One of the tasks I do behind the scenes at American Partisan is to seek out interesting, experienced, and mind provoking authors that mirror AP’s Mission Statement. I ran across Lisa’s site, I need to Prep.com and liked what she has to share with the prepping community. Consequently, I invited her to post two articles on purifying and filtering water in a SHTF situation. Enjoy! – JohnyMac
One of the most important survival skills you can learn is how to purify and filter water. There are several different ways you can do this, and it will all depend on the situation that you find yourself in at that time. Today’s article along with the one coming out soon, I am going to focus strictly on what would happen in a longer-term grid-down scenario as opposed to someone out doing some hiking or backpacking with a water bottle or a canteen.
Today’s article I will focus on the three best methods in my opinion, to purify water in a longer-term survival situation. Boiling water, treating your stored water with Calcium Hypochlorite (aka “pool shock”), and discussing the use of gravity filters.
Because this is such an important topic that has a lot of aspects to cover, this post is going to be broken down into two parts. Part one will focus on the difference between water purification and water filtering, what types of pathogens you are filtering for, and then the different ways to purify water.
Part two will focus on different ways to filter water. As you will soon learn that they are two distinctly different methods.
Water Purification and Water Filtering
When purifying water you are primarily trying to get rid of any contaminants in the water such as parasites, algae, fungi, minerals, viruses, and man-made chemicals. It’s said that purifying water improves the taste, smell, and appearance. Purifying water is focused on the safety aspect making the water safe for human consumption. Before purifying water, it’s best to pre-filter it to get rid of some of the grit and debris that could be in the water.
When you filter water, you are trying to remove any particulates such as dirt, sand, algae, and pathogens through a physical barrier of some sort, like a sieve. The filtration systems for drinking water from the city usually incorporate a five-stage filtration process: sediment, mechanical, chemical, mineral, and bacterial.
When you are in a survival situation, you will need to learn the easiest way to do this on your own. This is where portable filtration devices come in for preppers, backpackers, campers, and anyone else that finds themselves without potable water.
Please note that viruses are not treated when filtering water, which is why both water purification and water filtration may be necessary to make water safe to drink. With that said, in the United States and Canada, it is essentially safe to use water filtration only devices when camping and backpacking.
The Pathogens We Are Filtering For
The World Health Organization has a wonderful fact sheet that breaks down in full detail the various potential pathogens that are in untreated water. According to this fact sheet the following are the type of pathogens that can be present in any untreated water situation:
- Bacteria, viruses, protozoa and helminths with the exception of Schistosoma.
- Potentially emerging pathogens, including Helicobacter pylori, Tsukamurella,
Isospora belli and microsporidia, for which waterborne transmission is plausible but unconfirmed
- Bacillus, which includes the foodborne pathogenic species Bacillus cereus but for
which there is no evidence at this time of waterborne transmission
- Hazardous cyanobacteria
The above research seems scary, and it should, because if we can’t learn how to treat our water, we are going to get sick very quickly. As a matter of fact, 3.4 million people die every year around the world due to waterborne illness. Water is another one of those things that we take for granted now, so if a SHTF event happened we better be prepared.
Diseases from Untreated Water
There are several diseases you can get from untreated water sources including Hepatitis A., E. Coli, and diarrhea caused by the two most common internal parasites cryptosporidiosis and giardiasis. Diarrhea, may initially seem like an inconvenience, but ultimately can lead to death due to dehydration if not treated.
I suspect that most of you reading this article are interested in purifying water from a lake, a river, a pond, or even a swimming pool. These will be the sources of water for most people in a long-term crisis; Consequently, in a survival situation, there are going to be limited ways for you to purify water so let’s get started on the most practical.
One of the most surefire ways to know that your water is safe to drink is to boil it. If you have been storing water for emergency, boiling water will kill off most of the bacteria, viruses, and microorganisms that make water unsafe.
Although you can’t always be 100% sure, boiling water will get you close. Most of the organisms that will make you sick can’t survive water temperatures past 212 degrees Fahrenheit. More than that, they can’t survive past 160 degrees Fahrenheit for more than 30 minutes.
When boiling water for drinking, make sure you boil it for at least 1 minute to kill all of pathogens. You may even want to do it for an extra minute just to be 100% safe. You can boil your water over a campfire or a stove, depending on whether you have electricity at the time or not. And, you can use any type of container that withstands the heat such as metal pots, ceramic, or glass containers.
Another way you can purify water that is close to boiling is through pasteurizing the water. With pasteurization, you need to make sure the water reaches 160 degrees Fahrenheit to kill microorganisms.
The problem you might be thinking is “how am I supposed to know when the water reaches 158 degrees Fahrenheit if I am out in the woods?”
Great question, and this is why they developed a handy little tool called the Sunflair Water Pasteurization Indicator (WAPI). This is a staple in the prepper community and can easily be packed in a bug out bag or backpack.
Don’t you just love the sparkling blue, crystal clear water of a swimming pool in the summertime? Well, did you know that the same chemicals, commonly referred to as “pool shock,” that keep your swimming pool clean can also be used to keep your drinking water clean?
Treating water with calcium hypochlorite is one of the best ways you can make your drinking water safe. Calcium hypochlorite is cheaper, and safer than using unscented bleach and can last over 5 years if stored properly.
You can get it at any pool store because it’s the same thing pool owners use to treat their swimming pools. Just 1 pound of granular calcium hypochlorite can purify 10,000 gallons of water! Therefore pool shock is popular among the prepping community as a long-term solution.
A few things to remember is that you shouldn’t drink water with more that 2ppm (parts per million) or else it can cause diarrhea. The maximum contaminant level set by the EPA is 4ppm for chlorine. There’s a simple two-step process when using pool shock to treat water.
Step 1. Make your solution to add to your water, typically 1 teaspoon of pool shock (78% granular) for every two gallons of water. This mixture is not for drinking and is very dangerous at this point. You should be using rubber gloves to create your solution.
Step 2. Now you will simply add approximately 16-oz. of the solution to 12.5-gallons of water to be treated. Once added, then let the mixture sit at least 30-minutes before drinking.
In order to test the levels of chlorine in the water, you can use a pool safety kit if you’d like as a backup. I would recommend it just to be safe. The greatest thing about calcium hypochlorite is its shelf life and effectiveness. Keeping this around and making it part of your prepping items is a big win.
Gravity Water Filters
Essentially gravity water filters are just what they sound like – it’s a device that filters out pollutants and contaminants with the help of gravity. No electricity is required, and they tend to be larger in size, so they work well if you are in a larger group and are hunkering down in one place for a while in a survival situation. You can either buy one commercially or build one yourself.
As mentioned above, you can either buy a commercially made gravity water system or you can make one. Berkey happens to make one of the most sought after table-top emergency gravity water filters (The Big Berkey Gravity-Fed Water Filter) on the market.
If you want to save some money and build one on your own, I encourage you to check out this video. You are essentially drilling two holes for the filters and one on the side for the spigot. You will need is the following to build your water purification system:
- 2 Five-gallon buckets (food-grade) with lids (you can get at Lowe’s or order on Amazon)
- 10-inch ceramic filter (you can use the Berkey black filter after that for replacements)
- Electric drill
- Various size drill bits
- Plastic water spigot
This do-it-yourself method is a surefire way to have safe drinking water for you and your family in any grid-down scenario where you are forced to collect drinking water from ponds, lakes or streams.
Now that you understand the difference between filtering water and purifying water as well as the best ways to purify water in a grid-down situation, let’s go ahead and move to Part II which will be published shortly addressing the various ways of filtering water.
Lisa grew up on a small cattle ranch in Madera, California, which is nestled in the heart of the largest agriculture cornucopia in the world. She runs a survival blog where she writes about her interest and helps people understand what’s necessary to prepare for emergencies. Only 2 hours from Yosemite National Park, Lisa grew up camping, bird hunting, fishing, and hiking. When not writing about her outdoor survival passions, you can find her working out at her crossFit gym, walking her two dogs, camping, fishing, skeet shooting, or hiking somewhere in the mountains.