How to Store Water for Long-Term Emergencies?

Many people exhibit some level of confusion when it comes to “treating” water for storage. Let’s see what we can do to eliminate some of that confusion!

Put simply, the way you “treat” your water for storage depends on two things: how it will be stored, and where you got the water from in the first place.

Treating water taken from a muddy ditch is different from treating water taken from a clear lake, which will be different from treating water taken from a brook or stream, which will be different still from water taken from a fast-running river, and different still from water taken from a spring.

If you are looking to store a decent amount of water for your emergency plan whether it’s 3 days or 14 days, there are a few things to look out for.

Water that May or May Not Require Additional Treatment

Most of us will be storing water that’s delivered from a municipal water system, and has been chlorinated prior to being sent to our homes. This water is pre-treated! No additional “treatment” is needed before storing water from this source in a prepared water storage vessel.

Chlorine evaporates rather quickly, but as long as your containers are closed, and you’re not opening and closing them frequently, your water will store just fine — probably for years and years. However, I recommend a 6-month to 1-year storage cycle: every six months, empty your water storage containers and refill them with fresh, municipal water.

Don’t let this water to go waste! You can use it, drink it, wash with it, bathe with it, or use it to water your garden or lawn — don’t let it just run down the gutter, put it to beneficial use!

This assumes that you’ve got good, quality municipal water coming out of the faucet. If you do, great! If you don’t, you may want to filter the water before you store it. It’s up to you and your circumstances.

Water that Requires Treatment

If you’re getting your water from another source (a well or spring, or from rainwater) you’ll probably want to do some additional “preparation” before storing your water. Basic filtration will remove a lot of “offensive” particles from the water, but you’ll probably want to “treat” water from these sources.

Even spring- and well-water can and do carry contaminants. If you don’t know your water, filter and treat it just to be safe.

Water to Avoid

Water that comes from stagnant sources should be avoided where possible. Water from ponds, lakes, and slow-running streams or creeks should be addressed cautiously or avoided completely.

Obviously, water tainted with sewage should be avoided, though in extremes (and with the proper treatment) your own urine could be converted into drinkable water. Though, again, if you have water from other sources, you’ll probably want to avoid this “source” as well.

Water to Use with Caution

Water from fast-running rivers is generally considered “cleaner” than those from the previously mentioned sources, but it’s still not “clean”, and still requires filtration and treatment prior to use.

How To Store Water For Emergency Long-Term Storage?

Water that you’re going to store for long-term (6 months or more) needs to be treated before it’s stored. As we’ve discussed previously, some water comes pre-treated from the municipal water system and may be ready to store right out of the tap!

Just because the water is ready for storage doesn’t mean you can simply hook a hose to your faucet and start filling containers!

When preparing your emergency water supply keep in mind:
  1. Try to choose cool dark areas that do not have any direct sunlight
  2. Have more than one water source and method for filtering
  3. Periodically check the water and containers to make sure they are not going bad.

Things to Check Up on

Before storing you want to make sure your water is adequately filtered. Again, water from the tap may be just fine, if yours is not, run it through a filter (or multiple filters) prior to storage.

Before storing in a container you MUST have a sterile container! Containers used for storing drinking water should be purchased “new”, not “used one time only”. Even still, new containers should be thoroughly rinsed, though use of soap or detergent should be approached cautiously. Remember, if you don’t get every molecule of your cleaner out you’ll eventually be drinking it.

Instead, many recommend additional “treatment” (or “super-treatment”) of water that you put into containers for the first time. To do so you generally add even more chlorine so it can sterilize the inside of the container.

Keep in mind you also need to sterilize your drinking-water-safe hose as well. You can’t just hook up the garden hose.

Water Storage Containers

There are a few different types of containers that you can use for long-term water storage. Some of the most popular are food-grade plastic or stainless steel. Remember if you are going to be using stainless steel, don’t use bleach as it will eat away at the steel.

Short-term storage containers can be as simple as plastic water bottles that you would buy at the store. Anything from small 1-liter bottles to 1-gallon water jugs will work just fine. For longer storage, you may want to rethink the situation a bit.

Short-term water storage – If you are going to be prepping for just a 3 days supply, you could probably get away with just a few bottles of water in the car and maybe some bottled water in your 72-hour kit.

Long-term storage – such as 6 months to a year, you should look into other solutions such as bucket or drum containers. Make sure when you store water for any period of time to check it every 12 months, which will ensure that the water doesn’t get contaminated. Although its likely, if done properly the water, will be fine.

Emergency Water Long-Term Storage Options

For longer-term water storage, anything that is longer than 3 days, worth of water, you may have to look into alternative solutions. FEMA recommends having at least 3 days worth, though generally, many prepper sites talk about having at least a 14 days supply of water with you. This is a good deal beyond the critical 3-day emergency timeframe, which is generally a good idea, as disasters such as an EMP can easily cause city water sources to go offline.

If you’re looking for ways to save some serious cash while storing large quantities of water, there are several options out there. The first thing to consider is whether you want to buy bottled water from the grocery store or invest in something else entirely.

The easiest common method is to use plastic jugs filled with distilled water. These come in various sizes from 1 liter all the way up to 5 Gallons. They also come in different materials including glass bottles, metal cans, and polyethylene terephthalate containers.

If you are feeling a bit cheap you can use older plastic jugs or Gatorade bottles, just be sure to clean the insides and caps thoroughly so that there is not any bacteria that will contaminate the water.

55-gallon Water Barrels

The best long-term storage if you are a family (let’s say 4 or more) and are looking to store water for 14+ more days, then your best bet is to get the large 55-gallon food-grade plastic blue water drums.

If you account for 1 gallon of water per person per day, then you can see how water and the storage space you need for it, can fill up quickly. So 14 gallons of water x 4 comes to 64 gallons of water for 4 people for 14 days. So at a minimum at least 1-2 55-gallon barrels should be used for this type of scenario.

Water Barrel Long-Term Storage Rules

When storing water for an emergency, it is important that you keep your drinking water safe from contamination. Remember, even if it seems clean, don’t use harsh chemicals or cleaners on them unless absolutely necessary. You also need to make sure that the caps are sealed properly before putting them into your container. An airtight environment will help ensure that oxygen will enter and anything else that might be floating about.

Back-Up Water Solutions

It’s always a good idea to have a backup. Because water is one of those essential items in any bug in an emergency plan, having several backups just in case is always a good idea.

1. Water Filters

Having one or two water filters, whether than is in the form of a life straw, portable hand pump, like the MSR Microfilter Miniworks or a stationary large-scale filter is a good idea. This will ensure you will always have the ability to get a drink if your main water supply runs out or goes bad.

2. Water Purification Tablets

You can use both chlorine drops or iodine drops. They both do the job though I wouldn’t use the iodine drops for longer than a month, as they are intended more for short-term usage. Iodine doesn’t have any aftertaste like chlorine so that one may be preferable.

3. Use a Stove to Boil Water

A super easy, effective, and cheap way to get clean drinking water it to boil it. Boiling will kill off any harmful bacteria and is incredibly effective. Depending on how high the elevation is where you live, will change the time it takes for water to come to a boil, though it is generally recommended that water comes to a full boil for at least for 1 minute if you are at sea level and 3 minutes if you live at 5000ft above sea level before it is considered safe to drink.

Water Treatment

Avoid using household bleach! Let me say that again: avoid using household bleach!

It’s not that bleach won’t work, it will! However, more often than not the bleach that you use to make your “whites whiter” isn’t just bleach! It’s bleach plus a whole bunch of detergents that are very bad for you. Unlike chlorine, which evaporates rapidly, these detergents can stick around for a long time, and if you keep “re-treating” the same water with the same “bleach” you’re probably building up more and more detergents in your drinking water.

If you ONLY buy unscented bleach without any dyes or detergents, you might be okay. I wouldn’t risk it. With my water, I don’t risk it. Instead, get the real stuff: chlorine.

You can pick up chlorine from pool supply stores, emergency preparedness stores, or online. Look at the contents and make sure you’re getting the highest percentage of sodium hypochlorite as possible. Remember, if it’s 95% chlorine that means it’s 5% something else – and that “something else” could kill you or make you very ill.

Follow the directions on your chlorine container and add to the water. Chlorine is a gas, but it’s not very useful in that form, so it’s usually packaged into a liquid or a solid.

Liquids usually dissolve in water faster than solids do. Add it to your water, allow it to mix, and let stand for 30-60 minutes. You should be able to smell chlorine at the end of this time period. If you do not, repeat until you do.

Close your containers and labels them with a description of their contents and when each was prepared. You’re all set for 6-12 months. At that point, you may want to repeat the processes.

Emergency Water Storage FAQ

Can you use tables for water purification?

Iodine and sodium chlorite tablets for purification work well for short-term usage. It is generally recommended not to use iodine for water purification for more than 30 days.

How Much Water Should I Have?

For short-term water storage, 3 days is the minimum, but if you are going to be planning a longer-term emergency plan two weeks’ worth of water is better.

How much water would you need?

The general rule of them is one gallon of water per person per day, which may change if you are in a higher or lower elevation, as well as the temperature and if a person is sick.

What do you use to fill water barrels?

You can get a special drinking water hose that is used specifically for use in filling water barrels. Its recommended not to use a regular garden hose because of the likelihood of it having been contaminated

Should I pre-treat my storage water?

Some people recommend pre-treating your water with chlorine which is said to help prevent algae and bacteria growth, which makes sense if it is exposed to oxygen, sits in an open-air tub, or is held in an older tank.

What are the best ways to keep your water from going bad?

Water does not go bad, though it does become contented.

What should I do if I think my water is contaminated?

If you have any reason to think that your water is contaminated, then the quickest and easiest thing to do is to boil it.

What is the Best Safe Container for Water?

It is best to use food-grade plastic bottles.




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