NEW ORLEANS, La. – When it comes to ranking the most critical needs in a survival situation, the top two are shelter and water.
Shelter, for obvious reasons, is life sustaining when conditions threaten such as violent storms, freezing temperatures or desert heat.
But people planning for survival often take water for granted. For instance, do preppers truly consider the amount needed for their freeze dried storage food?
Daily, individuals use about 20 gallons for basic needs such as drinking, sanitation, clothes washing, food preparation, and hygiene. Obviously, in an emergency situation, daily usage for incidentals like washing clothes drop dramatically.
So, let’s focus on drinking water.
Water is Life
In non-extreme weather conditions, clean water is the most important element of survival. Many experts believe one gallon per person per day will suffice.
In addition to basic hydration, water elevates mood, facilitates circulation, lubricates joints, transports nutrients and enhances overall health. All critical needs during a crisis.
It could be a need when you wake up, and a matter of life or death by lunchtime.
With that in mind, water quality is the foundation of preparing for any disaster or long-term self-reliance situation. For a families’ survival planning, one of the most serious considerations for a supply is its source.
Consider the impact of Hurricane Harvey on Beaumont, Texas.
The city’s municipal water system failed for more than a week. Certainly, as things got desperate, families were forced to consider any source for water. No doubt, prepared families were tempted to use their survival gear with the overwhelming amount of rain water collecting in the streets and streams. But, the poisons that leached into the water from industrial sites made that a risky proposition at best.
Suppose you purchased a cabin or camp on a freshwater river. Are you sure it’s not downstream from a major industrial site? If so, there is no telling what pollutants are present.
Unless you live on a mountain, it’s nearly impossible for the average person to know what’s in rivers and lakes. Are you downstream from chemical plants? Is a fossil fuel power plant polluting your aquifer?
The Volunteer State Knows
Recently, people living in Tennessee experienced the dangers posed by power plants.
In 2015, the Tennessee Department of Environmental Conservation notified a family that its tests of the family’s underground well detected hexavalent chromium, a chemical found in coal ash that is harmful to humans at high enough levels.
Unfortunately, it is common for power companies to pollute rivers, streams and wells with toxins like arsenic and cadmium, and it’s nothing new for Tennesseans.
Nine years ago, the retaining wall of a Tennessee Valley Authority coal ash pond collapsed, spilling 50 years of waste. The toxic sludge poured into a nearby river, even destroying three homes.
According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, “In 2011, coal-fired power plants generated about 76 million tons of coal ash—enough to fill 17 stadiums the size of the Superdome in New Orleans. Coal ash contains unsafe levels of mercury, arsenic, lead, chromium, and other toxic metals—and, making matters worse, it’s often mixed with water and stored in unprotected and unlined sludge ponds, which sometimes leak or spill.”
But it’s not just Tennessee, America has widespread ground water problems. And it’s not just power or chemical plants causing concern. Do you live downstream from hog or chicken farms? Do hurricanes or floods dump fecal matter into your supply?
The bottom line is that it is unrealistic to expect every civilian filter or purifier to handle some of the toxins present in many sources under normal conditions. And it’s almost impossible to know what’s in the water without some research.
Filters Versus Purifiers
Companies everywhere claim their filters and purifiers make dangerous water 99.999 percent pristine. How should a family prepare for a SHTF event, given the realities of pollution?
First, know the key differences between a filter and a purifier. Distinguishing between filtered and purified water starts with the process.
Filters work like a strainer. As water flows through a filter cartridge, it traps (and removes) particles, contaminants, and some impurities. Cleaner water flows out of the filter.
Purification systems not only remove what filters do, they remove all the minerals too. This is done in two ways: reverse osmosis and distillation.
Reverse osmosis works like a filter in that water goes through a strainer-like part. But unlike a filter, the strainer uses smaller holes that requires the water to be forced through. This process removes everything.
To distill water, boil it and capture the steam. The steam that is collected will be purified.
According to the experts at REI, the ultimate distinction between a filter and a purifier is the size of the microorganisms each combat.
Filters work by physically straining out protozoan cysts (such as Cryptosporidium and Giardia lamblia) and bacteria (such as E. coli, Salmonella, Campylobacter and Shigella). These biological pathogens are the main concerns in the U.S. and Canada.
Purifiers also combat viruses, which are too tiny for most filters to effectively catch. If you’re in less-developed areas of the world, consider products that protect against viruses (such as hepatitis A, rotavirus and norovirus).
Every filter and many purifiers include an internal element or cartridge, a component that has microscopic pores that catch debris, protozoa and bacteria. Over time, strained matter gums up an element’s pores, requiring it to be cleaned and eventually replaced.
Most purifiers use chemicals (such as iodine) to kill viruses, which are too small for most filter elements. Another purification method relies instead on ultraviolet light to treat the pathogens.
Many filters and purifiers also include activated carbon because it effectively removes unpleasant tastes from things like leaf tannins. Activated carbon also reduces contaminants like pesticides and other industrial chemicals.
Another resource for understanding the differences between a filter and purifier comes directly from the Centers for Disease Control. “A Guide to Water Filters” is very helpful, and it uses the “EPA guide standard for purifiers.”
The Best Use of a Filter
After several separate discussions with water testing experts, they all resisted the idea of filtering or purifying drinking water from any source that could be even potentially polluted.
Unless your filter is rated to remove all of the contaminants, play it safe. If municipal water is unavailable or compromised, the experts always rate rainwater the best source, and then an underground well (and even then, they suggested families filter or purify that source).
And while the topic of harvesting rainwater is controversial with some regulators and lawmakers, and has led to a debate pitting the Environmental Protection Agency against state water rights advocates, do not overlook its value.
Using rainwater as a source and then running it through your filter will prolong the life of the filter and help you avoid a lot of dangerous contaminants.
A good source of information is “The Texas Manual on Rainwater Harvesting.” The current edition goes into detail on rainwater harvesting, storage and creating a system specifically for drinking water.
For those that envision their home’s roof and gutter system as a good collector of rainwater, manual warns that collection from a roof made of composite or asphalt shingles is not advisable “due to leaching of toxins.” This document is a great resource and available at the website for the Texas Water Development Board in the publications section. (twdb.texas.gov)
The Best Source
Randy Elder, a geologist, said floods or an industrial canal will contain “heavy metals, bacteria, nitrate, sulfate, pesticides, phosphates, and a cocktail that could include a whole host of both naturally-occurring and man-made volatile and semi-volatile chemicals.”
A geologist for 24 years with degrees from South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, and the University of New Orleans, Elder also said poisons leach from the ground into water sources. Ground contact with any drinking source could prove dangerous.
When asked his preferred choice of a water supply, Elder’s answer was not a surprise.
He favors rainwater collection into a clean storage container without ground contact, especially after disasters like the flooding caused by recent hurricanes.
The Absolute No No’s
Filters and purifiers do not produce drinking water from brackish or saltwater. The salt in the water is in solution and won’t get filtered out. And ingesting saltwater can cause severe health problems.
Also, be extremely cautious using pool water for drinking. Some pool chemicals contain an additive to prevent chlorine from evaporating too quickly. This additive can cause medical problems, such as kidney failure, if ingested in quantities.
However, pools should be fine for taking a bath or washing clothes.
Your number one planning step is investment in quality storage containers filled from normal sources. Even if you have to rotate it every year, it will be cheaper and easier than the alternative.
As I watched people stand in line for bottled water while Hurricanes Irma and Harvey threatened, I thought about the enormous tap water supplies available at their homes if only they had a container to store it in. Granted, even with tap, caution is important. The people of Flint, Mich, and Chicago know the threat of unsafe municipal supplies better than anyone, but for most Americans tap water is their safest supply offering mass quantities.
The website at the Texas Water Development Board is a really good place to start educating yourself on this subject.
Your next step should be to use filters and purifiers in as clean a source as possible. Experts agree that filters and purifiers deliver better results with cleaner sources. And, in the long run, cleaner sources prolong the life of any unit you are using.
Troy Tomlinson is a Real Estate Broker licensed in Louisiana and Mississippi with an office in Gretna, La. serving the New Orleans Metropolitan Area and adjoining rural areas. He specializes in properties used for self-reliance. Motivated by Hurricane Katrina to educate himself as a Prepared American, Tomlinson completed CERT, Appleseed, Cub Scout Training, CPR, First Aid, and beer brewing. He is a licensed Ham Radio Operator (Call Sign – KF5GFB).