Thursday, November 6, 2014

Water, Redux

This topic is here, since it's a thing people are concerned about, not just for a pandemic, but in general, since I did a general post way back when.
But for another whack at it, read on.

First off, you need a water source. Canteen, jug, well, cistern, pond, lake/river/stream, stored rainwater, snowmelt, whatever.

Second, you need a minimum of a gallon/person/day, just for drinking and cooking for survival. With heavy work (like filling sandbags) in hot weather that can climb to 3-5 gallons/person/day. A co-worker did a reserve activation to Iraq when the range was live in both directions, and part of that was acclimating in a camp in Saudi Arabia/Kuwait (I forget which, doesn't matter). The point was, in 120-degree weather, he described drinking so much water daily to keep up with physiological requirements his throat hurt from all the swallowing. He was a Navy corpsman, and what he really wanted to do was to stick two large-bore IVs in his elbows and hang saline bags wide open, as opposed to waking up at 3 AM feeling like a dry sponge, and pounding out cramps in his thigh muscles from electrolyte losses. Water is a big deal, and a gallon a day is just a guideline. Adjust as necessary.

Third, at some point, having enough to wash your hands and face, shower all over occasionally, and wash clothes is going to become not just a convenience, but a health issue. Mentally make some plans there too.

Once you've figured out where you'll get it, you need to make it clean.

Some options to consider:

A. Solar distillation
In a survival situation, you can always try a solar still:
It works, but.
In a desert survival situation, dig them at night. Doing so in the daytime will cost you more in sweat than you'll get back in drinking water. And you'll need more than one, because they don't get you much. You'd also want to make provision to recycle your urine output, and let the sun turn it back into just water. (Hey, it worked for the astronauts.)
But where this technique is better suited is purpose-built fixed solar stills.

That assumes you have the raw materials to make one. Or ten.
Wooden box, angled glass top, water pan inside, and drain tube to a 5 gallon bottle. Just remember that the germs you're filtering out now live inside the beginning pan. Clean it with a bleach solution from time to time. But if you had germ-filled water in abundance, and even a moderately sunny day, a few of those would keep you in water indefinitely, and you could build as many as you needed for your family/tribe.

SODIS stands for solar disinfection. Simply put: load up a clear 1-liter water bottle. Put it in the sun all day. Tomorrow, it's drinkable.
You'll need two days worth of bottles, minimum. (one to drink from today, and one to be sunning for tomorrow's consumption). And sunny days, and warm weather. This won't work in Alaska in winter. For about 80% of the earth's surface, on sunny days, it will. But it requires the ability to leave your water out all day (6 hours minimum kills most everything) unattended. It's become the norm in most of the third world where clean drinking water doesn't exist. It's one of those tree-hugging Peace Corps ideas that works, as long as the sun and plastic bottles hold out.
Nota bene that a 1-liter, maybe 2-, is about the most this will work for. Larger thicknesses mitigate the sun's UV (which is what kills the nasties) too much to work 100%, and you'll get sick. It also doesn't work with tinted/colored bottles, for the same reason.
C. Chemical disinfection
1) Clorox or generic bleach (sodium hypochlorite) is fine. What you want is standard 6.025% plain-jane, unscented, no additives or other foofery, household bleach. 2 drops quart/8 drops per gallon (get an eyedropper!) for clear water, double that for cloudy water, and/or when it's cold (say below 50F) outside. Put it in, swirl/slosh it around, wait 30 minutes, and you have drinking water.
But household bleach has a shelf life. For 6 months, it's fine. But it loses 20% effectiveness after a year. (So add 20% more bleach if you're using a year-old jug). At five years, it's not bleach; it's just water. (Really nasty undrinkable water, BTW.) But the important point is, it isn't bleach either.
If you want a fresh batch, mix your own. Get Pool Shock. read the label, and make sure you're getting the mixture that contains only sodium hypochlorite. Nothing else.
Then do the math to make yourself a fresh batch of 6% by mixing that amount in the proper proportion of water. Now you've got a new bleach batch. (It's basic chemistry. Look it up yourself, and get it right. If you can't figure out how, you shouldn't be playing with it.)
Ready or home-made, light and heat speeds its decay. Store it in a cool, dark place in a lightproof bottle. If you're mixing your own, do it in small batches, and write the mix date on the bottle. If in doubt, pitch it out, and mix a fresh batch. And date it.
Bleach, and Pool Shock, are both corrosive. Store them in original containers, away from other items. Pool Shock will corrode metal containers left nearby or in contact. So storing
a bag of it in a heavy plastic tote, all by itself, in a brick or concrete bin inside, all by itself, would be a lot smarter that putting it in a metal locker in the sun with a loot of other things.
Ignore this at your own peril.
2) Potassium permagnate (KMnO4) is another chemical that will work, and is recommended in truly splendid survival manuals like Lofty Wiseman's SAS Survival Handbook. (The book is the real deal, and you should get a copy.) It's stocked as a water filtration chemical at places like Lowe's. In weak doses, it'll purify water. Stronger solutions can be used to clean wounds. And it can also be used as an expedient survival firestarter in combination with glycerin (a fact known to both arsonists, and arson detectives). It requires careful storage, and due diligence in handling and use.
3) Iodine crystals
If you aren't allergic to iodine (or shellfish, which usually indicates an iodine allergy),
The Polar Pure water disinfection solution is the best $20 you'll ever spend. Inside the bottle are iodine crystals. You pour water (clean, dirty, doesn't matter) into the Polar Pure. This makes an iodine solution. You pour that into the appropriate 1-quart/liter-sized container, wait the specified time, and presto!, the water is chemically disinfected. Germs are dead. The crystals stay inside the mix bottle; only enough iodine leaches into the water to do what you need each time. You can use the thing for 2000 times, 500 gallons worth, over 1 1/2 years for one gallon/person/day. Simple, bomb-proof, effective. The bottle is the size of a Tylenol bottle. The crystals sit there just fine, with a shelf life of functionally indefinitely.
D) Mechanical filtration
Using either a small, portable filter, like the Katadyn Pocket Microfilter
or any similar ones, you simply pump the dodgy water through an extremely fine (0.2 micron, for the Katadyn one) ceramic filter; crap in, pure H2O out. Check filter size, and usable life. I'm partial to the Katadyn because 0.2 microns gets everything, bacteria, viruses, and cysts like giardia, and also because it lasts for 50,000 liters/13,000 gallons. If it gets clogged, you unscrew the filter element, wash it off in clean water, and scrub it with the provided brush, and it's back in action. It's pricier than others, but it works, and lasts a lot longer. When you get quality gear, buy once, cry once is the rule. Filters like this are great because if there's water, albeit non-potable, you only need to carry the filter to make more; it takes a couple of minutes to fill a water bottle/canteen.
Smaller, less robust/long-lasting solution also work, all the way down to Lifestraw type of filters.
For more permanent installations, something like one of the Berkey Water Filters below is
the way to go. Depending on the size, they work with between 2 and up to 8 filter elements, and will do 2.5-6 gallons at a go. Pour dirty water in the top tank, it percolates to the clean holding tank at the bottom. Avoid their plastic models (they have issues); the stainless ones are just the thing for a home or base camp set up.
Both the Katadyn and Berkey line filter elements are replaceable, so getting spare elements is like having a spare tire or two for the car - gets you back in action for less than the price of an entire second car.
There are other brands as well, or you can home-make some from a food-grade bucket and ceramic filter elements, and they all do the same sort of job.
E) UV inactivation
The same thing SODIS uses the sun for, you can use UV light for. You can get fancy dedicated home set-ups (better know what you're doing, and know a water treatment UV expert to set you up). For smaller quantities on the go, there's nothing handier than the Steri-Pen UV water purifier.
Stick it in a liter/quart of water, turn it on, wait 90 seconds, and the critters you're worried about have been sterilized. Which means that they can't reproduce in you, so you don't get Traveler's Curse, AKA the Tijuana Two-Step (because you've got two steps to get to the commode). A set of lithium batteries will do 100 liters (25 gallons). You can replace the batteries, and use the bulb for 3000 liters (750 gallons). They sell other models, with more or fewer doodads and accessories, but they all work the same way. This is the same thing that SODIS does with sunlight, but in a minute and a half instead of 6 hours, and the sun is free, whereas the Steri-Pen goes for $40-80 bucks, and works at night, in a cave underground, as long as your batteries hold out and you don't break it.
F) Boiling
Q.: How do nuns make holy water?
A.: They boil the hell out of it.
Q.: How do you make drinking water out of dirty water?
A.: The same recipe.
The same thing works to kill the critters in any questionable water.
I mention it last, because it's time and fuel intensive. But it works every time.
Water in pot, pot on heat source, boil water, let cool, pour back and forth to replace dissolved O2 so it doesn't taste flat, drink. You've now passed Day One of Home Economics, and are smarter than all doctors before Louis Pasteur's Germ Theory became well-accepted.
Needs: a cooking pot, sufficient fuel/heat, and time. It takes longer at altitude than it does at sea level. Science is involved. Feel free to read up on that if so inclined.
The above methods are arranged from easiest/cheapest, to spendiest/most-resource intensive. Some are better for portability, some shine because they require noting much but waiting.
Of the above, solar distillation will remove some chemical contamination. (You'd want to read up on that before you stake your life on it.) The other methods will not.
Solar distillation and mechanical filtration will remove things like fallout particles. The other methods will not. And if you don't have a Geiger counter to check afterwards, you probably shouldn't be trying that anyway.
1) Cousin Jed's homemade water filter:
What this WON'T do is remove the microscopic contaminating material reliably, because over time, that stuff builds up, the charcoal gets saturated, and there's no way to tell when it will fail/has failed, until everyone gets sick. Including you. Perhaps the very first time you use it if you were sloppy in constructing it. Then everyone dies from bacteriological contamination, and dehydration from bad water, and the resulting vomiting and diarrhea. Bad juju for you. Don't be that guy.
There is a silver lining though:
You can make one of these to strain murky water through, and clarify it substantially, which reduces the effort for UV, mechanical filtration, and chemical sterilization considerably.
a) yes, make one, but
b) remember that what comes out is still colonized with bacteria and smaller things, and your eyes can't see that small, so remember that the output is still contaminated.
Run your cruddy/murky/smelly water through that, and then use one of the other primary methods on the clarified but still non-potable output.
2) Brita et al tabletop filters
Those are strictly to make nasty tap water taste and smell better. They do not remove any of the critters that will harm you.
Silver lining:
But they can help get the chemical aftertaste out of purified water:
That's because some of the proper methods, esp. chemical, will leave some after-taste. This goes away with time, if you have the place to store clean water while that dissipates, without letting new contaminants in. Or you can run your chemically treated water through a taste filter once enough time has passed for the chemicals to have first killed the harmful stuff. 
A prudent course would be to be able/prepared to do more than one of the above methods, if not all of them; at least a couple/three.
Another time, we'll talk about sources and storage. 


GamegetterII said...

The homemade filters followed by either bleach,iodine,or boiling will work just fine,we use a homemade filter at a hunting cabin-minus the cheesecloth,just have a screen in the tap at bottom.
Ours is not made like your picture though,it's a length of 6" PVC pipe with large river gravel,small river gravel,sand and aquarium charcoal,that flows into a length of 4" PVC with the same 4 items inside,there's valve attached to a piece of 1/2" PVC at the bottom of the 4" PVC to allow the filtered water to drain into a 5 gallon bucket.
The dirty water,which comes from a slightly muddy creek that flows through a cow pasture,is poured in the top piece of PVC,and doesn't take all that long to go through both filters-maybe 15 minutes or so.
The filtered water is clear,and doesn't smell like a muddy creek.

1/4 cup of bleach is added to each 5 gallons of filtered water.

The aquarium charcoal is good for anywhere from 30-50 gallons-depending on clarity of water being filtered-after that,the muddy creek smell is still present in the filtered water.

idahobob said...

We have both the Katadyn and the Berkey.


Jennifer said...

Dear Aesop,
Thanks so much for all your advice and help. I was a little nervous when the posts stopped; thought it was going to be like the drought of 2010-11. Glad you're back.
On another note, a long time ago, there was a blogger called Nightjack; he was the police equivalent of Hoodnurse et al. I used to love rereading his posts. When the authorities shut him down, they erased all his material. I had access to an online archive; that has since disappeared as well, much to my dismay. In this light, I'm saving your posts. I hope you don't mind? Jennifer.

Aesop said...

Be my guest.

My absence was related to being a happy wage-slave.
Income is always nice.

Anonymous said...

You left out the old fashioned firewood powered distiller, a favorite of moonshiners everywhere. Engineer775 YouTube channel has it up.

The lifestraw filter was used extensively by first responders in Typhoon Yolanda, and by search and rescue teams.

Anonymous said...

Well done.

GamegetterII said...

I'm going with Lifestraws for now,unless income improves dramatically.
I would love to have the the Katadyn,with a Berkey for the home.
For now,I'm putting every extra dollar into food-canned and other.
We have a 1,000 gallon cistern that collects the rainwater from the gutters on the house-but that still has to be treated,have a 700 gallon or so pool we will set up if needed,most likely going to fill the pool in basement,as it could freeze if outside.
There's 2 streams within a hundred feet and change one way,and about 125-150 yards the the other way.
Those are last resort-as not all the homes in the area have city sewer-many are septic,and much of that ends up in the 2 streams-too many nasty critters to use unless forced to.

The thing I'm most concerned about is being way too close to a large urban area-Cleveland,Ohio

g-man said...

Nota Bene: The Berkey multi-use filters (all sizes) at their website are completely out of stock. I'd imagine your readers are all savvy enough to find them at places like Amazon (, but I think it speaks volumes that their home website is on zero stockage.

Buckaroo said...


Here is at least a partial archive of Nightjack's old blog

Jennifer said...

Buckaroo, thanks, but it appears to be gone from there as well. scrubbed clean by big brother. I'm kicking myself for not copying some of it, as he wrote so eloquently about a lot of the issues we have in other arenas here as well, ie., healthcare.

Anonymous said...

Whoa!! We're warned of carcinogens consumed by drinking from plastic water bottles left in the sun, but other countries can leave in the sun and not get carcinogens from their plastic??

Anonymous said...

If needed, the simple directions for filtering with CH(pool shock):
1 to 2, then 2 to 1
1 heaping teaspoon of CH to a 2 liter of clean water to make the solution
then, 2 tablespoons of solution to 1 gallon of water needing filtered
(use stored tang, instant coffee, instant tea, or fruit mixes if needed)

1 to 2, then 2 to 1


Anonymous said...

11:44 - I suspect the water treatment lets them live long enough that they might have to worry about cancer. Not exactly ideal, But better than dying of something else sooner.

About the solar stills - I always wondered if the improv hole in the ground type weren't intended more to nail a lost hiker down to one place and make them easier to find than if they moved around. Never heard of anyone actually building them and finding them really worthwhile. Lots of work, very little water very slowly.

Bikermailman said...

RE: Cousin Jed's filter. You can get a ceramic filter + hardware (washers, valve, etc) at Amazon for ~$40. Connect your buckets with the filter on top, and in the top bucket do the charcoal and various aggregate sizes. Gets both filtering and purifying done in one step.

Ex-Dissident said...

thanks for the timely post.

Anonymous said...


Carcinogens might be present in the plaster, might leach into the water, and the carcinogens might kill you if you live long enough. This is a 1st World problem.

In the 3rd World, the possible to likely cholera, parasites, dysentery, etc., in the water will kill you well before any cancer does. Same with a bad disaster here in the 1st World.

RandyGC said...

As to taste of water when in the field,back when I was in the AF I carried life savers (partial to cherry) and dropped one in a 2 qt canteen with the issued water purification tablets*. Made it somewhat more palatable.

*IIRC those tablets were iodine based. Does that tie into your paragraph on iodine crystals?

Aesop said...

That's what Kool-aid and Gatorade packets are for. ;)

It's still chemical disinfection.
The problems with military stuff is it gets old, has a shelf life, etc.
Polar Pure lasts literally longer than you or I will.

Yeah, chance of cancer in 20-40 years, vs. certainty of death from no water in 4-7 days.

GamegetterII said...

Keith Pearson

Which ceramic filter from Amazon?

Buckaroo said...


Ignore the first post, which redirects you to a wordpress site that no longer exists. Instead, just scroll down and enjoy Nightjack posts. It appears that he captured a good chunk of Nightjack's stuff.

Anonymous said...

So much useful information. Thank you!

And I'm glad you're all right.


Anonymous said...

Might want to check the information no type of bleach (pool shock)... not Sodium (Na) Hypochlorite, but Calcium (Ca) Hypochlorite is what you want to use.

Calcium Hypochlorite is the type of pool shock that is safe for human consumption.

Anonymous said...

Thank you brother for all you do. Grandpa has passed all your info down to the family/tribe/clan. Great reading and good to store in the mind, where the usurpers cannot get it... Although "happy" and "wage slave" should not be used in the same sentence, thankfully I am employed, regretfully too many I don't know have fingers in my $. Too common today... sf

Anonymous said...

Who sells iodine crystals? Is that a pharmacy item?

Aesop said...

It's an FDA and DEA controlled substance.
The kindly old fart/chemist who invented Polar Pure was virtually shut down by them on contentions that meth-heads were using the iodine crystals to cook meth.
Government retards, doing what they do best.

It took a couple of years of legal wrangling to get the product back on the shelves, so you won't be buying the iodine crystals yourself anytime soon.

Stock up on a few bottles of Polar Pure now while you can.

Reg T said...

Yes, as Anon at 6:25 said, it is calcium hypochlorite that is the proper choice for making your own bleach. It can also be purchased in bulk from gardening/hydroponics companies through Amazon:

Nimrod said...

I ordered a box of 24 1-pound bags of calcium hypochlorite. Moisture stays out of the unopened bags, and you can hand them out as party favors:

Anonymous said...

Brita filter is granules of carbon. Fresh carbon filter will do a good job on Volatile Organic Compounds (pesticides, some solvents)found in Municipal Water (alleged by Water Dept. as safe). Taste is improved not only in water, but is a fine way to "upgrade" the cheapest vodka.

Nice article. The series might be known as "Hazards of Empire Failure".

Most portable version is
1. Pre-filter: coffee filter/settling & decanting so that the fine-filter is not quickly jammed up.
2. Pump-type lightweight water filter with replaceable cartridges (Katadyne, MSR, don't go cheap here). Output will be (in most circumstances) drinkable.
3. Boil-in-pot. Cooling is a PITA (waaaah). Boiling blasts away solvents, kills bacteria/viruses. Pressure cookers (not-so-man-portable) get to +240F/+15psi-g at sea level and may be critical at altitude to get enough temperature. Don't burn yer self.
3a. Distillation. Very-bad pond-water/brackish-water can be made drinkable with batch or continuous process. Starting with the best available water is still a good thing. Inputs are time, energy, and fixtures. Low-energy-input distillation gives tiny clean-water output, but may be useful over a long period in a safe fixed location (passive solar 'still).
3b. Reverse Osmosis: really-great aboard a sailboat in salty-but-clean seawater. Needs significant power input (like refrigeration does), lots of water for flushing membrane (unlimited seawater), periodic semi-skilled maintenance (smart-user maintenance). High up-front costs. A model that might be found in a 42' sailboat may give a dozen gallons per hour, which is enough for careful use and topping tanks.
4. Chemical treatment: leaves bad chemicals in-place, neutralizes bacteria/virii. Start with the best "found" water, like catchment or clean glacier-ice. Chem's take time to kill bugs, and time also to allow chemical to dissipate so you can drink.

***There is no such thing as sufficient water-paranoia.***

Because Giardia at Ross Dam:
I didn't die and had to walk home with my filthy tent/bag/pack. No medical treatment needed, but I started healthy/young and went home to clean water/bed/good food/Mom. Start tired/weak/sick/unsupported and it could be the end.


Unknown said...

These are all good ways to get the best source of water out of the circumstances. Sometimes, knowing these things can make a difference. However, it may not be worth doing most of these everyday, as some are labor intensive. So if you're not into bottled water, investing in a filtration system might do the trick. You could have homemade purified water, without the enviromental effects of bottled water. Thanks for sharing!

Verna Griffin @ Axeon Water Technologies

Aesop said...

A home filtration system is great, but typically relies on a pressurized mainline system, whether municipal or home well.
For someone in the 'burbs, hoping the water pressure stays on is not a long-term great idea.

At the very least, a method of adapting one's built-in system for use disconnected from the water supply grid would be prudent. You're also dependent on a supply of proprietary filter modules which may not be readily available to be separately acquired or backstocked on site.

Like any other option, you have to stay three jumps ahead of the failure points.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for including SteriPEN! Glad to see our handheld water purifiers listed as one of the options. Noticed you link to SteriPEN Traveler on Amazon and wondered if you might consider linking to also. The Traveler model you linked to on Amazon will be replaced by another model that can operate using Alkaline batteries, as well as lithium, in 2015.

Anonymous said...

Wow Aesop, you are getting wide enough distribution that companies are noticing.


It's important to keep this in front of people.


Bikermailman said...

Gamegetter, sorry about the delay, been a few days since I'd looked at this post. The picture at amazon doesn't currently show the valve, but the description includes it, and the one I bought had it.