Ex­am­in­ing Our Ever-In­creas­ing Need for Long-Term Wa­ter Stor­age

RECOIL OFFGRID - - Front Page - By Mark Lin­der­man

Wa­ter. It’s so es­sen­tial to life that in a mat­ter of three days or less, most hu­man be­ings will die with­out it. De­pend­ing on age and gen­der, the hu­man body is made up of be­tween 50- and 75-per­cent wa­ter. Nev­er­the­less, many of us take wa­ter for granted. The lat­est med­i­cal statis­tics show that about three quar­ters of Amer­i­cans are fre­quently de­hy­drated, shock­ing given our coun­try’s wide­spread avail­abil­ity of clean wa­ter. The tragedy, how­ever, is that for many in this world, procur­ing potable wa­ter is an all-day chore, mak­ing it a re­source more valu­able than gold.

What most Amer­i­cans don’t re­al­ize is that our world is in a se­ri­ous wa­ter short­age cri­sis. Seventy per­cent of our planet is cov­ered by wa­ter, so it may be easy to think that this re­source will al­ways be plen­ti­ful. Fresh wa­ter, the wa­ter we drink and bathe in, is very rare, by com­par­i­son. Only 3 per­cent of our wa­ter sources on Earth are made up of fresh wa­ter, ac­cord­ing to the United Na­tions. Most of that frac­tion can only be found in glaciers, mak­ing it fairly in­ac­ces­si­ble. The World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion (W.H.O.) es­ti­mates that al­most 1.1 bil­lion peo­ple live with­out clean drink­ing wa­ter, while an­other 3 bil­lion find wa­ter scarce for at least one month of the year. Many in the world are ex­posed to wa­ter-borne dis­eases, such as cholera and ty­phoid fever, while over 2 mil­lion peo­ple — most of whom are chil­dren — die each year from di­ar­rhea due to wa­ter-borne pathogens. By 2025, the UN es­ti­mates that al­most two thirds of the world’s pop­u­la­tion will live in ar­eas of the world that suf­fer wa­ter scarcity as our ecosys­tem ad­versely changes. This grow­ing prob­lem can be at­trib­uted to sev­eral fac­tors.

Cli­mate Change

Over the past few decades, we’ve seen an in­crease in volatile weather pat­terns and changes in our wa­ter sup­ply through­out the

world. While some re­gions may suf­fer an in­crease in flood­ing, oth­ers may ex­pe­ri­ence in­creased droughts. As glaciers con­tinue to melt, fresh­wa­ter sup­plies to down­stream com­mu­ni­ties are of­ten af­fected. The com­bi­na­tion of cli­mate changes may cause less wa­ter to be avail­able for agri­cul­ture, and de­creased en­ergy gen­er­a­tion for cities and ecosys­tems around the world.

Dr. Ali Khan, dean of the Col­lege of Pub­lic Health at the Univer­sity of Ne­braska Med­i­cal Cen­ter, be­lieves that there’s a sig­nif­i­cant cor­re­la­tion be­tween cli­mate change and wa­ter scarcity. “Per­haps the great­est com­pound­ing fac­tor of ex­ist­ing in­fec­tious dis­eases will be cli­mate change. Cli­mate change will af­fect soil mois­ture, which af­fects the size of har­vest, even as in­creased heat de­creases the nutri­tional value of foods, in­clud­ing the pro­tein con­tent of wheat and rice. The spe­cific ef­fects of global cli­mate change in any given lo­ca­tion will vary from drought lead­ing to de­ser­ti­fi­ca­tion to ris­ing sea­wa­ter, lead­ing to mas­sive flood­ing.”


From pes­ti­cides to un­treated hu­man waste­water, wa­ter pol­lu­tion is on the rise in the world. Many sources of ground­wa­ter are also see­ing an in­crease in con­tam­i­na­tion as many in­dus­trial chem­i­cals leach into un­der­ground aquifers. High lev­els of pol­lu­tants can im­me­di­ately make peo­ple sick and cause mas­sive ill­ness out­breaks. Their ef­fects can also be long-last­ing and over­looked for years, in which case the dam­age has al­ready been done to our en­vi­ron­ment and health.


The world’s agri­cul­tural sys­tem uti­lizes over 70 per­cent of its fresh­wa­ter sup­ply, but over 60 per­cent of this wa­ter is wasted due to faulty ir­ri­gation sys­tems, in­ef­fi­cient wa­ter ap­pli­ca­tion meth­ods, and the cul­ti­va­tion of crops that are too thirsty for their given en­vi­ron­ments. The in­ef­fi­cient use of agri­cul­tural wa­ter thus dries out the world’s rivers, lakes, and un­der­ground aquifers, mak­ing some coun­tries in dan­ger of reach­ing their wa­ter re­source limit. Add to this the high amounts of pol­lu­tion due to fer­til­iz­ers and pes­ti­cides, and it be­comes clear that in­creas­ing harm to our en­vi­ron­ment and so­ci­ety are soon to fol­low.

Pop­u­la­tion Growth

In the last 50 years, the hu­man pop­u­la­tion has dou­bled in size, along with its drain on the planet’s re­sources due to in­dus­tri­al­iza­tion and in­creased world hunger. Dr. Khan notes that, “More and more peo­ple move to ur­ban ar­eas, cre­at­ing megac­i­ties that dwarf the likes of New York and Lon­don, some with peri-ur­ban slums where peo­ple live in prox­im­ity to live­stock. Mean­while, pop­u­la­tion growth in gen­eral, along with the choices that peo­ple make about land use, has led to in­creas­ing en­croach­ment on open spa­ces and dis­rup­tion of ecosys­tems.” Be­cause pop­u­la­tions tend to build around sources of wa­ter,

the in­crease in the world’s pop­u­la­tion has stressed its wa­ter basins, there­fore de­creas­ing the avail­abil­ity of fresh wa­ter to the planet.

Nat­u­ral Dis­as­ter

Al­though not nec­es­sar­ily a fac­tor for long-term wa­ter short­age, nat­u­ral dis­as­ters ad­versely af­fect com­mu­ni­ties in the short term, of­ten re­sult­ing in in­creased dis­ease trans­mis­sion and pol­lu­tion. His­tory pro­vides countless ex­am­ples of how the lack of fresh­wa­ter has de­stroyed civ­i­liza­tions and com­mu­ni­ties, but Puerto Rico’s dev­as­ta­tion due to Hur­ri­cane Maria serves as a prime ex­am­ple of how nat­u­ral dis­as­ters can dec­i­mate lo­cal fresh­wa­ter sup­plies.

More­over, hur­ri­canes aren’t the only de­struc­tive force that can cause a wa­ter cri­sis. In 2010, Haiti ex­pe­ri­enced one of the worst earthquakes in the world’s his­tory, killing more than 92,000 civil­ians. Of those who died, close to 10,000 died from a cholera out­break due to un­san­i­tary wa­ter con­di­tions. This is par­tic­u­larly due to the 890,000 Haitians who were dis­placed af­ter the dis­as­ter, which in turn stressed an al­ready weak fresh­wa­ter in­fra­struc­ture. This fur­thers the ev­i­dence that hu­man dis­place­ment and mi­gra­tion only add to the scarcity of fresh wa­ter.

Why Store Fresh Wa­ter?

For many Amer­i­cans, the need to store fresh wa­ter might be ex­tremely low on their daily list of pri­or­i­ties. With many dis­as­ters, noth­ing is a pri­or­ity un­til we don’t have it. But what if we don’t ex­pe­ri­ence an Ar­maged­don-style event, and the prob­lem is sub­tle, grad­ual, and caus­ing col­lat­eral dam­age? The 2011 Cal­i­for­nia six-year drought put many of the state’s farm­ers out of busi­ness and dev­as­tated its ecosys­tem. In turn, the world food in­dus­try suf­fered a ma­jor eco­nomic blow due to Cal­i­for­nia’s drought con­di­tions, thus rais­ing food in­dus­try prices through­out the world … all be­cause wa­ter was scarce in one state.

Dis­as­ters and wa­ter scarcity, though, are as var­ied as the re­gions they af­fect. Sur­vival ex­pert and author Creek Stew­art notes that, “The only event that peo­ple should have real con­cern with are the nat­u­ral dis­as­ters that hap­pen in their ar­eas rou­tinely. It’s typ­i­cally nat­u­ral dis­as­ters that lead to some sort of wa­ter dis­rup­tion, whether that’s the loss of lo­cal util­i­ties or the pol­lu­tion of a com­mu­nity’s wa­ter sup­ply. Typ­i­cally, a lack of wa­ter stems from a lack of elec­tric­ity or a grid-down sce­nario that is di­rectly tied to a nat­u­ral dis­as­ter.”

Be­cause we should have a good idea of what dis­as­ters may af­fect us based on where we hang our hat, we can plan ahead for how read­ily we should store wa­ter and in what amounts. Whether it be the loss of power for sev­eral weeks or toxic con­tam­i­na­tion as seen with high lev­els of lead in Flint, Michi­gan’s wa­ter sup­ply, ev­ery Amer­i­can can and should find a rea­son to store emer­gency wa­ter in their homes.

Wa­ter Stor­age Op­tions

There are sev­eral ways that we can store fresh wa­ter in our homes based on a va­ri­ety of bud­gets, a lit­tle in­ge­nu­ity, and some ed­u­ca­tion on stor­age and fil­tra­tion prin­ci­ples. At a min­i­mum, peo­ple need about 1 gal­lon of wa­ter per day, the rec­om­mended amount ac­cord­ing to the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion (CDC). Ev­ery­one should con­sider what his or her ba­sic needs are, and if we tracked ev­ery drop, we’d prob­a­bly be sur­prised at how much wa­ter we con­sume each day.

Be­yond ba­sic drink­ing wa­ter, most of us should fac­tor in ac­tiv­i­ties such as hand wash­ing, san­i­ta­tion, cook­ing, bathing, and wash­ing our clothes. Stor­age of wa­ter should also be real­is­ti­cally taken into ac­count de­pend­ing on where we live. Jonathan Yoder, from the Wa­ter­borne Dis­ease Pre­ven­tion Branch at the CDC, em­pha­sizes the im­por­tance of wa­ter stor­age based on our res­i­dence of choice: “I think that there could be dif­fer­ent con­sid­er­a­tions of wa­ter stor­age based on where you live. If you live in the desert and there are no streams, and ev­ery bit of wa­ter you have has to be stored, then that would be a dif­fer­ent con­sid­er­a­tion than if you lived in a place in the coun­try with a stream nearby, and you have a means to fil­ter that wa­ter. This would be an ex­am­ple of un­der­stand­ing your en­vi­ron­ment in terms of ad­e­quate and safe wa­ter stor­age.”

Wa­ter stor­age should also be in­creased for chil­dren, the el­derly, and preg­nant women. It’s also im­por­tant to re­mem­ber that our pets need wa­ter, and should be con­sid­ered when de­vel­op­ing a daily wa­ter us­age plan. Keep at least two week’s worth of drink­able wa­ter based on your needs anal­y­sis. Yoder also sug­gests that wa­ter should be stored in “con­tain­ers meant for wa­ter, be it buck­ets or blad­ders specif­i­cally de­signed to store only wa­ter. They should also be food-grade con­tain­ers. You cer­tainly wouldn’t want some­thing that has had chem­i­cals in it or other things that could be harm­ful or have a bad taste or odor.”

To prop­erly store our wa­ter, there are sev­eral food-grade op­tions to con­sider, each with their pros and cons:

Stack­able Wa­ter Con­tain­ers

Most of these wa­ter con­tain­ers are made with heavy-duty, dark plas­tic (typ­i­cally blue) and can be stacked on top of each other to save room. Each con­tainer typ­i­cally con­tains a spigot and han­dle to eas­ily trans­port and dis­pense wa­ter, usu­ally com­ing in 5- to 7-gal­lon ca­pac­i­ties. Most stack­able con­tain­ers can be found in the camp­ing sec­tion of al­most any de­part­ment store and av­er­age be­tween $15 and $20 a piece. Be care­ful not to get overzeal­ous with stack­ing them though. Stack­ing too many can re­sult in con­tain­ers at the bot­tom crack­ing un­der the weight.

Col­lapsi­ble Wa­ter Con­tain­ers

The ben­e­fit of a col­lapsi­ble wa­ter con­tainer is the ob­vi­ous stor­age ca­pa­bil­ity. Much like stack­able con­tain­ers, they’re usu­ally fit­ted with a spigot and han­dle. Be­cause the con­tain­ers are col­lapsi­ble, the ma­te­ri­als used aren’t as rigid as more per­ma­nent wa­ter con­tain­ers. While most hold 3 to 5 gal­lons, own­ers should make sure that they don’t over­fill them as the in­creased pres­sure can pos­si­bly make them rup­ture with long-term use.


Most home-use wa­ter blad­ders are typ­i­cally large, can fit in­side sinks or bath­tubs, and store large amounts of wa­ter. Many bath­tub wa­ter blad­ders can store up to 100 gal­lons and come with kits to siphon the wa­ter out. The draw­back is two-fold: First, it mo­nop­o­lizes an en­tire bath­tub un­til drained, so hope­fully fam­i­lies have more than one bath­tub or shower to use. Sec­ond, once filled, don’t make any plans to move the blad­der un­til the wa­ter is drained, since a full bath­tub blad­der may weigh well over 100 pounds. There are wa­ter blad­ders on the mar­ket that are more heavy duty and can be stored out­side, but the trade­off of los­ing in­tegrity of the ma­te­rial due to heat, or po­ten­tially punc­tur­ing it, should be con­sid­ered.

2-Liter Soda Bot­tles

Two-liter soda bot­tles are a fan­tas­tic way to store wa­ter cheaply. If you live in the city or a small apart­ment, 2-liter soda bot­tles can be col­lected, washed out thor­oughly, filled with wa­ter, and stored with rel­a­tive ease in a closet or food

pantry. The plas­tic of the 2-liter soda bot­tle is also made of longer-last­ing ma­te­rial than most milk jugs we buy from our lo­cal gro­cery stores.

Rain Bar­rels

Some stored wa­ter isn’t suit­able to drink with­out proper fil­tra­tion and pu­rifi­ca­tion, but can be used for non-potable pur­poses, such as plant ir­ri­gation. Uti­liz­ing bar­rels that col­lect rain­wa­ter is a great op­tion for col­lect­ing non-con­sum­able wa­ter. Rain bar­rels come in a va­ri­ety of sizes and styles.

Heavy-Duty Wa­ter Bar­rel

A 55-gal­lon blue bar­rel is made of rigid, food-grade plas­tic and can store enough wa­ter for al­most two months for an in­di­vid­ual. Creek Stew­art notes that, “In the past 10 years, the mar­ket has ex­ploded in op­tions for wa­ter stor­age. If I were to choose a way for a fam­ily to store wa­ter, it would be in a 55-gal­lon food grade drum. The price of the drum it­self is very af­ford­able, and they’re sold in ready-to-go kits that are of­fered in a num­ber of ma­jor re­tail­ers that can run you any­where from $100 to $179.” If you have a fam­ily, you can up­grade to ei­ther add more Cap­tion? blue bar­rels, or dish out the change for an up­graded ver­sion of a heavy­duty wa­ter con­tainer that holds sev­eral hun­dred gal­lons. Just be sure that once you se­lect your heavy-duty wa­ter con­tain­ment site, you stick a fork in it and call it done, be­cause once it’s filled, it’ll take the strength of Samson to move it.

Stor­ing Wa­ter Long-Term

Yoder sug­gests, “Store your wa­ter in a place that’s dark and cool, which lim­its the amount of sun­light com­ing into it. This pre­serves the wa­ter as long as pos­si­ble, be­cause if the wa­ter warms up, the wa­ter de­grades much quicker than if kept cool.” Creek Stew­art agrees and adds, “The num­ber-one fac­tor in stor­ing wa­ter long-term is tem­per­a­ture. You al­ways want to store wa­ter in a cool, dry place. Un­der a stair­well, or a closet, but the base­ment is best. You never want to store wa­ter in an at­tic or a garage where it’s go­ing to be re­ally hot.”

Both the CDC and FEMA (Fed­eral Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency) urge that wa­ter that hasn’t been com­mer­cially bot­tled should be re­placed ev­ery six months. In ad­di­tion, check the ex­pi­ra­tion date on pur­chased wa­ter to en­sure that the prod­uct is of the safest value to you and loved ones.

Long-term wa­ter stor­age isn’t just for lone sur­vival­ists and those pre­par­ing for the apoca­lypse. It boils down to pro­mot­ing good com­mon sense that each one of us should fol­low. Al­though the wa­ter in our homes is gen­er­ally safe, Yoder re­minds us about what we take for granted on tap: “There are times when a wa­ter main breaks or wa­ter gets con­tam­i­nated, so it’s a good idea for peo­ple to store wa­ter.” Yoder, Creek Stew­art, and Khan all see the writ­ing on the wall when it comes to the in­creas­ing scarcity of the Earth’s fresh wa­ter sup­ply.

Yoder con­tin­ues, “I think that there are some clues that peo­ple should look out for, and use that as a re­minder to store up what they and their fam­ily might need. I think that it’s cer­tainly pru­dent for peo­ple to have wa­ter stored up for any kind of oc­ca­sion.” Stag­nant think­ing is much like stag­nant wa­ter. It goes nowhere and leads to dis­eased thoughts. If the hu­man-race is to get ahead of the world’s wa­ter cri­sis, it’ll take per­sonal dili­gence to en­sure our long-term wa­ter stor­age needs are met for our­selves and loved ones. It’ll also take flex­i­ble and for­ward acts of con­ser­va­tion by all of us to en­sure oth­ers in this world share the same lux­ury of fresh wa­ter as we do.



Ja­son W Lacey/is­tock­photo.com

In­dus­trial pol­lu­tion con­tin­ues to con­tam­i­nate clean wa­ter sup­plies and con­trib­ute to on­go­ing wa­ter short­ages around the world.


Wa­ter short­ages typ­i­cally ac­com­pany theaf­ter­math of nat­u­ral dis­as­ters and of­ten lead to wa­ter-borne dis­ease out­breaks.


Con­tin­ued cli­mate change causes flood­ing, which also can dis­rupt clean wa­ter sup­plies.

Check out Of­f­grid­web.com for more info on this bath­tub wa­ter stor­age kit fromAquaPodKit.

Some wa­ter stor­age con­tainers, such as this Jer­ryCan 10000UF from Life­Saver, have in­te­gratedfil­ters.


Wa­ter stor­age tanks can be hooked up to your rain gut­ters to col­lect wa­ter for plant ir­ri­gation.

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