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Emergency Water for Preppers Part 1: Acquisition

Avatar for Gaye Levy Gaye Levy  |  Updated: November 24, 2020
Emergency Water for Preppers Part 1: Acquisition

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When it comes to planning for a disruptive event, nothing tops the quest for a source of good clean drinking water.  Water followed by food, are the top priorities for 99.9% of all new preppers and even the seasoned pros still seek knowledge relative to keeping themselves both hydrated and fed.

What is most surprising is that as much my colleagues and I write abut water, there are still questions to be answered and water-related skills to be learned.  For that reason I have chosen to declare “Water Month” at Backdoor Survival.

Emergency Water for Preppers Acquisition | Backdoor Survival

The highlight of water month, which, by the way, is actually stretching into two months, is an exclusive series of answers to questions submitted by readers.  These questions, and there were a ton of them, were part of a recent Prepper Book Festival giveaway.

I am thrilled and honored that Daisy Luther, the author of The Prepper’s Water Survival Guide, has stepped up to answer your questions in Parts One through Three of this series on Emergency Water for Preppers.  There is more in store, including a roundup of 100% free resources for information of emergency water as well a fantastic giveaway.

So grab a cup or bottle of good clean water and let us begin with Part One of “Emergency Water for Preppers”.

Emergency Water for Preppers: Acquisition

When Gaye posted the review of my book, The Prepper’s Water Survival Guide, she asked me if I’d be interested in responding to some questions on the topic. I was very excited because I can’t think of a more vital discussion than water.

Out of all the things we prep, water is both the most vital and the most overlooked. Many times, people are far more interested in stocking food and ammo, because those categories have lots of variety. Do you want freeze-dried food or home canned goods? What is your firearm of choice? So much bandwidth on the internet has been used up on these topics.

And while it’s very important to have a loaded pantry and to be able to protect your home and family, it’s even more important to have something to drink. The lack of safe drinking water will kill you far more quickly than starvation will. In fact, you’ll only last a matter of days without it.

There were so many awesome questions that I’ve broken them into a few different articles. Today, let’s talk about acquiring drinking water.

If a disaster lasts long enough, eventually your supplies are going to run out, no matter how much you have stored.  Even though the earthquake in Haiti happened more than 5 years ago, many people have been without a source of running water ever since. A way to acquire water is essential. The following questions all have to do with the safe and reliable acquisition of water.

How can I safely and efficiently collect rainwater for consumption?

If you get sufficient precipitation in your area, rainwater collection is a viable option for water acquisition.

People often think of rain as pure and natural, but it picks up pollutants in the air and off of any surfaces it touches on the way to your collection barrel.  The way you collect it isn’t as important as what you do with the water after collection. You must always filter out the sediment and purify the water before consuming it.

I recommend the rain barrels that you can attach to the downspouts on your roof. If you intend to consume the water you collect, be sure that you purchase food grade rain barrels.

You’ll need to strain out sediment with a cheesecloth or even a coffee filter then run through a Berkey, boil, distill, or treat with bleach or pool shock.

As far as roofs are concerned, if you have the opportunity to replace a shingled roof with a metal roof, consider that the metal roof is far better for water acquisition because it doesn’t have particles ready to break free and contaminate your water, nor does it have the tiny nooks and crannies that soak up the rainfall.

What is the best way to filter water coming in from downspouts without clogging the water?

Some people use a mesh screen between the downspout and the water barrel to trap the particles, leaves, and other debris before it can enter your collection container. This will, however, clog up and can cause you to lose the water you had intended to collect.

To prevent this, you need to make a habit of regularly cleaning out your screen trap. For a double dose of protection, there are also downspout filters that will catch the larger debris before it reaches your screen. These are placed higher up on the downspout and have a collection area that is easy to access and clean.

Do you have any recommendations for OPSEC when it comes to water? For example rain barrels outside your home could be a red flag that there is a well-stocked pepper in that house if looters come by in a crisis…

There are some really pretty rain collection containers that look like large urns or planters. They’re designed to look like part of your exterior decor.

You can choose containers that go with the trim of your house to make them stand out a bit less. Other options you might consider are either fencing your backyard with privacy fencing or building some type of attractive screen around your water barrels that looks like part of the decor.

I’ve read about a gadget you can build that will remove water from the air – even when the air is dry. It sounds pretty far fetched to me. Is there any truth to such a thing?

These are called atmospheric water generators. They work by removing the ambient humidity from the air.  They’ve actually been around for centuries. The ancient Incas kept their people alive by collecting dew and channeling it into reservoirs.

More recently, a young Australian student won the Dyson Award in 2011 for his innovative take on the device. According to Gizmag, here’s how it works:

“The Airdrop irrigation concept is a low-tech design that uses the simple process of condensation to harvest water from the air. Utilizing a turbine intake system, air is channeled underground through a network of piping that quickly cools the air to soil temperature. This process creates an environment of 100-percent humidity, from which water is then harvested. The collected water is stored in an underground tank, ready to be pumped out via sub-surface drip irrigation hosing.”

Sounds miraculous, right? There are a couple of downsides.

Most devices that are available require a large amount of power to extract the water. Another issue is that if you live in an area without a lot of humidity (you know, the kind of place where you’d really need to extract water from the air because there IS no water otherwise), you aren’t going to get more than a few drops using this method. It might be viable in the tropics or in the Deep South during the muggy summer weather.

I hear people almost screaming “Do not drink distilled water!”  What are your thoughts about having a water still and drinking only distilled water? Would a major disaster make any difference in how you feel?

The reason people warn against drinking distilled water is because the distillation process doesn’t only remove the undesirable things, but it also removes the healthy minerals.  If a person is dehydrated, water totally bereft of minerals will not help to replenish electrolytes and should be supplemented with an electrolyte powder.

But that’s not the only downside. The EPA warns, “Distilled water, being essentially mineral-free, is very aggressive, in that it tends to dissolve substances with which it is in contact. Notably, carbon dioxide from the air is rapidly absorbed, making the water acidic and even more aggressive. Many metals are dissolved by distilled water.” (source)

So based on these things, I wouldn’t make distilled water my every day choice.

This being said, I’d certainly prefer to drink distilled water over contaminated water. If you’re distilling your water to purify it during an emergency, and keep in mind that a severely dehydrated person will need supplemental electrolytes, it’s unlikely to hurt you as a temporary water solution.

Can you drink the water from your swimming pool?

This is a question I get asked a lot. Everyone says, “Oh, there’s chlorine in the pool water and that keeps it safe.”

Unfortunately, there’s a lot more than chlorine in the water. There are all sorts of chemicals, including stuff to kill algae.  Unless the pool is your own, you have no idea what treatments have been used in it. Algaecide will make you very sick if you consume more than a mouthful from time to time when swimming.

But it gets worse. If the power has gone out, the pumps will stop running. The pumps are what keeps the water filtered and fairly clear of bacteria and fungi that grow there, After a couple of days, there will be so many contaminants in the swimming pool water that the chemicals would be the least of your worries. After a couple of weeks, the water will be stagnant,and will make you very ill.

Of course, before stuff begins growing in it, the 20,000 gallons of water sitting in your pool can easily be used for sanitation purposes. And, if you are really desperate, you can also treat the water and make it safer for consumption.

  • Immediately after the power goes out, put a cover on the pool.  The UV rays from the sun will reduce the effectiveness of the chlorine quickly, causing algae to grow sooner.
  • If the pool is yours and you know it has only been treated with chlorine, you can prepare some of the water for drinking.
  • Purify the pool water by boiling it
  • Run it through a high quality filter such as the Berkey.
  • Allow the water to sit in a container with the lid off for a couple of hours before consuming it. If you want to drink it immediately, pour it back and forth between two containers to aerate it.

Pool water should only be used for consumption as a last resort.


The Final Word

Whereas there were not a lot of questions pertaining to the acquisition of water, the questions that were asked were good ones. After all, it does not take a PhD to figure out that one of the biggest challenges following a disruptive event will be finding a source of water to supplement what you already have.

In closing, I want to remind you that there are many more questions that will be answered in the subsequent “Water Month” articles.  Coming soon:

Emergency Water For Preppers: Part 2 – Purification
Emergency Water For Preppers: Part 3 – Storage
Emergency Water For Preppers: Part 4 – Resources You Need to Know About

One thing you can count on is that over time, I will continue to introduce you to strategies and resources that will help ensure that you have an adequate supply of water to help you maintain both hydration and sanitation, no matter what.

And please, if you have additional questions regarding the acquisition of water, do leave a comment below.

Enjoy your next adventure through common sense and thoughtful preparation!

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Below you will find the items related to today’s article.

The Prepper’s Water Survival Guide:  You can survive up to three weeks without food, but only three days without water. When catastrophe strikes, having enough water can spell the difference between life and death. This book offers a step-by-step plan with straightforward information you can easily follow.  Written by my friend Daisy Luther, I recommended the book for everyone’s survival library!

Suncast RB50D 50-Gallon Rain Barrel: A rain barrel is a great way to collect water for, well, a rainy day.  This is the rain barrel I own.  The instructions indicate that it must be dumped regularly to prevent algae formation but since I will be using this “free” water in the garden, it will get replenished regularly by Mother Nature.  That said,  I am definitely going to keep an eye on things.

Ultimate 55 Gallon Water Barrel Combo:  As of this writing, $99.95 which is a great deal. Everyone should have at least one.  Remember, if storing in your garage or on pavers, place the filled barrel on a wooden platform and not directly on the concrete.

AquaPod:  Have you considered storing water in your bathtub?  The AquaPod is a bladder that you can use in your bathtub to store water if you know that a storm, flood, or hurricane is brewing. (I call these “disruptive events”.)

LifeStraw Personal Water Filter:  The LifeStraw is considered the most advanced, compact, ultra light personal water filter available. It contains no chemicals or iodinated resin, no batteries and no moving parts to break or wear out. It weighs only 2 oz.  making it perfect for the prepper. For more information, see my LifeStraw review.  There is also the LifeStraw Family that can be used to filter 9 to 12 liters per hour.

DryTec Calcium Hypochlorite, 1-Pound:  This is 68% Calcium Hypochlorite.  As of this writing, the price is with free shipping.  I purchased Ultima Pool Shock which is 73% Calcium Hypochlorite.  For more information, read How to Use Pool Shock to Purify Water.

Berkey Water Filter System:  I personally own a Royal Berkey and it represents a key component of my water preps.   This is definitely something you want to save up for.

Potable Aqua Water Treatment Tablets: Potable Aqua Water Purification Tablets make questionable water bacteriologically suitable to drink. Easy to use and the water is ready to drink in 30 minutes. One 50 tablet bottle treats 25 quarts of water.


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18 Responses to “Emergency Water for Preppers Part 1: Acquisition”

  1. While I store water in both the original factory bottles and some 5 gallon containers, I also have coffee filters, a Berkey and a huge garden cart. A garden cart? Yep, if I’m going to fill up 2 or 3 of those 5 gallon containers at the river about 1/3 of a mile down the road then I’m going to need a way to get them back to the house safely, so the oversized cart can easily make the trip as it’s rated for 400 pounds and has nice big tires for muddy river banks.

    If you’re thinking about a Berkey, don’t forget to get some green scrubbies to make sure you get the most out of the black filters. I also bought some of the Black Berkey Primers to use on my replacement filters just to make sure I get the full flow rate.

    And I saw someone mentioned pool shock – I just like to remind folks if you’re using pool shock to make sure you have protective gear when dealing with it, and please make sure you take care when working with it. It’s a great long term prepping item if handled properly. If handled the wrong way it can cause severe burns, blindness, fires, and death. Read up on precautions, print out a copy of them and store a copy with the pool shock packages and personal protective gear.

  2. FYI, rainwater connection in the state of Colorado, even on your own property, is illegal. You can read for yourself here: §36-20-103, C.R.S.

  3. GET A MAP look for water sources. I found a fresh water running spring about 20 miles away clean clear and cold. So have a reserve


  4. Another question about water: Many people live in the country and have water wells, but most (all?) of those wells require electricity to run the pumps. Assuming they do not have sufficient electricity to run their pumps (obvious first solution)is there any way to get water out of the wells manually in a catastrophic emergency? Thanks!

    • I am happy that you, unlike many, are concerned about access to your well water. There are manual pump solutions out there as well as solar generators. They do take an investment and from what I understand, the depth of your well may be an issue with some systems. For the short term retrieval of water, a portable generator is a good way to go. The problem with the long-term is that eventually you will run out of fuel.

      Folks on municipal water systems could have their water cut off as well. For them, the alternative is stored water (short term) or alternate water sources such as springs, ponds, and streams (long-term).

    • I hadn’t seen the simple pump before so thanks for the link. Being able to use my well without power always worries me. The fact that it is 10 feet from the street is also a concern as far as security. I’d appreciate any other info on pumps you may have as well Gaye. Looking forward to more info. I’m stocking up on water, have access to a back-up resource, but my well will be my primary source as long as I can access it.

    • I grew up wth a well and no pump. We used a bucket to draw the water up. you can get a drilled well bucket to do the same thing, pull it up and down with a rope. Mount a pulley at top and it is
      rather easy to do. With the drilled well bucket you empty it into a bucket to take indoors. Does
      any of this make sense? Just wish I had a well. We got our water that way for laundry, bathing,
      cooking, cleaning and drinking as well as watering the animals, chickens etc. Simple but efficient.
      Country living at its best.

  5. I have water stored in liter soda bottles for flushing toilets and such. If I ran out of drinking water, is there any way to render this water safe for drinking if it has been stored for a few years? Thanks!

    • Sure. Run it through a Berkey or other type of filter, treat it with bleach or Pool Shock, boil it; or use a Solar Bag or similar device for purification. I have lots of tap water stored in bottles myself (they are stored in my freezer) and if I have to use them for drinking water, I will apply one of the methods mentioned.

  6. @Gene, I used to keep minnows in a horse trough for use as bait. If I filled the tank with chlorinated water and added the minnows right after that, they all died. If I let the water sit overnight, the minnows lived. Hope that helps some.

  7. It is of interest the writer brought up Pool sanitizers that contain an ALGAECIDE, that is listed as a PESTICIDE on this package I bought, in fact I bought 12#s of this Pool Shock.
    I skipped calling the manufacture again and talked with a chemist and a pharmacist and both said the Ultima T.K.O. ,Multi- Action pool shock does contain an ALGAECIDE and it is listed as a PESTICIDE on the package.
    Used in small amounts to purify water in an emergency might be OK IF in fact you have a water purification system that would remove the chemical used to kill the algae.
    There are other Pool shocks out there and I would look for one that has only Chlorine in it and no other chemicals at all.
    Best Regards, RangerRick

    • Rick – In your research have you found a brand that you are happy with? My package does not list an algacide which is weird given they are the same item. Also, note that the EPA lists bleach as a pesticide. Here is a quote:

      “You wouldn’t think that ordinary chlorine bleach is a pesticide – but it is. Because it kills bacteria- and viruses it is called a disinfectant or an antimicrobial pesticide. And because it kills fungi and molds it is also known as a fungicide.”


      Seems like smoke and mirrors to me.

  8. My husband has been collecting chlorinated tap water in gallon milk jugs for months. We never planned on using this water for drinking as we are storing drinking water in clean, not sterile, glass jugs. In the event that the plastic jug water is ever needed for human consumption, would water purification tablets make it safe to drink?? We are having strong opposite opinions on this. We will be following the water series closely.

    • Yep, no problem however be aware that milk jugs are not very sturdy and may not hold up over the long term. Due to the milk sugars that are next to impossible to remove from the milk jugs, you will definitely want to treat it before using it as drinking water.

      PS – Also see my response to Janine below.

    • Look. Water storage is tricky. It is easier to store wash water than it is to store drinking water.
      Unsealed drinking water can easily be spoiled accidently. If you don’t handle open water with clean hands, you could ruin your drinking water, because bacteria and other bugs multiply quickly.
      Plus those stupid purifying tablets taste terrible and the life straw is no good for large quantities of drinking water.

  9. U.S. Navy used distilled water for the last century or more and didn’t add electrolytes. Other than being ornery drunks when they hit the beach, I would say they made out pretty good.


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