How Thirsty are You Prepared to Be?

Last week we covered the first priority in survival: shelter. In this article we will examine the problems we face maintaining a supply of the second most important priority in survival: a supply of clean, drinkable water. Most people in good health can go for roughly four days without water unless they are in an actual desert in the middle of summer which, of course, changes the picture entirely. However, for most of us a few days without water is not fatal.

Many people are contentedly unaware that in many areas of the country, local water treatment plants are, even today, UNABLE to consistently detect and control, on a daily basis, contaminants in the community water system. And this condition exists WITHOUT any potential effects of terrorism problem.

Unfortunately, while water is one of the most important factors to our survival, too often it is simply taken for granted in our modern urbanized society. We turn on the faucet and there it is. We assume that since it comes out of a pipe from a water treatment plant that it is totally safe to drink. This is not always the case.

Many people are aware that our ground water supplies in numerous areas are polluted with industrial chemicals. Recognizing this fact, Congress passed the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974. Under this act, the EPA regulates eighty three (83) separate contaminants in drinking water and requires that levels of these be brought down to specified levels BEFORE the water is allowed to enter the distribution system. These contaminants include lead, numerous chemicals and various microorganisms such as viruses, parasites and bacteria. Water plants are required to notify their customers any time the water they are treating does not meet the required purity levels. This sounds good in theory, but, in actual practice, there are problems.

Normal drinking water from the tap almost always contains very minor quantities of two bacteria: giardia and cryptosporidium. Most people with normal immune systems are able to cope with the low levels of these two bacteria with no bad effects. It is when water sources are contaminated with high levels of human or animal waste that higher levels of these bacteria get into the water treatment plants unnoticed. Normal sand filtration and chlorine disinfection are not sufficient to remove them.

Cryptosporidium is already totally resistant to chlorine treatment and giardia is becoming more resistant all the time. It is so difficult to detect these bacteria that the only way that a water plant knows that there is a problem is AFTER the fact. Only when people get sick with one or the other or both of these diseases, and doctors have run tests on their wastes is it possible to know with certainty that water is contaminated, the treatment plant is notified and must issue a “boil water” directive such as was done in Riverton recently.

The situation is such that in 1995, the Center for Disease Control and the EPA issued a directive suggesting that anyone with a severely impaired immune system boil ALL their drinking water. AIDS patients, the elderly and cancer patients were included. The directive which could affect about 26 MILLION people in this country was sent to all municipal water plants. Unfortunately, it was not made mandatory that the information be passed on to all consumers.

Consequently, many who should be aware of the warning have not been warned.

Even bottled water is not always safe. Water bottlers come under the jurisdiction of the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) not the EPA. The standards for bottled water are not consistent and in some cases are actually non-existent.

Storing water for an emergency such as an earthquake, flood, or terrorism interference with water supplies is a MUST! During the aftermath of the Northridge (Cal.) earthquake a few years ago, we saw people lined up for blocks waiting to get a few gallons of water in whatever containers they could find. One gallon, per day, per person in the family should be considered the absolute minimum. Don't forget family pets, they need a drink also. And recognize that this amount is intended for drinking, not for personal cleanliness, waste disposal or any other use. It is obvious that storing drinking water for a few days is a relatively simple. Longer periods present a more formidable problem. To store enough water for a family of four for a year would mean having facilities to store 1460 gallons. This would require a great deal of space and impose a great deal of weight (over 6 tons) where ever it was stored.

What containers to use? Gallon plastic milk containers are not recommended since they tend to be porous and allow infiltration of tastes and odors into the water. Two liter soda bottles are usable but plastic juice bottles are better. They are number one food grade plastic and will protect the water. Another possible water container are the containers in which Pepsi Cola (NOT Coca Cola) syrups are delivered to quick food restaurants, convenience stores, gas stations, etc.

These containers consist of a cardboard box with an aluminized bag inside which holds five gallons. After they are empty, these containers are normally simply thrown away. You should be able to have a place which uses them save the empty containers and CAPS for you by simply asking.

Regardless of what container you decide to use, it should be cleaned out thoroughly using anti-bacterial soap and then completely rinsed out. Allow to air dry. In the case of the Pepsi Cola container, remove the plastic bag from the cardboard box. In the neck of the outlet from the bag is a blue valve. Insert a pair of needle nose pliers between the white plastic of the neck and the blue valve and pop the valve out like pulling a tooth. Then proceed to clean the bag as described above.

We will cover sources of water in emergency situations and how to treat that water in our next article, including how to treat the water you are going to store yourselves in the containers you have prepared as described above.

December 28, 2004
By Albert Burns

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