Water Water Everywhere...
Much like the planet we live on, our bodies are largely made up of water, and much like most of the life forms on this planet we are dependent upon water for our very survival. Yet in our modern world we have expanded our development into environments that were heretofore unfeasible for human habitation, where many are currently living an artificial life. Many are no longer dependent just upon the water itself, but also on the mechanical delivery systems that brings it to them. As well as the humans and computers that run them. Add in the fact that very little of the water on this planet is now safe to consume in its found form, due to one form of contamination or another, and the full extent of our dependency starts to become more clear.
Because it has always been there when they needed it as they were growing up, many naively take our public water supply for granted. They just assume that any time they turn on the tap the water will flow, because it always has. I have noticed this though most from my younger students who haven't moved out on their own yet, and who have yet to receive any utility bills. But I also get it from older people as well. Water is, as a general rule in most places, the cheapest of our monthly utility bills. Compared to the electric bills, phone bills, and cable bills... much less the mortgages, and car payments, the water bill is usually an insignificant amount. It is the one bill most can manage the easiest, so it is seen as the least problematic and the least worrisome. The big difference is, regardless of how unenjoyable we may find it, that we can live without all of those other things. As long as we have; water, food, and some sort of shelter, then how we cope with the absence of those other things in our lives will have more impact on our life span than their absence in and of itself. Not so with the water. In an absence of water, no matter what else we have, our life span has just been greatly reduced. To at most a week under the very best conditions and to less than 100 under the worst conditions. Under extreme conditions a human body can lose over a liter an hour through sweating. So it is very important to recognize that failure to pay the bill is not the only thing that can stop the water from flowing. Grids going down due to natural disasters or failed mechanical parts will also interrupt the flow of water, and non-natural disasters, politics, and financial troubles can impact the infrastructure as well.
As is demonstrated every single time there is in fact a disaster, natural or otherwise, other factors that will determine the availability of water in any given area will be the caliber of people in charge of those water resources, and our ability to meet their demands for it. With water the need will always be there. It will never be a passing fad. With the demand already being set in stone, limited supplies will always result in a potential increase in monetary value. The more widespread the problem, the greater the potential for increased prices, and the more profiteering that will happen. The above pictures were taken recently in Texas just before Hurricane Harvey made landfall. As you can see, in one instance cases of water that had sold for less than $7 a few days before had been marked up by 600%. It can pay dividends of its own, just being fully aware of our dependency, and acting that awareness accordingly well in advance of any natural disasters.
Even in the best of times, outside of any disasters man-made or otherwise, the vast majority of the “fresh” water around us has become polluted via sanitation, manufacturing, and energy production processes. These days it seems that most public access water courses have a water quality that is at best questionable and at worst dangerous and downright scary. If the fish cannot be eaten safely due to illnesses caused by contamination, then what does that say about the consumption of the water itself? It certainly doesn't inspire me to reach down and scoop up a big double handful to slake my thirst with on a hot summer day. I live in the beautiful valley of the Tennessee River, where we have many picturesque views to enjoy, but there has also been a long history of industrial manufacturing along this river. There are also several energy production plants: hydroelectric, fossil fuel, and nuclear power plants line this river from one end to the other. These days, being a father... and single father with a lot on my plate at that, I always keep a supplies in my truck for filtering and purifying in order to make potable if the need arises. Yet I also keep a supply of safe drinking water on hand as well to buy time before any immediate need to make toxic water consumable.
A few years ago I lived in rural farm country in northern central Michigan. I learned a good many things in the year and a half that I lived there, but one of the most important lessons were in in-home water quality. There we used a well pump to draw water from a very large natural aquifer. With the countryside around us being in long established farm country, herbicides and pesticides in the runoff water were a definite concern, on top of other health concerns that can come from from water with a a heavy concentration of minerals. So we used a series of filters between the house and our sinks. We had large sediment filters first in line, to catch the largest particles early, before they made it to the more fine filters under the sinks. This allowed our fine filters, which costed significantly more than the courser ones, to have a much longer life span. This was something that we had never used before when we were using a public utility water supply. However since then I have started using them no matter where I live, to filter out excess amounts of chlorine, fluoride, and other chemicals commonly found even in public access water.
There are a lot of water filtration systems on the market these days. Several of them highly portable, and will easily fit in a small bag or pack. While I do like the First Need systems which were at one time used and recommended by the American Red Cross, I have been carrying the standard life straws in my kits for a few years now. Partly based on some written reviews, but mostly because of recommendations from personal friends who participate in humanitarian aid and rescue missions around the globe, and the fact that I have had good experiences with them personally. LifeStraw also makes larger base camp and community water filtration systems that can easily be applied to home uses. As I stated earlier, there are several good systems available. All have their pros and cons, and everything is always a series of prioritized trade offs. Do some research and make your choices based on which options work best for you.
In emergency situations created my sudden natural or man-made disasters, sometimes we are caught off guard and unprepared. At such times the abundance of clear plastic bottles and cups, since they are quite often found littered all along the road side and in parking lots, can actually come in handy. They can be used in conjunction with sunlight to improve the microbiological quality of ground water, and improve ones chances of surviving drinking it, through a process called Solar Disinfection. This is a process in which water is placed in clear plastic containers, then exposed to the sky and sunlight in order to the UV-A rays and heat to inactivate pathogens that can cause illness and diarrhea. On a sunny to partly cloudy day, where the sky has 50% or less cloud cover, 6 hours is sufficient to disinfect the water. On cloudy day it is recommended to expose the water to the sky for two full days. The turbidity of the water can also slow things down. Prefiltering the water is recommended for water with a high sediment content. This method does take longer disinfect the water than boiling does, because water can be very quickly brought to a boil over an open fire, and once the water is boiling the pathogens have been inactivated. Yet it is a very user-friendly method of disinfecting water because requires less physical effort than repeatedly collecting the materials necessary for sustained fire, and you can disinfect a large quantity of water at the same time, since it is only limited by the size of the area of open sunlight, and the number of bottles available.
Fine micron filtration, heat, and radiation will remove and/or inactivate organic contamination from your water supply. However carbon filtration and distillation are the only known effective ways to remove or reduce the level of chemical contamination in ground water via a field expedient improvised method. When you read up on carbon filtration the terminology can be a little intimidating, with words like activared, adsorption Luckily carbon is relatively easy to produce. We often use it when grilling out, and we make some every time we have a camp fire. The biggest difference between the activated charcoal used commercially and the charcoal we produce in the field, is that the activated charcoal has been put through a chemical process that increases porosity. In that case a lesser quantity of charcoal has more surface area. Since the chemicals bond with the carbon, less charcoal can be used to purify the same amount of water. In a primitive living and survival situation, this difference is not likely to mean a lot to anyone filtering water. To use it for filtering, the carbon is crushed into a powder, and then the water is poured through alternating layers of fine sand and carbon to remove the chemical and other large particles of contamination. Because the chemicals are removed from the water by them bonding to the carbon, if no other options are available the carbon can be crushed and added to the container of water alternately shaken and left sitting, then the carbon can be filtered out by pouring through layers of fine cloth or coffee filters. Speaking of coffee filters, they are light weight and when folded take up very little space. Definitely worth packing a small supply of them along on any adventure. This may not remove 100% of the chemical contamination, but it will still greatly reduce it, and improve your chances of surviving the situation at hand.
There is no equivalent substitute for preparation. Being prepared for a situation is always better than any improvised reactions to one. With our absolute dependency on water to live more than just a few days, maintaining a supply of safe drinking water on hand is always a good idea. But we all know stuff happens, so it's a good idea to always carry some answers in our heads where we can lose them.