk. Each home has a different level of water vulnerability. Does your water supply depend on electricity? Do you live in a flood or an earthquake zone? Are you able to access surface water?
- Protect existing supplies. Should an earthquake or flood damage water lines or contaminate your municipal water source, you must prevent that water from flowing into your home and contaminating the water in your pipes or hot water tank. Locate the intake valve (usually in your basement) and learn how to shut the water off. You may need a pipe wrench and some strong muscle to turn it.
- Locate potential sources of water. Take a stroll around your neighborhood looking for other sources of water. You must always assume surface sources of water are contaminated even if they appear clean, but that does not mean you should rule any of them out. Now think about how you would get that water to your home. You would need vessels, of course, and possibly a wagon or handcart. Would you need a siphon to transfer the water to a bucket or perhaps a ladle or a smaller bucket? Water is heavy. A 5-gallon bucket weighs about 40 pounds, which would be too much for me to manage without a wagon or cart.
- Explore rainwater collection. If you live in an area of adequate rain and snowfall, consider collecting the water that drains off your roof. If you have a 1,000-square-foot house, you can collect about 620 gallons of water with every inch of rainfall. However, gathering the water that falls from the sky in the form of rain or snow is not as easy as putting out a bucket. To get water in a volume that will be useful, you will need to create a catchment system. This can be as easy as directing the water from your roof through gutters to a downspout and into a barrel. A fine mesh screen will keep bigger pieces of debris out of your gathered water, but the water will still need to be treated before you consume it.
- Learn how to purify water. You must treat all gathered water as potentially contaminated and learn how to treat it before consuming a drop. Lots of nasty things contaminate water. Biological contaminants like E. coli, Giardia, and Salmonella are common. Vibrio cholerae (which causes cholera), Legionella, and Cryptosporidium are also found in untreated water. Water from any aboveground source may look clean, smell fine, and taste good while still harboring deadly pathogens. Even the purest-looking mountain stream may be polluted with animal or human feces or runoff from farms or upstream homes.
Note that in some areas of the country, collecting rainwater is restricted or prohibited, due to concerns about drought, water rights, or public health. Check the laws in your state before you set up a rainwater harvesting system.