The thirteenth capacity that I introduce in my eBook is that you must properly treat all collected water for consumption. In it I state that:
“Properly treat all collected water for consumption. We’re spoiled by our municipal water systems because they provide us with reliable, pathogen-free water. This isn’t the case in many parts of the world. When the tap stops flowing, you MUST assume that all collected water (especially surface sources such as from rivers) is NOT safe for consumption—unless you’re on well water already, that is. While bleach is a handy option there are other, better alternatives, specifically the Big Berkey Water Filter is a great option for emergency situations. By the way, do you know how to dose bleach properly for water disinfection? You can use too little as well as too much. And recognize that it’s not effective against every pathogen. You can find plenty of pertinent water treatment information here.”
As you’re well aware by now, water should be treated like gold in a post-disaster scenario. It WILL be the most precious resource and among the most difficult for the majority of people to find, especially those trapped inside major cities.
The thing is that water is all around us… in lakes, ponds, streams, as rainfall, and even underground. The first problem is getting to it. The second major problem is that ALL collected water must be considered unsafe to drink; this is particularly true for any surface water from streams or ponds because of the risk for contamination by animals as well as humans.
So, you need to know how to properly treat water once you’ve collected it. Fortunately, there are many methods you can use to do so, however, you should understand that all treatment methods are not created equal.
Rather than thoroughly discussing all possible methods here, I’m going to discuss my plans of action for treating collected water, in particular at home and if necessary on foot. For those who are interested in more information, here are a few of the better resources that compare an assortment of water treatment options. I would encourage you to check them out.
At Home Methods
Berkey Filters in Make-Shift Containers
My main water treatment method at home will be this make-shift treatment system. I’m sure the British Berkefeld manufacturer’s do not like this idea one bit, but instead of spending the money on a complete Berkey system, I choose to make a Big Berkey Clone [YouTube Video].
The idea is to use a set of Berkefeld 9″ Ceramic filters as shown to the left and insert them into a set of five gallon buckets as demonstrated in the video. Then simply install a spigot in the bottom of the collection bucket… and voila! Well, that’s the idea anyway.
I’m not sure how safe, reliable, or recommended this idea is for long term use, but given the cost savings it was the way to go for me at the time. Since I can filter thousands of gallons of water, this system should last for many months without worry.
My backup method will be the SODIS Method [YouTube Video], which is a rather ingenious way to use the power of the sun’s rays to disinfect water for virtually nothing! And, the best part is that you can utilize all those (clear) soda bottles that just end up in the trash or recycling. In fact, I kept about two dozen clear two liter bottles around for this very reason.
Of course, there are limitations (such as cloudy days) as well as a time lag (of at least a few hours) but, by and large, SODIS is inexpensive and easy. If you drink soda, keep the bottles–the clear ones only–and store them away for this very purpose.
Although many people state boiling as their first alternative to disinfecting water, it is actually number three on my list for the primary reason of fuel consumption. If I happened to have a “PIG” propane tank or some other seemingly unlimited source of fuel then boiling would certainly make it up the list. Since I don’t, this method will only be used if I have to or if there is a need to ensure the water is completely sterilized such as with medical applications.
Chlorine or Pool Shock
Chlorine (or pool shock) is often a top method of water disinfection, but it is actually my last resort at home. Why? I just don’t like the idea of consuming nasty chemicals for days, weeks, or months on end. Sure, it may work just fine but I’ve decided it’s not for me or my family.
Having said that, I do keep a few bottles of unscented bleach around for this purpose and others. Pool Shock [YouTube Video] (the same stuff as used to disinfect pool water) is touted as a better solution because it stores far longer than liquid bleach will. While I’ve never bothered to purchase the stuff, I may still do so just because it’s cheap and stored long term.
On Foot Methods
My first choice for on-foot methods is the Steripen, which uses the same exact idea as the SODIS method shown above. I really like the idea and this device quite a bit. In fact, the cost on them have come down quite a bit recently, so you might consider purchasing one. There are several different models available; here’s a nice comparison chart [PDF File] of four of the Steripen models.
A note of caution: Be sure to pay attention to the battery! When I purchased my Steripen Traveler years ago I didn’t realize that it didn’t use AA batteries as the Classic model did. I now see this as a huge mistake, since I cannot readily recharge CR123 batteries. If I had to do it over again I would have choose the Classic model because it uses AA batteries.
Potable Aqua PA+
Potable Aqua is basically iodine in pill form and is meant as a short term solution for water disinfection. Because it is a chemical, this is not my first choice for on-foot disinfection options. The pills are already pre-dosed for (if I remember right) one liter of water and are really easy to use. I keep a few of these in our bug out bags and a set in our vehicle kits as well, just in case.
A note on what to buy: Potable Aqua comes in two styles: one with PA+ and one without. Get the one WITH PA+ as this includes another pill (really just vitamin C) that helps to neutralize the taste and color that is caused by the iodine. As with chlorine, the taste is rather off-putting to me.
Beware that they do have a limited shelf life, especially when opened. Also, you do need to wait between 30-60 minutes after dosing before consuming treated water.
Aquamira Emergency Filter
This emergency water filter is my last resort. Normally, I would choose to put a water filter above chemicals but I would not consider this particular filter to be as effective as most commercial backpacking water filters and probably not as effective as Potable Aqua. It is really just an “emergency” filter.
Regardless, I keep one in each bug out bag and each vehicle kit in the original packaging for safe-keeping.
For the cost, you can’t beat them as there is nothing to deteriorate, they are lightweight, and take up very little room. I’ve actually seen a guy drink pond water with one… I assume he’s still alive!
If I Had the Money
Big Berkey with Black Filters
If I had the money, I would actually choose to purchase a complete British Berkefeld system that incldues the black filters. The black filters are supposed to be able to filter out more stuff than the white ceramic filters and do a better job of filtering in general. (If I had to do it over again I would have simply purchased the black filters over the white filters when I made my clone.)
I also really like the idea of filtering and storing my water in a stainless steel housing unit. It has to be better than an orange Home Depot bucket… or any non-food-grade bucket for that matter!
Someday, this will be in my supplies… I just can’t afford it yet.
Again, for an on-foot option and if I had the money, this Katadyn Pocket would be idea. It filters just about everything nasty and will filter thousands of gallons. They are rugged and very dependable (from what I hear).
For the price, it is probably the best bet for bug out situations. I don’t know why I never bothered to purchase one of these when I had the resources to do so. That was a mistake for sure. I would encourage you to look into it if bug out’s (or hiking) may be in your future.