Why You Need A Water Quality Tester For Survival: Lessons From Venezuela

Jose MartinezJose Martinez | Jun 12, 2020
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We have listened the rule of three so much, that I will not repeat it again. Water is life, and we know it. Its quality is so tied to our health that millions of people die in the world because of this.

Being in Venezuela, our digestive system is used to the local colonies of microorganisms living in those body waters. But, even being in the same country sometimes when ingesting water in other places (that happened to us often when vacationing in the beaches of the East) we had stomach illnesses. 

Everyone who has traveled to other countries has received the same advice: try to drink bottled water only. However, this is not possible in some conditions. I am used to drink lots of water, and good quality mineral bottled water here is freaking expensive, and I can’t afford it.

Some of us don’t have another choice but drink tap water, even though when locals and even the authorities advise this should be avoided. I heard about a young man suffering from kidney disease because of this. I guess he had a pre-condition.

In Ecuador, I tasted it from the tap and slowly stopped buying bottled water. At the end of the 6 months, I was there, I just drunk tap water, and it was great quality.

Same with the high calcium water on an island in the Caribbean where I lived for 3 months. No kidney problems, at all.

But not in Lima.

Chemicals in the water here are so strong that we need to let water lay still until they dissolve on to the air: they are a source of irritation in head and other parts and hair loss.

To make it less harmful to drink I have simple sand plus activated-coal filter, just a tube that fits perfectly in a 2 gal. bottle and has a small removable bowl on top. I filter an entire bottle with tap water, throw in a quarter of a purifying tab (enough for 20-22 liters), and I’m good to go.

My kiddo doesn’t like the taste but I’ve discovered that removing the cap and let it airing for 8 hours after you dissolve the purifier and agitating a few times, the strong taste disappears (because of the gas dissolved in the water goes to the air, then) and he tolerates it much better.

This has been one of my most important acquisitions since I started prepping, indeed. Water is a perfect medium for bacteria growth. Good bacteria and the other ones. Not too much to explain here. This being said, our life expectancy in modern times is much greater thanks to this discovery. However, this is not our only concern. There are some other things to consider when you want to make sure your children are drinking clean water. 

For some other water filter options, check out this post.

If you are looking for Big Berkey alternatives, this post will help.

Important note: distilled water is NOT healthy to drink all the time. Will this last longer in storage conditions? Sure. It´s been condensed and eliminated of any trace of biological or mineral contaminants. 

But it will reduce the minerals in your system so fast that you wouldn´t believe it, and this can lead to a miserable event. Water that is distilled has been stripped of the trace minerals that make that fancy mineral water we buy and prefer so healthy.

Avoid drinking only distilled water. If you have to drink it for an extended period of time, then be sure to take a good daily vitamin even if you don’t usually.

In our water in the tropics, we usually won´t find lots of something called in chemistry volatile chemical organic compounds like methane, or similar gases.

This is particularly interesting in Venezuela because we have relatively few underground water sources: most of our water supply comes from surface streams, dams, and treating plants. However, in other countries, there are lots of underground sources. We will review some of those kits too in the description below. 

Another important thing to consider is how efficient your filtering system is. Your body can tolerate some degree of particles in the water being ingested, but just some size, and in some amount. This amount is relative, and varies with every person.

However, our modern science and industry have provided the standard user with the needed means to measure this, with affordable and easy-to-use apparatus now available commercially. This way we are going to make sure that our water is drinkable. 

With the amount of chlorine I don´t believe we have too much of a trouble with bacteria; but I have been thinking about the dissolved total solids, as these pipes are old. This is one of the oldest cities in South America, after all.  

And this is the first reason.

Water can have solid particles that won’t do you any good and may cause harm.

The effect of these solids, which are not dissolved but floating freely, only that are too small to be noticed, can be quite harmful on the long term. Good thing is, we can detect their amount and make sure these are not in high proportion, but in quantities, our body can tolerate. 

Same that with soil tester kits, there are plenty of water testers out there. Basically we are going to find two different types: the electronic gauges for pH and solids, and the paper stripes for pH with other methods to measure solids.  

As preppers, we look for independence and reliability. There are services where you collect the sample and mail it to a lab, which is great, as much as this lab continues in business. 

However, there are some of us that would prefer to keep this kits in storage until needed. Not exactly the best approach, because the reactive compounds have an expiration date, but it’s something you should add to your operational expenses. 

Something that must be clear, there is not a “do-it-all” type of kit exactly. We have different kits for different needs.  We can mention between the contaminants heavy metals like lead, one of the most common, cadmium, mercury, copper, iron, and some others.

I find especially useful those kits with stripes for the test of this elements. A simple test in the water source of our potential bug out location and it can save a lot of money and health hazards.

Drinking Water Test Kit – 10 Minute Testing For Lead Bacteria Pesticide Iron Copper and More

I prefer this kit over others because it includes a real important test bacteria, in addition to heavy metals, and one of the most common contaminants we’re going to find all over the world in water streams: pesticides. Why is that one of my favorite kits? Because I almost got killed when I was just a few months old because of stomach infection by bacteria. Amoebas, exactly. And they have been surging every now and then.

Worst disease ever. That´s why I am so terrified to get something like cholera. Jee. Be aware, in order to detect if the water is contaminated with bacteria (especially with E. Coli, one of the dangerous ones) the test takes over 48 hours of incubation. It´s just the way it is and without sending the samples to a lab, not too much can be done. I wouldn´t worry too much, either: purifying tablets will take care of 99.9% of bacteria present in our water, so we can just taste for pesticide, metal content, and their concentration with an electronic gauge if we want to be really careful, and we should be good. 

Drinking-Water Test Kit for Home Tap and Well Water

A good kit to get for those who don´t feel quite comfortable with the handling of lab instruments and materials is much simpler and easy to use that will indicate if the water is drinkable or not.

Lead Iron Copper and Mercury – Home Water Test Kit for Well Tap and Drinking Water

If you are sure there are no bacteria, and just want to verify heavy metals then this is a good option  

Just vacuum-sealing a kit and incorporating that in our bugout bag will allow us to do a quick test in case we have to make it through areas with potentially contaminated water streams.

A quick internet search of the area where your BOL is will be helpful to know if you should be concerned enough about water. I would add a couple of collapsible bottles as well and purifying pills. Hikers know that you drink much more water in the field than what one believes being at home.  

You should test often that your filtering system, if you have one, is working effectively. 

For solids in water, this is done with a PPM gauge. This is just a small piece of electronics calibrated to measure the resistance of the water with very small solid particles suspended onto the water. According to this measurement, we can know how many Parts Per Million of “dirt” or solids we have in our water. It´s an inexpensive, but quite useful tool. If you have some aquaponic or hydroponic system, this and a pH gauge will be valuable little gadgets to measure the quality of your water.

For those having to bug out through lands where mining companies have been, this is especially important.

Streams can have an incredible amount of suspended solids, even though they can seem pristine under a naked eye inspection. Those little particles suspended then later could find a home in the tiny conducts of kidneys and are a potential source of problems.  Trusting blindly in the effectiveness of our filters is being overconfident.

The effectiveness of our systems, especially critical ones like water filters is quite important. Not just because we would detect timely any problem before getting our warranty due, but this could help to adjust our maintenance schedules and keep our gear working properly for a more extended period of time.

A simple gauge I plan to get.

Water Quality Tester, Accurate and Reliable

These devices are known as TDS (Total Dissolved Solids) gauges. Measure non filtered water, get a reading, write it, and then take another reading with the same batch of water after filtering. The difference should be meaningful. Using the same batch of water assures us there will be no other variables introduced and the reliability of our test. 

If you have a good filtering system at home and want to check it, you can do it with this. There are limits for the amount of the particles our body can dispose of. Beyond this limit, solids will accumulate and that´s not good. I´m no expert by any means, but I do have an engineering degree to allow me assure you some useful advice.

If you´ve never tested your water, send a sample to a government lab. Get a kit, and compare the tests. The deviation should be minimal. And if you have a TDS for particles, you´re way ahead of many people. 

As a side note, I remember having to disassemble and clean the filter of the old apartment I used to live in Caracas as a young freshman in college.

The only way to know when the filter was clogged, was because water flow would reduce to a little tiny stream. Once the rainy season arrived, this filter would be clogged in a couple of days; the water coming through the pipes even after passing by a treatment plant was extremely cloudy. Then I learned how important was to dispose of a good filter.

In my home now, water comes from a well. This had to be cleaned once a month because the water is rich in iron. We did notice some effects of this in my kiddo´s digestive system, when he was a baby, and decided to buy bottled water just for him. 

Finally, for those already happily living in a bugout location or without any intention to bug out, the market offers good kit tests for well water.

A painful experience in Venezuela occurred when the oil state company opened a well, properly testing the waters, without finding any harmful chemical compounds. A couple of years later, though, one of the doctors of the local hospital found an unusual rate of abortions. Being young and healthy women, this led to research, and they found the water of the wells was rich in arsenic compounds.

This affected the normal development of babies. I must make clear, in Venezuela, these compounds in well water are extremely uncommon, and the standards water tests don´t include arsenic in the chemicals to detect. After that tragedy, though, it has been included. 

Health Metric Well Water Test Kit for Drinking Water

This kit is another one quite complete and merchandised as “well” testing, but that´s not exactly a limitation…and being under the EPA standards is an added value that we should consider.

Pool test kits were not included in this article, as these are not exactly suited to our purpose. 

To summarize, the three main items to consider when deciding what type of water test kit or meter you need are:

  1. Your water source. A well, a dam, a stream, an underground river, etc.
  2. How long do you have to wait for the results? Do you need immediate results, like when bugging out? Or is this sample able to be tested for 48 hours to see if it is free of E. Coli?
  3. And finally, do you have any idea what things are most commonly found in local waters? What are the most problematic? Yui may be able to look this up online or ask your local well inspector.

Answering these simple questions you could get to know what kit or device could be more adequate. 

I look forward for your comments! 

Be safe, 

J. 

 

 

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Updated Jun 12, 2020

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4 Responses to “Why You Need A Water Quality Tester For Survival: Lessons From Venezuela”

  1. “Worst disease ever. That´s why I am so terrified to get something like cholera. Jee. Be aware, in order to detect if the water is contaminated with bacteria (especially with E. Coli, one of the dangerous ones) the test takes over 48 hours of incubation. ” Boiling will take care of that.

    A good carbon filter is essential, no doubt about it. It’s the removal of inorganics and Radionuclides where RO is needed. just saying.

    Reply
  2. Dear Dan, You’re right. Howver, many people could be not aware of the need of boiling water. I don’t know if you watched some footage of the water crisis in 2019 in Caracas, the capital city of Venezuela. People was collecting water from the Guaire River, the largest sewage of the entire country. Maybe they were boiling it (I don’t imagine anyone drinking that), but I remember having seen people soaping themselves, knee depth inside that filthy water. I filter every drop of water I drink here, and my only stomach problems are getting something to feed it with.
    Therefore, gravity filtering, adding purifying pills or maybe a drop of some solution, and letting water still for 12 hours should work.
    Thanks for your comment!

    Reply
  3. Jose Martinez, thank you for your time in the writing of this article. I live in the midwest usa and our drinking water comes from what we call “aquifers” under earth reservoirs that extract to a water treatment facility then supplied to us.

    My city is a major international university and the population of the “twin cities” including the students is closing in on 200k people.. I’m 57yo and started boiling for about 40 minutes, our tap water in a 12qt stainless steel stock pot then letting it cool down to filter out in a filter pitcher namely the Pür filter that supposedly filters 99.99% lead from water.
    In the beginning it was cumbersome but it’s become a routine over the past 3 years. My questions are; 1-what test kit do you recommend based on my info provided and 2- what else if anything should I do or not do different ?
    My best regards to you and your family. DD

    Reply
    • Dear dannydan,
      There is a good variety for you to choose out there.
      I’ve been watching closely this kit for myself: https://www.amazon.com/Culligan-Essential-Water-Lab-Test/dp/B07MMYTDLQ as it covers a wide variety of what I need to measure in my particular case and it is relatively affordable, no need to mailing to the lab. Perhaps it will work for you too.
      If your local water authorities indicate that lead could be a potential problem, usually this mineral is associated with other ones, according to the experience I mentioned in the article with the arsenic. Maybe there is enough information available on this anyway, you could check in your local water management board.
      Don’t hesitate to come back for information!
      Be safe!
      Jose.

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