Fail to store drinking and freshwater correctly and you’re setting yourself up for a toxic time.
Many of us experience something similar to Day Zero when we go camping or head off the beaten track, especially when we’re camping at places where water quality is uncertain and our own water supply needs to be stored for long periods of time. Whatever your reasons for needing to store water, particularly for drinking, it’s absolutely imperative that you learn how to do this properly. Whether supplying your home or making sure you have enough for the month that you’ll be over-landing through Botswana, you need to understand these basics.
How much water do we need?
Most of us have heard the parable that man cannot live on bread alone. Well, there’s some truth to that because while the average human could theoretically last up to three weeks without the ingestion of food, the same cannot be said for water. Water makes up more than 60% of our body’s composition and we won’t survive more than a few days without it. A more accurate example would be to more or less calculate how much water each one of us needs to survive according to how much we weigh – or mass we carry. That would mean around 30 ml per kg. In a 100 kg man, that’s 3 litres of water. Of course, that can never be an exact number because of the variables out of our control, but when we lose about 5% of our total water, symptoms of dehydration begin to show. That could be in the form of headaches, nosebleeds, and dry and itchy skin, while continued loss can lead to premature ageing. Bear in mind that the average human adult loses about 2.5 litres a day just by living, breathing and functioning healthily – and
that’s for consumption at a bare minimum. The amount of water we need increases when we take into account basic hygiene such as a daily shower and brushing your teeth.
Water does not expire
We are all very dependent on this vital resource, and fortunately for us we can depend on water being drinkable for quite a long time. There are no concrete studies to show that water that’s been kept in storage for a long amount of time is unsafe for human consumption. Any water that’s been exposed to air will start to absorb carbon dioxide, and a small percentage of that water will turn into carbonic acid, which in turn lowers the overall pH level of the water. A practical example would be when you pour yourself a glass of water when you go to bed at night. You might only consume half and when you wake up the next morning, the water has a slightly acidic taste. Is it bad for you? Well, that depends on what the water is exposed to in your bedroom.
When does water become dangerous?
As we’ve just mentioned, water doesn’t really expire, but its chemical makeup may become influenced by its surroundings. Sugars, protein and microbes are some of the culprits that can change the makeup. Exposure to these pathogenic bacteria, which like any other living thing needs water to survive, will drastically change the water’s composition. This is why you shouldn’t store water in a container that has been used for something other than the storage of water. Contaminated water isn’t just water that comes from a dubious source like a stagnant dam. Contamination could come from the introduction of bacteria to water. That’s why you should never, for example, store water in a bottle that used to contain Oros concentrate, Powerade or other sugary drinks. If you live in an urban environment the water that runs out of your taps will have been treated at a plant that supplies the city or town, with additives to ensure your water is as clean as possible.
What’s the story with plastics?
You might have a say as to what kind of tank is fitted into your brand new caravan, or may even be able to retrofit one that’s suitable to your tastes, but the freshwater tanks on your caravan, trailer or motorhome are unlikely to be fitted to the exterior where it can be exposed to the sun. The chances are higher that it’s tucked away safely underneath or in cupboards.
We fit our caravans with polyethylene food-grade plastic for the purposes of water storage. We’ve been in the market since 1994 and haven’t had to replace a single tank yet. The biggest factor from our point of view would be that the tanks aren’t exposed to direct sunlight and we avoid this by storing the tanks inside and underneath caravans. “We encourage customers not to store the trailer with water in it, therefore they would need to drain the tanks and store them as dry as possible. “People can also put contaminated water in the tank, let’s say for example on a trip through Africa. If they want to use that tank for drinking water they would then need to flush it out sufficiently and then drop in some sort of chloride solution. Then again, some people only carry drinking water in their camping fridges and keep water reserved for showers and washing dishes in the trailer’s water tanks. “From a safety point of view we position the tanks as low as possible to create a low centre of gravity as well as fit the tanks with baffles to keep the water from swishing around too much – all of which helps to make the trailer more stable while towing. >
The cheaper, disposable plastic that bottled water comes in tend to be hazardous. Some of these plastics release a chemical called Bisphenol A (BPA) when heated, like when the bottle is exposed to direct sunlight or left in a closed vehicle. BPA has been shown to be a hormone disrupter, and there have been efforts to remove this chemical in the production of plastics that are meant to contain food or fluids meant for human consumption. It would be far safer to purchase larger BPA-free water containers that can be stored in safe conditions. If you have no choice but to keep water in a container that was used to store something else in, then make sure you sterilise it with a product like the Milton sterilising tablets used for baby bottles and pacifiers. Type 2 and Type 4 plastics (determined by a number surrounded by a recycle symbol) don’t contain BPA or phthalates, another harmful chemical.
Worried about contamination?
When you’re worried about the water in particular, you can always boil the amount you want to consume when camping, for example. If you’re extra paranoid or uncertain if that has been effective enough, then there are a number of water-purifying chlorine tablets available on the market that can do the job just fine – taking out harmful microorganisms in the water that cause illness and disease.
Our caravans have built-in 150 ℓ freshwater tanks as well as 20 ℓ auxiliary drinking water tanks, plus the option of an additional two 20 ℓ drinking water tanks. “Our recommendation to campers is that they keep their drinking water containers to a manageable size, like 10 or 20 ℓ formats so that even kids or teenagers can fetch water. You would normally store that at the back of the towing vehicle – that’s on top of the usual freshwater that you would use for showering and other cleaning. “The most important thing with drinking water would be to keep it out of direct sunlight. “Our new Maxmo motorhome range will also feature the option of metal water storage tanks, with 150 ℓ of freshwater storage and 50 ℓ of grey water storage.”
We chatted to Philip de Vries of Conqueror Off-Road Campers about the water tanks in his company’s trailers and caravans.
go! Drive and Camp says Plastics are carefully constructed materials with a chemical composition that can be affected by what’s around it. Plastics are permeable so do not store your water around spare cans of fuel or pesticides.
STAY AWAY. While BPA has been getting a bad rap in recent times, it’s not the only bad chemical. Generally, plastics that fall in the type 2, 4 and 5 categories are safe for limited use.
Leon Ras, head of sales at Mobi Lodge, had this to say about water storage in their caravans.