Water Consumption is highly underestimated

By Flying Harley

This article is directed to those that choose or for other reasons need to shelter in place. The water requirements for those bugging out vs. sheltering in place are vastly different. The biggest needs of water for sheltering in place are sanitation and food preparation. If you live in the city either large or small your problems are much larger and require a great deal of planning and preparation. Living in a single family home with a yard gives you many more options than those that live in an apartment. To those living in an apartment, my suggestion is to have a plan to get to family or friends that live in a single family home. Each situation is different and you need to plan and study as to what you will do to provide for yourself and your family.


Reading various survival blogs not enough is being said about water needs. Survival Blogs have had some very good articles concerning storage of water. If you have not taken the time to read them, now is the time. Some of the articles talk about the need to have one gallon of water per person per day. This is unrealistic for those sheltering in place. Planning for a long term grid down situation requires a different mindset than planning for a short term disaster.


Food, Security, Shelter and all the other thing being talked about are minor if you have no water. If you have no water you will not live long enough to need all of the other things being talked about. I cannot be more blunt about this. Your family’s lives are in danger, serious danger if you have no water. Having freeze dried food will not help if you do not have water to prepare it.


Those sheltering in place are probably planning on having a garden to help supply food. Harvesting food from the garden requires a great deal of water, to clean the food and prepare the food. If you are going to do canning, this will require more water. True, you can use the water from washing food to put on the garden, you can use the water from canning to wash the dishes or flush the toilet. The use of water in sheltering in place requires a great deal of common sense so that water is not wasted, every drop of water needs to be used more than once if possible.


Being prepared is a long difficult journey. We have been on that journey for a number of years. There are literally thousands of things you need to think about in this journey. You have to start with the basics and then build from there. It is not easy nor is it cheap, but with proper guidance, and a ton of common sense it is doable. It takes time and energy and cooperation and money. Everything must be prioritized as we move through this journey. I have lived through natural disasters, where water was not available for up to 10 days. It was very difficult, but we survived and learned a great deal in those times. My wife mentioned that she has an easier time dealing without power than she does dealing without water.


You do not realize what our dependence upon water is until you do not have it. If you have not lived through this situation, you cannot know. If you have not lived through this situation then I suggest that you go to your water meter and turn off the water, just for 48 hours. This will give you an idea as to how important water is to our lives.


Do you know where your water comes from and how it gets from the source to you faucet? The vast majority of people have no idea. Take New York City for example. The water that comes out of the faucet starts its journey 90 to 150 miles north of the City. It is collected in vast reservoirs. From the reservoirs it is fed to a screen chamber that removes larger items such as sticks, plastic bags, fishing lures etc from the water. The water then travels down the aqueduct system down to the city, where it is sent to the water plants that settle the water, purify the water and prepare it for human usage. All of this takes large amounts of electricity. In today’s world most of this process is controlled by computers. It takes huge pumps to provide the pressure to get the water to the top floor of skyscrapers.


Small towns have similar sources of water just on a much smaller scale. A grid down situation means that the computers controlling all of this no longer work, the pumps no longer work and all of the processes to make water safe to drink no longer work. We could have a danger from an EMP that destroys the grid. There has been talk recently in the media that terrorists could take out the grid either by explosives or computer hacking. There are many things that can happen to take out the water supply.


I have read many articles about water usage in a grid down situation and it appears to me that many people underestimate the amount of water needed to survive in a long term Grid Down situation. A couple of cases of bottled water or one rain barrel is sufficient for a short term situation such as damage from a storm.


The recommended amount of water needed per person just for drinking is one half gallon per day. If you are working harder because of a grid down situation you will require more than that. A family of 4 will require 2 gallons of water per day just for drinking. A standard case of drinking water contain approx. 3 gallons of water. Your storage of four cases will not last long.


In a long term SHTF situation sanitation becomes a necessary part of your daily routine. Illness from poor sanitation can be life threatening, especially if medicines are no longer available. You will have to wash your hands more often especially those involved in food preparation. Washing vegetables from the garden, washing your hands etc. will necessarily consume more water. In a long term situation things like hand sanitizer will become scarce.


If you have a property that has running water such as a spring that you can plumb directly into the house you don’t have a problem. The water should be clean and safe to drink and cook and clean with. Most people do not have this situation. If you have a clean, safe and tested stream that you can plumb to the house this will work also. But the stream must be tested on a regular basis for safety. Drinking bad water can cause many health problems.


If you have water from a roof collection system this water will have to be filtered and treated before using for human consumption. If you have to haul water from a pond this water will have to be filtered and either treated or boiled for human consumption. Rain barrels are a relatively inexpensive means to store water. I was able to obtain 55 gallon plastic food grade barrels from a local source after looking around for a while. We found 12 barrels that had been filled with Greek olives and then sold. Some of the barrels even had a few olives in them. They had not been cleaned, but we were able to do that.

After the barrels were cleaned and sanitized, I connected four barrels together with PVC pipe and fittings. This way one downspout filled all four barrels in just one decent rain overnight. I put a brass faucet on one of them and we use this water in the winter to provide water for our chickens. We have just gone through a period of zero degree nights and days below freezing and the barrels did not totally freeze or break, the pipes are just 8 inches long between the barrels and did not freeze and break. A little heat from a lighter was enough to thaw out the brass faucet so we could get the water when we needed it. Total cost for this four barrel system was just a little over $100.00.

The rest of the barrels are arranged around the house and each has a faucet. I fill them with well water, but we can divert rain water to fill the barrels easily the way they are placed. I put a little bit of bleach in each barrel to kill any nasty things in the water and they have been working great. Every six months I drain the barrels and refill them with fresh water. These barrels provide us with additional water if necessary and go along with our other water preparations.


Last year I wrote about our solar powered deep well system. We have a 1000 gallon plastic water tank for water storage for that system. This past winter we had 9 days with basically no sun and very low temps. This provided us with water to the house with no problems. Even on a cloudy days, enough sun power gets through so the pump is pumping, but at a slower rate. Come spring I am going to expand the solar system to provide electric to run our freezers and refrigerator. The basics are already installed so it is just a matter of expanding the system and to provide dedicated power lines to the appliances.


Because we live in a rural area most people are on wells, with our system I can provide water to my neighbors if needed. I have already set up one neighbor with water barrels for her house. If you live in the city or the suburbs, you have to be a much more creative. Some areas do not allow you to collect rainwater, but most areas do allow this. In a grid down situation, the water police are going to be taking care of their families, not writing tickets, if you are going to collect rain water some sort of rough filtering system at the downspout can be very helpful. This can be something as simple as a fine screen or even a towel to collect things like leaves, small sticks, dead bugs etc.


If you are going to collect rain water, it will have to be filtered before household use. Filtering water using most water filters is a slow process. There are numerous products on the market that work remarkably well. The good ones are not cheap, but they are well worth the money. Filtering water should be an ongoing process. Fill the filtering system with water, while the water is going thru the filter, you can be doing other things. Come back and empty the filtered water into a clean container and start the process all over again. If you can obtain a 55 gal plastic drum, it can be sanitized and used to store your filtered water for later use. I recommend setting the drum up in the basement or attached garage if possible. Keep it close to where you are going to need it, if necessary it can be kept on the back porch. Set the drum up on a couple of concrete blocks with a piece of plywood on top. Put a faucet near the bottom of the drum and you will be able to fill a container easily.

Water to be used in any form of food preparation will need to be boiled. Depending upon the situation at the time this can be easy or hard. If you have an electric stove and the electricity is out, then you need something like a volcano stove or wood cook stove and stainless steel buckets to boil water. I tried an experiment a few weeks ago with my setup. I started the fire in the volcano stove and put a three gallon stainless steel buckets filled with cold water on the stove. It took 15 minutes to get that pail of water to a rolling boil. It took very little wood to accomplish this test. It takes me about 15 minutes to make a pot of coffee on the volcano stove.

In my estimation based on my own records and testing you should figure on about ten gallons a day per person, so for a family of 4 you would need 40 gallons per day. If you have to haul water this can be a problem, water weighs 8 lbs per gallon, 40 gallons would be 320 lbs to be hauled each and every day. This can be a very tough chore as it will have to be done regardless of the weather. Think about getting water out of a pond or stream and transporting it when it is 10 degrees and the wind is blowing and there is 6 inches of snow on the ground. Or if it is 95 degrees and the sun is blazing.

I do believe that 10 gallons a day per person is a good starting point in deciding what you need to do for water storage. I metered our usage for just my wife and myself for normal every day usage and it came to an average of 40 gallons per person per day. That is under the current situation with no problems. In a SHTF situation we can cut our usage drastically. Water can be used more than once with proper planning – such as using water from hand washing clothes to flush the toilet or using dishwashing water to water some of your vegetable plants.

In a grid down situation we will have to think very carefully about water usage. If we are in this situation everything changes. Labor saving devices such as washing machines, dishwashers etc. will no longer work. This means to do these things will be more physically demanding. Cooking or an open fire or on a wood stove will require more work and take more time. Boiling water to make it safe for human consumption requires more time and more work. Think of the time involved in getting the firewood cut and stacked to be able to build a fire so that you can boil water to make it safe. My point here is time will be critical, time taken out to haul water takes time away from other necessary chores.

In a grid down situation we will all have to plant and take care of a garden and most probably have animals to provide food for our family. I live in an area where the summers can be very hot and dry which requires additional water to keep our garden productive and our animals will require more water to keep them alive in this situation.

A family with very young children must realize that disposable diapers will no longer be available. Children in diapers go through them fast and they cannot be reused. That means you will have to make your own diapers that can be washed, sterilized and reused. The vast majority of families have no idea what cloth diapers are, how to use them and the work that goes into washing them. Our children had cloth diapers, so we are familiar with them. It will take a great deal of water to take care of this problem.

If you have a flock of 25 chickens for meat and eggs this will require about 2 – 3 gallons of water a day. Goats or sheep will require about 2 gallons of water per day per animal. Beef cattle will require about 12 gallons per day each and dairy cattle will require about 35 gallons of water per day. When processing animals for our food supply we will use a lot additional water to clean these animals to prepare them for the freezer or canning or making jerky.

Depending upon the size of your garden you could use 25 to 50 gallons per day  on average to hand water individual plants. We cannot be in a situation where our garden dries out  as this is a large portion of our food production. Because of an unusual amount of rain last summer, I only had to water the garden one time. The summer before was hot and dry and I had to water just about every week. We have to take these situations into consideration in our planning.

Canning food from our garden requires a great deal of water. The food must be washed, processed, packed in jars and then either steamed or pressure cooked. Each of these steps use water. Then you have to clean up the kitchen and all the utensils.  The water that is left over from this process will need to be saved either to flush the toilet or used on the garden.

We can reduce our water consumption by drastically changing the way we do things. For example, when washing dishes, if we dry them right away then we do not have to rinse them in fresh water. When hand washing clothes, we may have to use the wash water more than once. Depending on the size of the family washing clothes can consume a great deal of water.

If you are currently on metered water such as a city water system. Compute your average monthly water consumption, then divide that by thirty and that will give you your average daily water usage. In a grid down situation you can easily cut the water usage in half, cutting it even more requires that you really study how you do thing and what you can do differently.

The only real way to know is to turn off the water supply and rely on what you have and what you can get. This can be a tough test for any of us. We have done it so we know. But this will give you a realistic picture of what your individual needs are. Understand that needing water for a three or four day local event, such as storm damage is much different that a long term SHTF situation. After a week without water things can go downhill fast if all you have is four or five cases of bottled water.

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8 thoughts on “Water Consumption is highly underestimated”

  1. Excellent article that will save lives, if people will just act upon your info. People need to give serious consideration too and then dig hand dug wells. Obviously this is easier in my part of the country since the water table is only 35′, whereas other parts of the country may be several hundred feet. Either way it needs to be done even if a person has to hire a commercial driller and put in a hand pump. Thanks again for an excellent realistic article.

  2. We had an ‘oops’ with our water bill last month, I misread the due date. So we were 24 hrs without water. No panic, but then again, we camp a lot and understand ways to decrease water usage. However, it DID make me realize that our water stores are very inadequate. We knew our water was coming back on. But if it wasn’t, we’d have had to be even more careful with our limited use. The other key takeaway that goes hand in hand with water is sanitation. We pulled out our camping toilet, and knew we could empty it into the regular toilet. But in a grid down situation, you also must plan a safe way to dispose of your waste. Great article!

  3. im not trying to be rude…but why does everyone dismiss apartment dwellers? I have no family or friends who own a nice house for me to bug out to. I live in a large city. period. in a small apartment. period. I would love to have some help that might meet my needs and those of many other apartment dwellers.

  4. re: magggi g
    I did not mean to dismiss apartment dwellers. But reality is that apartment dwellers options are very limited in a long term situation. It is impossible to store enough water in an apartment, it is almost impossible to collect water in a long term situation. Planning for a long term water outage is very hard to do for apartment dwellers, that is the reason for the suggestion to get somewhere else. I have experienced apartment living and can honestly say that I know of nothing that would make things easier for you. There are such things a rubber water tanks for your bathtub. This could give you additional time, if you knew that the water was going to go out, but this source will not last forever. People living in apartments in large cities are going to be the hardest hit in a water outage, this is just reality. I wish I had some help for you, hopefully someone reading this can come up with answers for you. Serious thought needs to be given to a complete lifestyle change to be able to get out of an apartment. That’s what it took for us. The wife and I packed up and moved 1000 miles to get out of the city and into the country, cutting my pay in half. I was a great hardship on the family for a couple of years. But we would do it again if we had to. I wish I had better suggestions for you.

  5. thanks so much for your response. I know I wont be able to stay here long term but I do have good preps and lots of water. I live 1/2 block from a large pond and have supplies to filter water. again, this will not be a long term solution. im sorry if I was rude. I just cant seem to figure out what I will do for a long term off grid situation. im 66 and retired and don’t have a car anymore either. not asking for sympathy, just stating the facts. I live in tampa on the small peninsula with very few main roads to leave by and they will be super crowded. tampa is one of the worst cities for pedestrians and cyclists. I have a 3 wheel bike and can ride it well enough but I have a cat I cant leave behind. I have been riding it a lot lately and can go a good distance but traffic will be the problem. im still working on my evac plan but getting nowhere right now.

    thanks for all the great articles and for listening and trying to help people. it really means a lot.

  6. Another source of water that goes over looked is the discharge from your High Efficiency Furnace. During the summer and winter months when in use discharges 3-4 gallons of water per day. Save it in a 5 gallon bucket instead of sending it down the drain. I don’t know if it is drinkable? May get a couple of flushes out of it.

  7. Maggie G, as a member of my generation, never discount the survival value of having survived. The young may be quick and sudden but the older know how to plan and execute in all meanings of the word.

    As a long time rancher, I feel for anyone who lives in or near a city, be they apartment dwellers or McMansion residents. Most houses constructed in the US are not built with security or permanence in mind. Flimsy 2×4 construction, vinyl burn me siding, and a lot of ground floor windows, these houses are impossible to heat and have no acreage suitable for gardening or raising livestock. Their only purpose is to provide commute distance for employment. This is wonderful as long as the grid is intact but would quickly become hell on earth without electricity. There is no better time than now for any city dweller to escape, all it takes is courage to accept responsibility for your own freedom and liberty.



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