Water Preparedness – Your Ultimate Guide

“Each trooper will be charged with responsibility for preserving water. Our existence as an operating army depends on these following water saving procedures. Remember, water is life.”

Dune (1984)
water bottles

Frank Herbert’s Sci-Fi classic Dune showed us a world with very little water, where even the moisture of your own breath was captured and retained as a future source of drinkable water.

In our advanced technological world (where the cars are starting to park themselves) we just as dependent on water as Duke Leto’s army on Arrakis for our survival.

Perhaps you have heard of the Rule of Threes in a survival situation, a person will last: 1) Three minutes without fresh air 2) Three days without fresh water and 3) Three Weeks without a meal. Even getting near those numbers is not pleasant and in fact life threatening.

My Water Storage Wakeup Call

Like many in the prepping field, I thought I had “plenty” to see me through most problems. Then two things happened, my family ran a “mock EMP” weekend at the Secret Compound and the April 27th tornadoes took power and water (like my EMP weekend) from everyone around me.

The mock weekend found me drinking water that I had over-clorinated for storage, this was fixed. The second showed me how “some” of my neighbors will act when the lights go out and the local law enforcement is at capacity.

This altered my plan of using a year round creek about three quarters of a mile from my home as a source of water, as I did not want to be at the mercy of someone controlling access to that creek, I didn’t want to have to trade FMJs for water if you know what I mean.

When I was a kid growing up, it was nothing for me to just stop and slurp water from just about any creek or puddle I would find when I was thirsty, however these days I’m a little more selective about the water I pour in my mouth.

On the one hand, you build up immunity to whatever was in your local water supply but on the other, the Pepto or Immodium was as close as a “MOOoooooooom!”

I have several rain barrels around the place, and wanted to be able to drink from them without worry. While I can store upwards of four or five hundred gallons this way it is not immediately drinkable (potable)

I also wanted a method that didn’t require me to stock purification pills by the case, batteries by the case for UV filtration or have to worry that my bleach was out of date.

The Importance of Water to Preppers

Water, as mentioned, is critically important in the hierarchy of survival necessities. Compared to all the must-haves you’ll see populating most lists of survival necessities, I parent down quite a bit, too, in order, air, shelter, water, food and security.

You can go minutes without any air, potentially only a few hours without shelter when conditions are bad enough, weeks without a bite of food and only a couple of days without any water before perishing.

To say that water is life is no hyperbole. Water makes life, all kinds of life, possible on our planet. There are ways to cheat the other requirements on this list for a greater or lesser length of time but going without water is literally a death sentence. 

Accordingly, civilizations have always revolved around water and sprung up near reliable, clean water sources. When these sources dried up or became compromised, the fates of entire settlements were left hanging in the balance. Your fate, too, will be hanging by a thread if you are unable to procure drinking water for yourself and your loved ones in the aftermath of a major event.

Dehydration Incapacitates Quickly

It is no exaggeration to say that you can die in just a few days without any water, and potentially even quicker if you are heavily exerting yourself in a hot environment. The risk of dehydration is a constant and very real killer. However, dehydration can incapacitate you before it drops you dead in your tracks.

Lacking water and electrolyte intake as your body loses it through perspiration and respiration means you will eventually suffer the steadily intensifying effects of dehydration, including muscle cramping, lack of energy, loss of coordination and more. It does not take much imagination to think of how this can seriously derail you during other efforts to shore up your position in a survival situation.

Also, when you are feeling the effects of dehydration it is too late, because your body’s actual water level is lower than you might be thinking and since you are behind the water curve even if you start chugging water it usually won’t be enough to arrest the degradation while you are still underway.

This means you must constantly be taking in water at regular intervals and this frequency should increase whenever you are heavily perspiring or in a hot environment.

Wait too long between drinks and you might find yourself in a downward spiral!

Your SHTF Water Sustainment Plan

I think I have made the point that you don’t want to go without water during any kind of survival or emergency situation, be it a long one or a short one. It follows, then, that you must have a robust SHTF water sustainment plan to handle any eventuality.

Be careful planning, adequate acquisition and the right supplies and skills you can ensure that you and yours will have plenty of water on hand at the outset of an event, and will be able to obtain and treat for safety any other water supplies that you find.

The three components of your SHTF water sustainment plan are:

  • Storage: the acquisition and keeping of ready to drink water supplies in any form, be it commercially sold bottled or jugged water, or the filling of larger containers with cap or other purified water. This serves as an immediate source of water for drinking in the aftermath of an event.
  • Procurement: the location and collection of water from any natural or man-made source. The ongoing verification and management of these sources is essential for long-term sustainment of your water Supply post event.
  • Treatment: any found water source must be treated for safety to reduce the likelihood of contracting potentially dangerous waterborne illnesses from a variety of microorganisms. There are many forms of effective Water treatment available today, including primitive and technologically advanced methods.

If you have thoroughly developed each phase of this plan, you shouldn’t want or worry about water at all in the aftermath of a disaster or during another emergency. In the following sections we will break down each in detail.


The first step for most preppers during their journey of water sustainment is simply acquiring a ready to drink source of water that they will store on hand for the purpose. At its simplest, this takes the form of a few cases or large jugs of drinking water, ready to crack open and imbibe.

More serious efforts could be larger containers purchased for the task and then it filled with water from a common residential source, treated for longevity and then put away for a bad day.

I’ll have advantages and disadvantages, and you can make a great case for creating a well-rounded supply of stored water by making use of all of them. We will talk a little bit more about the pros and cons of each below.

How to store water for emergencies (containers and places to put them)

Bottled Water

Bottled water is an excellent contingency option for prepping, and one that is cheaply and widely available when times are good. Though everybody has a brand preference, they are all more or less the same for our purposes, consisting of water that is purified through various methods before being factory sealed into bottles or jugs for longevity.

Although the water will not last truly forever, and even while stored with seals intact some evaporation will occur over time, this water effectively doesn’t have a shelf life and can be kept for years with minimal degradation. Notably, supplies of bottled water cannot be counted upon being available after things get bad as everyone will be scrambling to get it.

Nonetheless, the convenience, cost-effectiveness and portability of bottled water make it an indispensable prep for every conceivable scenario.

two rain barrels on cinder_blocks for rainwater collection

Cans, Barrels, Containers

When planning to bug in or when greater stores of water are required to take care of the hydration requirements of a family, larger group or just as a contingency prep, you can rely on large cans, barrels and other specialized containers for water storage.

As a rule, these are purchased empty before being filled up via various means, sometimes straight out of your own household faucet or water hose and other times with captured, natural water like rainfall. Advantage of a larger container is, of course, a greater volume of water on hand for use but there are disadvantages one must plan for.

As a rule, storing water and containers of this nature will mandate various treatment options to prevent the formation of algae, bacteria and other undesirable life forms.

Additionally, water is extremely heavy, and a large volume of it and an equally large container will be practically immovable, necessitating the filling of multiple smaller containers if you want to take your supply on the road with you.

Bathtub Reservoir

A bathtub reservoir is a large Mylar bag, compact when folded with a sturdy, closing valve that one can place in their bathtub to be filled up with water quickly from the faucet in the tub. Done immediately prior to or immediately after the onset of an event, this can provide a quick, reliable and ready reserve of tens of gallons of water that can be used for a variety of purposes.

This is an excellent option for apartment-dwelling preppers or anyone else who does not have a lot of room to devote to larger containers of water, or in the case of uncertainty regarding the structural soundness of an area where you would store an extremely heavy barrel of water. Bathtubs and the structure that supports them are always reinforced to handle the weight associated with a full tub.


Procuring water post-SHTF is usually a manner of collecting it from any standing or moving source, gathering it from a man-made reservoir containing suitable water or catching precipitation from the sky. 

All are valid, and which one you rely on as your mainstay will likely be determined by your local climate and population density. Urban areas usually have few ponds, Rivers or lakes nearby and what ones they do are usually hideously polluted. They will have, however, an abundance of man-made sources that can be extremely convenient assuming you can get to them. The reverse is true of rural areas.

Note: All Found Water Supplies Should Be Treated.

It must be noted that any water gathered from any source should be treated before it is consumed unless you have no other choice. Natural water sources are rife with bacteria, viruses, protozoa and other microscopic life that can make you quite ill, perhaps life-threateningly so.

Man-made sources are not free from these concerns, and are more often contaminated with chemicals you don’t want to be consuming in any quantity if at all.

As a general rule, you should always draw water from a cleaner source if you have a choice but don’t believe the old wives tale that all natural sources are entirely pristine and safe to drink from compared to municipal or city water supplies. We will talk all about various methods for purification in the next section but for now let us get on to our assessment of the various sources.

Streams, Rivers

For many folks, streams and rivers will represent one of the most convenient and plentiful natural water sources. Old outdoor lore suggests that moving water is always cleaner or otherwise safer compared to standing water, but this is not necessarily true as moving water may appear light, foamy and clear but could still be hideously contaminated from any number of things upstream of your location. 

Rivers and streams are a great primary option because they are generally less vulnerable to drought or freeze conditions than ponds or lakes, meaning they are more likely to be available when you need them.

Ponds, Lakes

Ponds and lakes are the other plentiful natural water source, and entirely suitable for collection as drinking water but one must be even more cautious as standing water more often than not proves to be even dirtier than other natural water sources. 

As mentioned above, ponds and lakes are more vulnerable to freezing and drought conditions, potentially rendering them inaccessible or unusable as a water source though they do have the advantage of being easier to collect from overall compared to rivers or streams.


One of the very best natural sources of water is rainfall. The rainfall cannot be said to be completely pure owing to the preponderance of airborne pollution that will condense along with it and fall to the ground, catching rainwater directly before it hits the ground or some other surface will ensure extremely high quality water compared to most other options on this list, and you should be prepared to take maximum advantage of it especially if you are in an area that receives considerable precipitation.

Rain Roof - Rainwater Harvesting Project - How To

Note that rainwater that is draining off of any flat surface such as a roof or other overhang can still be entirely usable, but you should make sure that you take the time to filter or otherwise purified does it will be collecting dust, germs, animal droppings and the like in its travels. 


Snow is nothing more than frozen rainwater for our purposes, only it is rainwater you can pick up right off the ground. Snow is often plentiful when it occurs and the only thing you’ll need to do to turn it back into water is warm it up. Bringing it inside a warm building, placing it in a bottle and keeping it near your body or setting a container near a toasty fire is a great way to turn it liquid again in short order.

The general rule for collecting snow as drinking water-to-be is to follow the same rules you’d use for building a snowman or forming the perfect snowball: Try to collect only snow that is pristine, pure, white and not in direct contact with the ground or any other surface which might contaminate it further.

Also, even though it looks completely pure and wholesome, filter it anyway to be on the safe side if you have any doubts and remember: don’t eat the yellow snow!

Pools and Fountains

In and around affluent neighborhoods, large towns and all cities you will find a preponderance of pools and fountains, readymade reservoirs of water right for the taking. Swimming pools kept in good repair, in particular, are excellent sources of water that are easily treated and in a pinch are generally okay to drink as is the one must be cautious if the pool water smells strongly of any chemicals.

Check at schools, gyms, hotels, spas and similar places for pools that you may draw from in a pinch. A pool in an out of the way or unexpected place can prove to be a lifesaving resource in a long-term survival situation.

Water Heaters

One ready source of water in your very own home that you can draw from after other sources of public water bite the dust is your own water heater, and the most water heaters contain between 30 and 60 gallons ready to use.

Note you will need to be prepared to drain the water from the heater following procedures listed in the manual for the purpose if you want to capture it without flooding your home so it is best to read up on that stuff now while you can.

Depending on the age and condition of your water heater, mineralization might lend your water a coppery or metallic taste but it is generally safe to drink as is. If you have any doubts and you have the capability, you can treat it as you would any other collected water to improve the taste and give yourself peace of mind.

Toilet Cisterns

Similar to your water heater, the cistern of most toilets not the bowl contains water that is reasonably safe to drink if a bit unsettling and typically possessed of a metallic or mineral-like taste. Note you may only take this water out with a modicum of safety for drinking if it has been untreated with chemicals and is not contaminated by one of those blue or white toilet tank cleanser tablets


Now that you have collected water from any of the sources above, it is time to treat, or purify the water to remove any contaminants that could make us sick or otherwise injure us. you have a variety of methods at your disposal, some suitable for use in austere environments or as a field expedient method while others rely on purpose made gear or chemicals for the task. You should have access to and be fluent with several methods in each category.

Of the contaminants you are trying to remove, the three major categories are microorganisms, chemicals and heavy metals. Microorganisms are the aforementioned bacteria, viruses and the like, germs, they can make you sick typically with gastrointestinal distress but sometimes much, much worse.

Generally, boiling or chemically treating water with sterilization agents is sufficient to wipe out these buggers the water filters can take care of the majority of bacteria and some, but not all, viruses.

Chemicals are significantly more difficult to remove from water, even with advanced filters, and boiling often does nothing to destroy many of the most harmful ones.

You’ll have to rely on special filtration devices or distillation to eliminate chemical contamination and you should think twice before drawing water from any source that has a high likelihood of chemical contamination. 

Lastly, heavy metals are among the most insidious, harmful and difficult to remove contaminants with only the most advanced filtration systems capable of any efficacy. Many heavy metals will not present immediate health problems, instead of building up in your system slowly, insidiously, to give you bad diseases down the line.

The pros and cons of each method of purification will be discussed below.

Make your own water filter and never buy drinking water again.


An emergency water filter is your first and best line of defense when treating found water supplies. These devices range in size from super compact pocket sized straws to larger, countertop canisters that can be fed gallons of water at a time for treatment.

Any water filter that is worth the price tag will completely remove dissolve solids, man-made materials, the overwhelming majority of bacteria and many viruses and most parasites from the water supply, though some of the smaller viruses can escape capture.

Generally speaking, you’ll want to have a compact system for inclusion in your bug out bag and a larger system for at home use or providing water for a group while in the field.


Boiling is one of the most ancient and still most effective methods of eliminating microorganisms in water. If you can do nothing else in the field but coarsely filter your water through a sock, a bandana and then a coffee filter before boiling it you’ll have gone a long way towards making it safe and far more palatable to drink.

This is because most microorganisms cannot survive elevated temperatures to say anything of the extreme heat brought about by boiling, and 30 to 60 seconds at this temperature is all it takes to be completely certain that all the nasty little critters are dead. As mentioned above, boiling does nothing to reduce chemical or heavy metal contamination and won’t do anything further against dissolved solids.

As part of a 1-2 punch with a primitive filter or a nominally clean source of water, it is excellent, though it does require considerable fuel for the heating process.

Sterilization Chemicals

Sterilization chemicals in various forms have long been the best friends of the soldier, the adventurer and the multi-day trekker or camper.

And the form of a liquid, powder or solid tablet, sterilization chemicals at work by creating an environment and the water that is hostile to microscopic life, destroying or otherwise neutralizing these critters so that they won’t make us sick.

Compared to other methods, the proper use of sterilization chemicals requires a little know-how, typically the correct ratios of chemicals to water as well as a certain amount of time to allow the chemicals to do their job.

Most of them, unfortunately, impact the taste of water and almost always for the worse, don’t knowing you are drinking sterilized water is incentive enough to bring these along and they’re portability makes them an excellent inclusion for any survival kit.


Distillation is the process of turning water into steam before condensing it into water in a separate vessel, and during the process the water will leave behind any and all contaminants, microscopic, chemical or otherwise.

Distillation produces water that is utterly pure and it has much to commend it as a purification technique, though you will need a specialty device that is electrically powered for the process or a little bit of know-how and some equipment to pull it off in field conditions.

Probably the biggest disadvantage to distillation is that it is extremely slow and produces comparatively very little water for the effort and energy invested, although it is possible to set up multiple, smaller operations that don’t require babysitting to increase your yield.

Nonetheless, distillation is one of the only ways, if not the sole way, to render terribly contaminated water safe to drink when performed properly.


Many of the microscopic organisms present in collected, natural water supplies do not fare well when subjected to steady bombardment of ultraviolet radiation. Often, this ultraviolet radiation destroys them completely but it can also disrupt their life cycle to the point where there are neutralized.

The clever prepper can use this information to his advantage via a compact, UV emitter designed to sterilize otherwise clear water or by placing water in a clear container and allowing direct sunlight to do the job over several hours.

Both are entirely viable, but as expected they do nothing against chemicals or heavy metal contamination and both are highly dependent on water that is not murky or cloudy. Even so, the adaptability of this method makes it a great one to employ, especially when you are bugging in as the rays of the sun are dependable and plentiful virtually everywhere.


And what is certain to be the biggest surprise on this list for some, cilantro- fresh, common, live cilantro- has shown to have an excellent purifying effect on water when it is left to soak inside it and it has even shown the near miraculous ability to absorb, veritably scrub, heavy metals out of the water where virtually every other method will fail to do so. Marvelous!

without delving too far into the science of it, and it is worth noting that science is still not entirely sure how the process works aside from the fact that it does, positively, work, all you’ll need to do is take your suspect water source, filter it as best you can and then add fresh cilantro to the water, as much as you can, before stirring it and then leaving it to work. 4 to 6 hours is all that is required to achieve significant reductions of contaminants and heavy metals in particular.

Filter the cilantro from the water and you are good to go, though your water is likely to have taken on the distinctive taste of that herb.

My New Austere Water Treatment Plan

I like plain, dirt simple and reliable solutions to my problems. Thus I needed a way to make my dirty, algie, mosquito infested rain barrel water potable and have a dirt simple way to do it. I filtered the water first through an old T-shirt, then through a coffee filter and finally I boiled the water.

The rule used to be that you had to boil the water anywhere from five to twenty minutes however the latest “word” on boiling for drinking is to simply get it to a good boil, then allow it to cool.

This does mean you have to have a heat source such as a stored fuel or wood. Something even easier (and less hands on) is to use a solar still, this uses the power of the sun to evaporate the water vapor and allow it to condense and collect into a clean container for drinking.

water prepping Pinterest image

updated 09/16/2021

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6 thoughts on “Water Preparedness – Your Ultimate Guide”

  1. One problem with setting up a solar still which I still haven’t worked out is the fact that it leaves your water supply out in the open for anyone to take. If things get bad, I’m pretty sure I can defend the inside of my home, but living so close to a main road and having no fence around my lot, I see no means of preventing others from entering my yard. I worry that having a solar still in the back yard would attract those without water, then they might decide to see what else they can find and if they can get inside the house. Thoughts, anyone?


  2. Yes indeed, it is going to be a shame how the world is going to crash around us and we will all have front row tickets to the absolute horror that human behavior will degrade to. I remember an episode from “The outer limits” years ago. 1 family have built a bunker and stored everything, and the neighbors did not. The SHTF time came and the neighbors nearly killed the prepared man for what he had, and fortunately it was a false alarm. Yet the neighbors that immediately turned into animals said they were sorry and planned a block party to make up. It gives you a unique perspective on what “may” happen.

  3. I’ve seen plans for solar stills but never tried it, which begs the question: How efficient are they? I know when I tried to distill water using the cup in bowl method I was greatly unimpressed with the results. Anyway, perhaps a better way to use a solar still is as a large SODIS vat? I don’t know for sure… just thinking out loud.


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