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       Volume I - January 18, 2008

Prepare Now, Cope Later!
by Alice Osborne

Alice has children in McCall, ID and this past week their community joined several others in the nation in losing their power. Because their household water is serviced from a community pump powered by electricity, they were also without water. This got us to thinking…how many of us have a water storage or even know how to go about this very smart emergency planning step?

Now a person can survive several days or even weeks without food, but only a short time without water. In a natural disaster or other unforeseen situation, we can lose access to our water (as referenced above) or our drinking water can quickly and without notice become contaminated and unsafe to drink. By planning before the disaster, we can be sure to have safe drinking water in an emergency. Remember: Immersed in an emergency, it's too late to make plans!

How Much Water Should I Store?

To plan emergency water needs, keep in mind that you may be without electrical power and other basic services for several days. In normal weather, a typically active person needs at least one-half gallon of water a day just for drinking and cooking. That doesn't count the extra water needed for washing, brushing teeth, and washing clothes.

To be safe, store at least 6 gallons of water per person per week. Some of the body's need for liquids can be met by using juices from canned fruits and vegetables. As a rule, store at least 1 week's emergency water supply for each member of your family.

What Containers Should I Use?

You can use food-grade plastic or glass containers for storing water. Make sure containers are cleaned and sanitized as described later. Food-grade containers are store-bought plastic or glass containers that have held food or beverages, such as soda, water, juice, or punch. You can buy new plastic water storage containers at sporting goods stores.

If you use milk jugs, be sure to wash, bleach, and rinse well to remove any traces of milk that can later become harmful. Also, don't use empty bleach containers. They aren't food grade, and a child may not understand why some bleach bottles contain safe drinking water while others are hazardous. Don't take a chance; the results could be tragic.

How Do I Clean and Sanitize Containers?

Whether containers are new or used, clean and sanitize them before storing water in them. Otherwise, you run the risk of contaminating clean water with a dirty container. Make sure your hands are clean as well. Begin by cleaning with hot, soapy water. Completely clean the inside and the outside of the container, including the handle, the lid, and where the lid fits. Next, rinse well with plain water. Then, sanitize by rinsing with a solution of one-half teaspoon of household bleach per pint of water. Last, rinse with clean water.

Once you clean and sanitize the container, fill it with water you know is safe and screw the cap on tightly. For safety reasons, clearly mark all containers "drinking water" with the current date. This safeguard will make sure every family member knows which containers are for drinking and which aren't.

Where Should I Store the Water?

Store the containers upright in a cool, dry place. Because direct sunlight and heat gradually weaken plastic containers, store them away from heat and light to prevent possible leaking. Water is heavy, so store the containers on a strong shelf or in a cabinet. To improve the taste of water stored for a long time, pour it back and forth from one clean container to another before drinking.

A freezer is also a good place to store water for a long period. Freeze water in plastic bottles only; glass will likely break. You probably won't have enough freezer space to store all the water you will need in an emergency, but storing at least some is a good idea. If you lose electricity, the frozen water will help keep foods in your freezer frozen until power is restored. Don't completely fill the container with water; leave 2 to 3 inches of space at the top to prevent bursting as the water freezes.

Do I Need to Disinfect (Add Chemicals to) the Water?

This answer depends on the source of your drinking water, which probably comes from a public water supply, bottled water, or an untested source such as a private well or spring. Purify any untested source or any source you're unsure about to make sure it is safe to drink. Read further for instructions to purify water.

Public Water Supplies

If your drinking water comes from a public supply (city or rural water system), you won't need to add a chemical disinfectant. Public water supplies are already "treated" with needed disinfectants and should be safe. An exception to this recommendation is if the system has issued an emergency "boil water" notice, in which case you would need to disinfect the water before drinking it. Although properly stored public water should have an indefinite shelf life, replace it with a fresh supply every 6 to 12 months for the best taste.

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