Tip # 3 Sources of Water in a Disaster

Water will become your most precious commodity during any disaster event. Because of our susceptibility to major flooding incidents and the possibility of earthquake, it is recommended you keep a ready supply of water in your home, auto and at work.

One Gallon of water per day for each person in the household is suggested. Remember, pets will need water too!

We are advised to keep a 7-10 day supply of water on hand in case of emergency or disaster.

It is recommended you purchase commercially bottled water and store it in an easily accessible area in the home and work, and in the trunk of your car or truck. Keep bottled water in its original container and do not open until you need to use it. Observe the expiration or “use by” date. Even though it is not recommended to drink water past its shelf life date, the water can still be used for hand washing and personal hygiene purposes. Store in cool, dark place.

Emergency Sources of Water

Ice Cubes, Frozen Containers of Water, a Hot Water Heater, or even the Toilet Tank

It is possible in an extreme emergency that drinking water might not be available at all. If drinking water is not available from other sources, you can get emergency water from ice cubes, frozen containers of water, a hot water heater, or even the toilet tank (the tank on back of the toilet, not the bowl) provided a chemical disinfectant has not been added to the tank.

To get a free flow of water from the hot water tank, you may need to open the valve at the top of the tank as well as the faucet at the bottom of the tank. The water flow can be increased by turning on any hot water faucet before draining water from the hot water tank. Be sure to turn off gas or electricity to the tank before draining water for emergency use. Until the emergency is passed, shut off the water coming into your home to keep out contaminants.

Filtration Straws

Most filtration straws and cups are made for obtaining a quick drink from a free flowing stream or lake. Following a disaster event, most water supplies will be contaminated with pesticides and chemicals which have been released during the event (flood water, earthquake damage). While they claim to remove 99.999% of bacteria etc., they are not capable of filtering salt water into drinkable water and they cannot remove all viruses or chemical pollutants which will be evident in water following a large disaster such as an earthquake or major flooding.


It is best to purchase bottled water or to store your own bottled water by following the methods listed below.


IMPORTANT: Water contaminated with fuels or toxic chemicals, (such as insecticides, fungicides and herbicides), will not be made safe by boiling or disinfection. Use a different source of water if you know or suspect that water might be contaminated with fuel or toxic chemicals.


Do not try to use water that has floating material in it, water that has any odor, or water that has a dark color. These are all indications that the water is significantly contaminated and may be dangerous no matter what you do to filter it or kill bacteria.

If the water is cloudy, the first thing to do is take out as much of the dirt as possible. If you have time, start by letting it settle. Put the water in a tall container and leave it for 12 to 24 hours. Carefully dip or pour the cleaner water at the top into another container. Clean the water as you put it in the new container by running it through a filter. The easiest filter is a coffee filter. If you don’t have a coffee filter, use a paper towel or a piece of clean t-shirt material or similar cloth. Change the filter whenever it gets visibly dirty.

Once water is filtered, it is fine for using to clean things like clothing and floors. Don’t use water that you wouldn’t drink to wash you face, rinse your dishes or clean the kitchen.


Once you have reasonably clean water, it has to be treated before it is safe to drink. The purpose of this is to kill all the germs that may be in the water. The Federal Emergency Management Agency and the American Red Cross agree on three acceptable ways to treat drinking water: boiling, chlorine bleach, or distilling. There are some other systems that can have problems. In general, these three are the best. Distilling is not practical for large amounts of water.


Water should be boiled for at least 3 to 5 minutes to sanitize it. Some agencies recommend boiling for 10 minutes just to be safe. If you live at high altitudes, add a minute for every 1000 feet above sea level. Remember that there will be evaporation and you probably want to cover the pot to retain as much of the water as possible. Once the water is boiled, let it cool in the same container. It can be put in storage bottles when it is cool. (see How Should I Store Water below)

Boiled water tends to taste flat because there is no air in it. You can add the air back by pouring the water back and forth between two clean containers. This will also improve the taste of stored or bottled water.

Boiling requires that there be a source of fuel and a safe way to store the water while it cools. If your kitchen is working, this is not a problem. If you are cooking over a grill or campfire, use bleach to purify the water.

If you are treating the water to cook with, do not add the food until the water has boiled for the amount of time needed to treat the water. There is no need to boil the water, cool it and then reheat it for cooking, but you may contaminate the food if the water has not boiled long enough before using it to cook. If you put food in contaminated water, it gives the germs a place to hide and they may not be killed in the amount of time needed to cook vegetables or pasta.


Treating water with bleach is very effective at killing germs and it doesn’t taste funny to most of us because this is basically what most city water supplies do. You need to have a bottle of plain liquid chlorine bleach and a dropper. The bleach should be 5 to 6 percent sodium hypochlorite with no preservatives and no additional ingredients. DO NOT use scented bleaches, color safe bleaches, powdered bleaches, or bleaches with added cleaners. You want the good old fashion stuff that smells like chlorine and burns holes in your clothes if you pour it right on them. Even this is hard to choose because it is now available in different concentrations. Ultra Clorox is a 6% solution instead of 5.25% but it is the same stuff. Keep a bottle of plain 5.25% or 6% chlorine bleach with no additives in the laundry room to use for water purification.

To treat water with chlorine bleach, put the water in a clean container and add 16 drops of bleach for every gallon of water. Stir in the bleach and let the water stand for 30 minutes. If the water does not have a little smell of bleach, repeat the dosage of 16 drops per gallon and let it sit for another 15 minutes. If it smells of bleach now it is OK to drink. If it doesn’t smell of bleach after two treatments, the water is too dirty to use. Throw it away and treat a new batch of water.

• 1 quart bottle 4 drops of bleach
• 2 liter soda bottle 10 drops of bleach
• 1 gallon jug 16 drops of bleach (1/8 tsp)
• 2 gallon cooler 32 drops of bleach (1/4 tsp)
• 5 gallon bottle 1 teaspoon of bleach

How Should I Store Water?

Preparing Your Own Containers of Water

It is recommended you purchase food grade water storage containers from surplus or camping supplies stores to use for water storage.

Before filling with water, thoroughly clean the containers with dishwashing soap and water and rinse completely so there is no residual soap.

If you chose to use your own storage containers, choose two-liter plastic soft drink bottles – not plastic jugs or cardboard containers that have had milk or fruit juice in them. Milk protein and fruit sugars cannot be adequately removed from these containers and provide an environment for bacterial growth when water is stored in them. Cardboard containers also leak easily and are not designed for long-term storage of liquids. Also, do not use glass containers, because they can break and are heavy.

Storing Water in Plastic Soda Bottles

Follow these steps for storing water in plastic soda bottles.
Thoroughly clean the bottles with dishwashing soap and water, and rinse completely so there is no residual soap.

Sanitize the bottles by adding a solution of 1 teaspoon of non-scented liquid household chlorine bleach to a quart of water. Mix the sanitizing solution in the bottle so that it touches all surfaces. After sanitizing the bottle, thoroughly rinse out the sanitizing solution with clean water.

Fill the bottle to the top with regular tap water. If the tap water has been commercially treated from a water utility with chlorine, you do not need to add anything else to the water to keep it clean. If the water you are using comes from a well or water source that is not treated with chlorine, add two drops of non-scented liquid household chlorine bleach to the water. Let the water stand for 30 minutes before using.

A slight chlorine odor should be noticeable in the water, if not, add another dose of bleach and allow the water to stand another 15 minutes.

Tightly close the container using the original cap. Be careful not to contaminate the cap by touching the inside of it with your finger. Place a date on the outside of the container so you can know when you filled it. Store in cool, dark place.

Water can also be treated with water purification tablets that can be purchased at most sporting goods stores.

Water that has not been commercially bottled should be replaced every six months. (Ready.gov)