Water Glass - Emergency Water Storage - Disaster Survival Guide
Water storage is an essential part of your disaster preparedness kit.  Aside from the air we breathe, water is the most important need for human survival. Conditions will dictate the exact length of time, but generally, you will die after 2-3 days without water. You will be unable to perform even basic tasks much sooner than that.

Don’t plan to just turn on the tap to get your drinking water after a disaster. City water supplies will almost certainly be interrupted or contaminated and loss of power will render wells inoperable.

 

You need to store the water you plan to drink during and after a disaster.

How Much Water Should You Store?

You should have an emergency water supply of at least one gallon (4 liters) per person, per day, for seven days.  That is 7 gallons (28 liters) per person for the recommended one-week home emergency kit.  Thus, a family of four would need 28 gallons (112 liter) of water in storage for one week.

That’s a lot of water!  Do we really need that much?  According to the Institute of Medicine men should drink about 3 quarts (3 liters) per day.  This leaves a mere 1 quart (1 liter) for personal hygiene (hand washing, teeth brushing), cleaning (as in dishes), and cooking.

While it is possible to remain alive with less water, 1 gallon per person per day is really a minimum.  Some survival experts even recommend 2 gallons per person, per day or even up to 5 gallons per day for hot and dry climates.

See my page on emergency water treatment for what to do when the water you stored runs out.

Water Facts

American households, on average, use about 150 gallons of water per person, per day!  That includes showers, dish washing, laundry, cooking, cleaning, as well as, of course, actual drinking water.

The average person looses about 2.5 quarts (2.5 liters) of fluid each day due to urine output, sweating, bowel movement, and breathing.  With increased activity or hot environments this number would increase, often dramatically.  (A hiker in the desert can lose more than 4 quarts of fluid a day just due to sweating!)  Environment and body size and type also play a role in how much fluid you lose.

Sources: data360, Mayo Clinic, Thur-Hiker

Water Storage Containers

Use a tiered approach for your emergency water storage.  You need at least 7 gallons of water, per person, in containers that are small enough to easily take with you when you need to evacuate.  The remaining water you choose to store can be large containers.

The Weight of Water

Approximate
Weight of Water
55 gallons 440 lbs
15 gallons 120 lbs
7 gallons 56 lbs
6 gallons 48 lbs
5 gallons 40 lbs
4 gallons 32 lbs
3 gallons 24 lbs
2 gallons 16 lbs
1 gallons 8 lbs

I do not recommend containers bigger than 7 gallons for your portable water supply.  Even then, seven gallons of water weighs approximately 56 pounds (25.5 kg) and is too heavy for many people to lift.

If you cannot lift a container when it is full of water then store your water in smaller containers.  Use the chart at right to help you estimate the weight that different sized containers would be when full of water.

Commercially Bottled Water

Purchasing commercially bottled water is probably the most convenient route to obtain your water store.  You can simply purchase the water jugs and put them on the shelf.  There are, however, a few things to watch out for.

1 Gallon Water Container - Disaster Survival Guide
Not recommended!

Most 1-gallon and 2.5-gallon bottled water containers are made out of thin HDPE plastic (the soft milky-white plastic with a recycle code of 2).  This type of jug is easily punctured and the tops tend to pop off if the jugs are accidenly dropped.  I recommend you stay away from these unless you can’t find anything else.  If you choose to go this route you need to be extra careful in how you store and handle them.

0.5 liter water bottle - Disaster Survival Guide

Instead look for bottles made out of PETE plastic (the harder clear or color tinted plastic with a recycle code of 1).  Most smaller bottled water bottles (up to 3 liters) are made out of this plastic.

I do highly recommend including a case (24 bottles) of 16 oz (0.5 liter) bottled water as part of your tiered water storage strategy.  These are easy to use and add some convenience to the other larger containers.

Pay attention to the expiration dates on commercially bottled water and replace them before they expire.

Commercial Water Storage Containers

Water Storage Reliance 7 Gallon Aqua Tainer - Disaster Survival Guide

I prefer to fill my own containers with water instead of purchasing commercially bottled water.  My favorite water storage container is the 7-gallon Aqua-Tainer made by Reliance (pictured at right).  It is the perfect size for one person for one week.  They have a handle for carrying and a spigot for controlled release of water. (Tipping a 7-gallon container to get a cup full of water out tends to lead to spilling of a very precious resource at a very inopportune time.)

Look for medium sized water storage containers in the camping section of department stores, at sporting goods stores, or online.  Common sizes in the United States are 7-gallon, 5 gallon, and 2.5-gallon containers.  As mentioned above, don’t get one larger than you can carry when it’s full of water.

Make sure the container was designed to store water and is made out of FDA approved food grade materials.  Stay away from jugs that contain BPA since the prolonged contact in storage will most certainly leach that chemical into your water.

Budget Water Storage Containers

One budget saving option is to reuse old 2 and 3 liter soda bottles.  Thoroughly clean the bottle with hot soapy water before following my sanitizing and treatment instruction below.  A properly cleaned bottle should have no residual smell of the pervious contents in the bottle.

Do not reuse plastic milk jugs for your water storage.  It is impossible to completely clean all the residual organic material from the inside of the container.

Large Water Storage Containers

If you are storing a large amount of water then I recommend much larger containers, such a 55-gallon water drum, in addition to your portable supply.  It is normally more economical (per gallon) to buy larger containers and it’s much easier to fill and treat a single large container than a dozen smaller containers.

55-gallon water drum - Disaster Survival Guide

55-gallon water drum

For example, if your goal was 5 gallons per person, per day, for a family of 4, then you would need 140 gallons for 7 days.  28 gallons of that (1 gallon per person, per day, for 7 days) should be small portable containers.  That leaves about 112 gallons that you should store in large containers.  In this case two 55 gallon water barrels (110 gallons) would give you the remaining gallons you need.

55-gallon barrels can be found online, but shipping is often prohibitively expensive.  Instead, look at a farm supply store or see if your local hardware store will special order one for you.  Again, make sure it’s made out of FDA approved food grade material. Do not purchase a perviously used drum. It is impossible to completely remove the previous contents as it leaches into the the plastic. Your water will taste like whatever was in it before!

Get a “tight head” 55-gallon drum (which has a permanent cover with two small, capped openings) as opposed to an “open head” drum (where the entire lid comes off).  It’s harder to keep the remaining water clean when you have to remove the entire top as debris can easily fall into the water.  A bung wrench will make removing the caps easy and without it, you may damage the cap when trying to remove it.

You will need a siphon or pump to remove the water.  This can be as simple as a length of food grade tubing for siphoning.  Suck on it to get the water flowing and then keep the end of the tube below the water level to maintain water flow.  To stop the flow of water, simply raise the end of the tube above the water level in the barrel.  This method works well for extracting large volumes of water, such as when you are refilling the barrel or filling up a large pot.

For more convenience and less potential for spilling water, get a hand operated pump.  Battery operated pumps are available, but obviously require batteries, which may be unavailable in a disaster.

Water Storage Treatment

Treat all the water you store yourself to prevent bacterial growth during storage.  There are several ways to treat water for storage, but the most accessible and probably cheapest method is simply to use regular household chlorine bleach.  (Chlorine is regularly used in municipal water supplies and it is completely safe to drink water properly treated with it.)

Make sure you use regular chlorine bleach and not the scented kind or a “bleach substitute.”  The label should list a sole active ingredient of 5-6% sodium hypochlorite.  If any other ingredients are listed, don’t use it for water treatment.  Chlorine also has a limited shelf life so make you use a fresh bottle.

Use the following chart to determine how much bleach you need to put in your water for storage.  (For those curious, the end goal is 1 PPM (parts per million) of available chlorine in the water.)

 

Regular Chlorine Bleach
5-6% Sodium Hypochlorite
1 quarts/liters 2 drops
2 quarts/liters 4 drops
1 gallon / 4 liters 8 drops / 1/8 teaspoon
2.5 gallons 3/8 teaspoon
5 gallons 3/4 teaspoons
7 gallons 1 teaspoon
15 gallons 2 teaspoons
55 gallons 1/8 cup

 

 

Water Treatment Procedure

Toughly wash the container if necessary (for example, if you are reusing a 2-liter soda bottle).  Use hot soapy water and triple rinse to remove all the soap.

Sanitize all containers before filling them with water for storage.  Prepare a solution of 1 tablespoon (15 ml) of bleach to 1 gallon (4 liters) of water.  You can make less or more than 1 gallon of the solution depending on the size of your container.

Clorox regular bleach - Disaster Survival Guide

Clorox regular bleach

Pour sanitizing solution into container and keep all inside surfaces and the threads under the cap wet for 2 minutes.  You do not need to completely fill the container with the solution.  Dump the sanitizing solution from the container and you are ready to fill it with water.  Do not rinse out the container as you may introduce new contaminants. You can normally reuse the solution for several containers as long as it still strongly smells of bleach.

Fill the container with potable water (that is normal tap water).  If the container may be subject to freezing, stop filling it at 90% full.  This should allow enough room for expansion without bursting the container.

Treat the water with regular unscented chlorine bleach per dosage chart above.  Conduct a sniff-test 30 minutes after you treat the water.  The water should still have a slight chlorine odor.  If it does not retreat per the recommended dosage and test again after 30 minutes.

If possible, squeeze any air out of the container and then cap tightly.

Water Storage Rotation

Conservatively speaking, you should rotate your stored water supply once per year, although it should be safe much longer than that if properly treated and stored.  As the old water is completely safe for use, it would be environmentally responsible to use the water in some way other than simply dumping it down the drain when you rotate it.  Try using it for cooking or at least for watering your plants.

Water Storage Location

Store your water in a cool dry place, out of direct sunlight, and preferably in a location not subject to freezing.

Do not place your water containers directly on a concrete floor.  The chemicals from the cement can leach through the plastic, thus contaminating the water.  Rather, put down some sort of wood platform between your water and the floor.  Furring strips, untreated 2x4s, or even plywood works great for this.

If you live in an area with a high risk of earthquakes, consider how falling furniture or appliances could possibly puncture your precious water store and locate them accordingly.

If you have stackable containers, make sure you don’t stack them too high.  A falling 5-gallon container of water could seriously injure someone.  Never stack them higher than the container manufacture recommends.

If you are storing a large amount of water, make sure the floor where the water is located is structurally sound and able to bear the weight of the water.

Portable Water Storage Container Recommendations
First Choice
Budget Saver
7 gallon Reliance water container Reused 2-liter soda bottles
24 16 oz (500 ml) water bottles

Emergency Water Storage Checklist

Portable Water Supply

7 gallons per person (1 gallon per day)

  • Medium water containers (1-7 gallon size)
  • Small water bottles (12-16 oz size)

Additional Water Supply

  • Larger water containers (15 – 55 gallon size)
  • Bung wrench
  • Siphon hose
  • Hand-operated barrel pump (optional)