Can You Drink the Water from a Waterfall?

In any outdoor survival situation, acquiring water for drinking is one of your top priorities. Dehydration is seriously debilitating and can take your life in just a couple of days if you don’t have any fluids to drink.

Accordingly, many preppers’ resource plans focus on locating and gathering suitable freshwater sources for drinking. One notion that persists is the idea that water should be taken from a waterfall if at all possible, supposedly because it is cleaner somehow.

Iceland's Godafoss waterfall
Iceland’s Godafoss waterfall

Is there any truth to this? Can you drink the water from a waterfall?

Yes, one may drink water from a waterfall in a survival situation, but it must be emphasized that it is not made any cleaner or dirtier from its passage over the falls.

Water that is comparatively clean and fresh before it goes over the falls will stay that way unless it meets contamination at the bottom, and conversely, dirty water that goes over falls will remain dirty.

This is not to say that you should always avoid or always prioritize water from a waterfall when looking for a natural drinking source in the wild. It might be entirely suitable, or it might be water you want to avoid. There is more to discuss on this matter and we will get into it below.

The Myth of pure “White Water” is just That

Preppers can sometimes be a superstitious lot, and more than most sectors outdoor and survival skills seem to come pre-packaged with a veneer of superstition and lore that might not be entirely grounded in reality.

One of the most pervasive myths that I have come across is that you should always attempt to gather water from a white water source.

This isn’t necessarily talking about rapids, just moving water that is foamy, frothy and otherwise being aerated.

Bottom line up front this myth is exactly that, a myth, and white water is not somehow purified by being bubbly. I think I understand how this myth came to be though, and it is not hard to see why.

If you were to look at two water sources, one still with a vaguely oily slick of unknown matter on top and the other moving, bubbling and refreshing looking with small white caps breaking over rocks which would you instinctively determine is more likely to quench your thirst? I thought so.

As humans we are incredibly dependent on water for hydration, and it is no wonder that every culture on Earth is completely entranced by it.

The beauty and joy attendant with moving water seems to be hardwired into us and I can understand why people would instinctively be drawn to this white water if for no other reason than its notion of purity. Too bad it just isn’t the case.

Water from a Waterfall is Not Magically Made Cleaner

Accordingly, water that goes over a waterfall is not made any cleaner by the passage over the edge and through the air to continue on its journey below.

If the water is dirty it will stay that way, just as dirty unless it meets with even greater contamination below in which case it will become even more contaminated.

Likewise water that is clean, comparatively speaking, will stay that way as it sails over the edge to sparkle magnificently through the air and splash down below. Assuming that the reservoir below is of comparative cleanliness it will remain comparatively clean.

The action or process of going over the falls does nothing whatsoever to improve the quality of the water even though it is so refreshing to gaze upon it can make one drool.

Anything in the Water Prior to the Falls will be in It After

Consider this. Anything that is upstream of the falls and capable of contaminating the water will remain in the water after it goes over the falls.

Most preppers are already entirely acquainted with the endless variety of contaminants that can make us gravely sick or potentially even kill us when drinking from untreated water out of a natural source but for completeness, we will go over them here.

All manner of microbiological life will be present in the water, including bacteria, viruses, protozoa, parasites and so much more.

If you are anywhere even remotely near civilization or the activities of mankind, various chemical contaminants will be and remain present prior to the falls.

Especially disgusting stuff that can be biohazardous, dissolved solids of all kinds spring to mind, will be there, too, along with heavy metals be they naturally present or induced from dumpage or some other source.

Though you might be standing there looking at the wondrous bounty of water that seemingly never ends, you might not see the giant moose carcass bobbing by that nasty beaver dam just a little ways up the river.

Suffice it to say that this will be a source of serious bacterial and likely viral contamination in the water, to say nothing of biohazardous dissolved solids.

So even though you can’t see it, and you might not even be able to smell it in that effervescent water plummeting over the falls, just know that you have a lot of fecal-contaminated moose juice in that bubbling water currently entering your water bottle…

Any Water Taken from a Natural Source Should be Purified before Drinking

Pretty disgusting point, huh? I tell you this only to impress upon you what you likely already know.

If you have the capability, the equipment, the chemicals or the skills any water that you take from a natural source should be purified prior to drinking it in a survival situation if you have any choice in the matter whatsoever.

While it is true that the vast majority of waterborne contaminants won’t kill you and will instead only make you terribly ill with abdominal ailments to include vomiting and horrendous diarrhea, either one of those conditions will further dehydrate you and are the last thing you want to deal with in a survival situation when your life is on the line.

All of it can be avoided relatively easily if you take the time to purify any water you gather, including that refreshing looking water coming over the waterfalls or from any other source of white water.

You can use a portable water filter for the task, chemical sterilization tablets, boiling or any number of other techniques. Know though not all of them are 100% effective and a water filter is generally your best bet.

If the water doesn’t come out of your tap or out of a factory sealed container, purified, no exceptions, or else you might be dealing with a terribly upset stomach and perhaps even worse.


You may drink water from a waterfall in a survival situation, but you are strongly advised to filter or treat it the same as you would water from any other source.

Water is not made any cleaner by the process of going over a waterfall, and the notion that any white water is somehow pure than the water around it is an old wives tale.

You should always take the time to purify unknown water sources before drinking using a water filter or chemical sterilization tablets for safety.

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1 thought on “Can You Drink the Water from a Waterfall?”

  1. I respectfully disagree. The idea is that the aeration kills bacteria, which is true. Whether or not any particular waterfall aerates enough may be a moot question depending on other environmental contaminates.
    However, a waterfall tumbling from an open spring at the source as we have here in the mountains is clean.
    Mountain spring water can’t be beat.


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