A Million Gallons of Water

by | Jul 20, 2012

This is part of a continuing series on various disaster and emergency preparedness issues offered as a way to promote local community resilience. I also contribute these articles often on John Robb’s site www.ResilientCommunities.com.

During the First Gulf War (Desert Shield and Desert Storm) I worked, often, in Bombay, as Mumbai used to be called. I moved around quite a bit, but stayed in several upscale hotels, including one that was a major target in the Mumbai terrorist event. Clean water and general sanitation can be issues for the traveler in India, but most of the guests at the luxury hotel I stayed in didn’t worry too much — they either drank expensive premium bottled water or the hotel’s proprietary label bottled water — and prayed for the best.

I noticed that often, despite those measures, guests would come down with The Bombay Belly, as the local version of traveler’s diarrhea was called.

I always travel with a water purification system of some kind. I’ve learned (the hard way) after traveling in over one hundred countries not to trust other people’s opinions about what constitutes clean water. Water related diseases sicken and kill millions, and a traveler, especially a working traveler, can’t afford the downtime and the debilitation that comes with waterborne disease. So I purified my water, including the so-called bottled water, and never had an issue.

One morning, while out for a walk, I happened across several of the hotel employees refilling and capping the hotel’s “proprietary” labeled water — using water from a garden hose drawing from the municipal water supply, with a broken sewer main just outside the main gate.

As I said, I don’t trust other people’s opinions about what constitutes clean water, and prefer to rely on Machiavelli’s sage advice: “The only means of security that are sure and lasting are those you see to yourself.”

In considering your personal and community resilience in the face of a natural disaster, power outage or extended regional crisis, have you planned for water security? Have you considered the source(s) of the water you drink and utilize each day? If for some reason your municipality could no longer supply water at the turn of the tap or could not assure the purity of that water, what would you do? You can only go maybe three days tops without water, and here in America, we tend to take the massive use of potable water in toilets, irrigation, bathing and so on for granted.

Here are some points to consider if you were to examine your water security:

⁃Where is your closest source of open fresh water? It is a pond, river, stream, lake, reservoir, containment facility of some kind? Do you have a well or spring on your property or nearby?

⁃How far away is it? If you could get there, would you have access to the water?

⁃If you did have access to the water, how would you transport sufficient quantities back to your home or shelter? You need a minimum of one to two gallons of clean water a day, per person, for drinking purposes. That doesn’t include any used for food preparation, washing, irrigation, bathing or other purposes. A gallon of water weighs around 8.3 pounds. Do you have containers sturdy enough to carry enough water out of your source and back to where you needed to take it? A five gallon bucket of water weighs about 41.5 pounds — can you carry that much weight for any distance? Like to your car, a wagon, or up a hill?

⁃Do you have the knowledge and equipment to determine if your water is safe to drink? To determine whether the water is free of bacteria, protozoa, dangerous chemical run off? Is viral infestation an issue and would you know?

⁃Do you know how to purify water? Could you make a fire (and have a container) to boil water, or iodine or chlorine bleach or other chemical purifiers to kill micro-organisms, or a mechanical filter to take the nasty stuff out? Do you have the knowledge to do so and/or the reference materials and a way to read them that will work in the absence of electrical power so you can find out how to do so?

⁃Do you have a way to store purified water and keep it separate from untreated water? Sanitation methods to support and maintain the cleanliness of your water?

If you’re interested in doing a REAL assessment of your water security, take a walk or a bike ride or a drive and do a recon of your local water sources. You may be surprised at how little resilience or redundancy is built into your municipal water supply, and how far you might have to go to find an open water source if that municipal supply stopped working.

There are some recent advances in water filter technology drawn from medical dialysis equipment that have brought the cost of very high quality water filters way down. I used an old Swiss made Katadyn Guide Purifier for many years. It was the gold standard, at the time, and had a price tag to go with it, right around $300. It was good for many thousands of gallons of filtration, but was hard to use and keep clean under lengthy field conditions, especially with turbid water.

I’ve replaced *all* my water filters with the kit below, built around the new filters manufactured by Sawyer, as the Sawyer system is lighter, cheaper and way more efficient than my previous set-up. For around $70 I have a water filtration system that will provide ONE MILLION GALLONS of pure water for me, my family, and my neighbors.

Sawyer’s All In One Water Filtration System (also called the Point One Emergency Filtration System): This innovative filter is the heart of my new system. It’s a brilliant design with no moving parts, utilizing the same kind of filtration system used in medical dialysis. It’s tested and approved to remove 99.99999% of ALL bacteria and protozoa. The filter has an intake port threaded to take a squeeze bag for gathering water; the thread is the same standard thread as on water and pop bottles, which makes it very easy to find a container to run your contaminated water from. Fill up a water or pop bottle or the dedicated bag, attach to the filter, squeeze. Fresh clean water comes out the other end of the filter through a pop up cap just like those on water bottles. When the flow starts to slow from particulate build up inside (depending on how mucky your water is; the manufacturer recommends every ten gallons) you backwash it with clean water from the enclosed syringe and you’re ready to start over again.


Note that this filter is not rated to remove viruses. Viruses can be an issue if there is human or other fecal contamination to water. You can add another level of protection to your water with this filter by utilizing Katadyn Micro-Pur tablets or iodine, or you can use the the Sawyer Water Purification Filter, which does remove viruses.


My mainline kit at this time has the All-In-One Filter package, which includes the filter, a squeeze bag, an adapter for the faucet so you can drink pure water directly from the faucet or a hose (like in the instance of a boil order), and an excellent kit for modifying a plastic 5-gallon bucket into a steady gravity fed purifier for a large group.

In addition to the filter, I have:

One quart Nalgene bottle. I put all my water purifier gear inside this bottle.

Katadyn Micro-Pur water purification tablets: thirty of them wrapped in foil for additional protection from viruses and so on.

Cheesecloth, two to three feet worth. For filtering heavy crud out of the water before you run it through the filter. Double up the cheesecloth and put it over the mouth of your unfiltered water container as you fill it. When the cheesecloth gets dirty, rinse it out and let it air dry in the sun.

One quart Sawyer Squeeze bag: Sawyer makes several sizes. The one quart folds up and fits easily inside the Nalgene bottle.

One yard of surgical grade plastic tubing. Used as a siphon to get at hard to reach water sources to get into the bottle or squeeze bag.

The filter, the tablets, the cheesecloth, the squeeze bag and the surgical tubing all fit inside the one-quart Nalgene bottle and take up little space in my emergency gear or go-bag.

I have been field testing the Sawyer for a month now. It is dramatically easier to use and maintain in the field than any other water filter or purification system I’ve used, and in over forty years of outdoorsmanship, I’ve used *every* kind of water purification system. The bucket system is pure genius; you can take a salvaged five gallon plastic bucket and set up a water purification system that will easily keep a large group supplied with plenty of drinking water. Highly recommended.

Here’s two resilience steps you might take today:

1. Do a water recon around your home with your family. Find out where your water is, and go through the questions listed above.

2. Invest in a small, portable and highly efficient water purification system as I’ve listed above. The whole thing costs less than what a night out at the movies and dinner will run most families, and in an emergency, be worth more than it’s weight in gold.

PS: here’s an excellent article from Lifehacker on how to test your water quality for yourself: http://lifehacker.com/5927732/afraid-of-contamination-how-to-test-the-water-in-your-house