After building a well-ventilated shelter, storing plenty of fresh water is the most important thing you can do to increase your chances of survival during a nuclear crisis. A healthy human body can survive for 2 weeks or longer without food, but only a few days without water is enough to kill. The rule of thumb for water storage is to plan for one gallon of water per person, per day. This covers both hydration and sanitation needs.
Just like your stores of food, your water will need to be rotated regularly to ensure that what is stored in your shelter remains fresh and drinkable. Keep the water in an area of your shelter that is easily accessible to encourage frequent use and replacement. If you use commercially stored water, it should stay fresh and usable for up to 5 years without replacement (although cycling through it is still a good idea), home-stored water should be replaced at least every six months.
Where to Store It
As mentioned above, your water should be stored where you can easily access it so that you can use and replace it as needed. Don’t store it behind a lot of other difficult-to-move supplies or you may forget to maintain it. Water should also be stored away from light and heat to discourage the growth of algae. Also consider what your water stores are next to- will they cause critical damage to your shelter if they leak or are otherwise damaged? Use common sense and don’t store your water next to a generator or any electronic equipment or batteries.
While large flats of 16 oz. water bottles are easy to come by and may seem like an easy water storage solution, consider the unnecessary amount of waste this would produce. In the cramped quarters of your shelter for an undetermined amount of time, a large quantity of empty plastic bottles could be a serious nuisance. It’s better to store your water in larger containers, at least a gallon in size. Since you want to store enough water for at least 2 weeks, at one gallon per person per day, water stored in gallon jugs is likely to also be rather cumbersome and will still produce a lot of waste- aim for 5 gallon food-grade water barrels or larger. Large barrels and drums can be extremely heavy when filled, so take this into consideration when planning the layout of your shelter.
Water Treatment Options
Another wise choice when planning your water storage is to have at least one water treatment option on hand. It may be necessary to venture out of the shelter for more water if you have to stay for an extended period of time, or your water may become contaminated and require treatment. If there is any question about the drinkability of your water, it’s safest to treat it first. Water that hasn’t been treated can be used for sanitation purposes. There are several options available for emergency water treatment, including:
Boiling- Boiling is one of the easiest and most reliable ways of rendering your water safe to drink. If your shelter includes a means of cooking, you can boil water for 3-5 minutes to kill pathogens. Boiling releases a great deal of steam, so if you choose boiling as your method of purification then you want to have a steam distillation system in place. This can be done very easily and cheaply in several different ways- for example, a length of copper pipe directing the steam from a boiling kettle to a wide-mouthed jar or other container (not plastic). The result will be clear, clean distilled water that is safe for drinking.
Hand Pump Filtration- These are small, portable water filters typically intended for backpacking and outdoor adventures. While compact and easy to store with your disaster supply kit, they can be expensive and are really only intended for use by a single individual. Using a manual pump to filter multiple gallons of water every day for an entire family could be extremely difficult and time-consuming. It is, however, a better choice than no treatment at all.
Chemical Filtration- Water purification tablets can be effective against bacteria, but may not eliminate other contaminants such as protozoa. You can purchase the tablets from an outdoor supply store, or you can choose to simply store iodine or chlorine. In a pinch, household chlorine bleach can be used at 1/8 tsp (8 drops) per gallon. Chemical filtration is likely to affect the color and flavor of the water.
Ultraviolet Light- A device that uses UV light to deactivate bacteria/protozoa in the water is another option for small amounts of water. UV light will not protect against possible viruses in the water. Unlike chemical filtration, UV light will not alter the flavor or color of the water, because it simply inactivates any pathogens present in the water and renders them harmless.