You cannot live without water. Your garden, everybody’s garden, will die without water. Every single living thing on earth has to have water or die. Every industrial product uses water somewhere in its processes, and sometimes quite a lot of it. Cooling steel after forging? Water. Dying the wool from the sheep you sheared? Water. Building a loom from scrap lumber? Those trees grew with water. Mixing concrete? Water. Making adobe bricks? Water. Growing wheat and then shipping it world wide? Amazing amounts of water. Fracking natural gas? Flushing toilets throughout the western world? Gargantuan, amazing, astounding amounts of formerly drinkable water.
My point is that water usage is everywhere even if what we see isn’t alive or wet. Water was involved somewhere. Now on the surface, water doesn’t appear to be a scarce resource. Oceans are full of it; indeed, about 70 percent of the earth’s surface is water.
Sadly, unless you are a saltwater fish, ocean water is useless for almost everything people need to do. Saltwater is very corrosive and so isn’t used for industrial processes. It poisons the soil so it can’t be used for irrigation. You can’t drink it. If you are going to use sea water for anything but saltwater aquariums and mining sea salt, it has to be purified at huge costs of energy and money.
Fresh water falls out of the sky as rain. Quality may vary depending on how polluted your air is (Chinese acid rain) but usually rain water is OK. Streams and lakes are usually sweet enough but you can’t drink from them without purification (bacteria, intestinal parasites, heavy metals, manure as anywhere in the world, you are downstream from something). Fresh rain water, if given a chance, soaks into the ground into aquifers. These are sort of giant spongy parts of the earth’s crust. They are everywhere and range in size from billions of gallons to trillions of gallons of clean, pure, fossil water.
Notice that phrase, fossil water. It takes millions of years for a big aquifer to fill up with rain water and only a few years for industrious people to pump it dry for irrigation and industry. Wells in India and Pakistan that were fifty feet deep fifty years ago are now hundreds of feet deep. The water was pumped out onto the fields, where most of it evaporated or ran off into the sea. Very little actually got past the thirsty plant roots and sank back down into the aquifer. This is happening in the United States too.
The Ogallala Aquifer covers much of the Midwest. Some sections get enough rain water to recharge it. Other sections are being drained dry. As well as draining aquifers, busy industrious people divert rivers to suck up every drop. Both the Colorado River and the Rio Grande don’t empty into the Gulf of California and the Gulf of Mexico respectively anymore. Every single drop of water gets used for irrigation, industry, toilet flushing, lawns, golf courses, swimming pools, you name it. Some of it actually gets used by people drinking it too. Very few of these uses allow the water to sink back down into the soil, down, down, down, and back into the aquifer.
Weather patterns don’t seem to be as reliable anymore. There is some thought that the last ten thousand years of human life — since the development of farming, in fact — the earth’s climate was unusually stable, consistent, and calm. This may be changing and not for the better. It may mean bigger, longer, harsher droughts followed by torrential rains that are lost to the seas due to runoff into streams.
Your garden, your farm, agriculture in general really prefers a regular amount of rain on a regular basis. An inch or so a week is what all the gardening books say and that certainly seems to be true for my garden. This is not at ALL the same as four or five inches all at once, every thirty days. Alternating flood and drought is terribly hard on you, your garden, your community, your agriculture. Monsoons and dry seasons can be managed with sufficient time, effort, and knowledge but regular rain, an inch a week, is way, way easier.
I. Emergency Storage
So how do we manage water better? The first step is to store water for your family for emergencies. The Red Cross says a gallon of water per person per day will allow enough water to drink, and maybe wash your hands once or cook a little. Notice that this does not include toilets, showers, dishwashing, laundry, pets, pools, plants, livestock, or anything else. In my household of five, plus pets, houseplants, and a large garden, we use about forty gallons of water per person per day. Most people use more, a lot more in some cases.
The Red Cross says you should have a minimum of three days of water on hand, planning for a gallon per day, per person (plus extra for pets). Water takes up a lot of space and it is heavy. Using this ratio means that my household of five, plus pets, should keep six gallons a day. Times three days means eighteen gallon jugs of water. This is the rock bottom minimum, and doesn’t allow for toilets, showers, dishwashing, or very much cooking. A five day supply would be better as it gives you more margin for error.
When you are next at the supermarket, look at those shelves of bottled water in gallon jugs and see how much space three days of water for your household would take. Look around at home and see where you are going to put all that water. As with everything else, water storage is best where it is cool, dry, and in the dark. I have gallon jugs of water tucked away in my basement in two separate locations as that is how it fit best. My water is still in the original plastic jug as it came from the store. I have never had them leak or fail and some of them are now ten years old. I may have to boil the water if we need to drink it and I will certainly need to aerate it for better taste but I know that water was clean, pure, and safe when I stored it.
Stored water will taste better if it is aerated. Pour the water from container to container a few times to “air it out” (after any boiling or bleach treatments) and it won’t taste flat when you drink it or use it to make tea. Flat water is fine for hand washing or cooking so don’t bother aerating it for these uses.
You probably won’t have the space to store more than twenty or thirty gallons of water. It gets heavy fast so make sure the shelves are reinforced, keep the water on the bottom shelves, and don’t put anything breakable underneath the water jugs.
If you are having a water emergency, remember that the water in your toilet tank (NOT THE BOWL) is still potable as is the water in your hot water tank. To keep that water clean, you will have to shut off the water coming into the house to prevent potentially contaminated water mixing with your clean water. If you need to replace your hot water heater, water storage is a good reason to get the biggest unit you can fit into your space. This is also why I don’t recommend those hot water on demand instant heating units. They store no water at all, and encourage certain family members to take even longer showers than they already do.
If you know that a water emergency is coming, you can temporarily store water. The easiest way is to get a rubber disk to cover the closed drain in your clean bathtub and then fill the bathtub. The disk will slow down the water leakage through the drain; you will have potentially another fifty or sixty gallons of water available for use. You will have to keep little kids away from this as it is a potential drowning hazard. You can also get huge plastic bags that fit into the bathtub to store the water. This would keep the water cleaner and be less of a hazard. I think those might also be harder to use and drain when the emergency passes. I believe they are single use only and of course have to be stored somewhere. The rubber disk seems easier.
Have clean, empty water containers with lids on standby and when the emergency threatens, fill them up and then fill all the empty spaces in your freezer and fridge. Leave some head space in the containers for the increased size of the ice. The mass of cold water and ice will help maintain the temperature in your freezer and fridge if you loose power, and the water will be available to drink. In fact, if you regularly have freezer space open up with the gardening and hunting seasons, plan on filling the empty space with jugs of water. It will keep everything colder in the event of a power outage and make your freezer more efficient.
While you are filling the freezer jugs, don’t forget to hunt up all your camping water storage jugs and fill them up with ice and water too. This is why I keep a five gallon Coleman Water Jug in my basement. In the event of an emergency, it gets filled with ice and water and then sits on the table waiting to be used.
If you have a swimming pool, you have many thousands of gallons of water. You may not want to drink this water (depending on its purity and algae load) without straining, standing, aerating, and boiling but it will work perfectly well as is to flush toilets and wash dishes.
During the water emergency, cut back on water usage as much as possible! Stop doing laundry, stop watering plants, use paper plates and paper napkins and disposable flatware, hand washing only, let the gentlemen fertilize the compost bin and only flush the toilet when feces are present. By the way, toilets can be flushed with the stored water in the bathtub. Dip out a bucket full, and pour it into the toilet bowl and it will flush. Use up the table top storage water first (your camping water jugs) followed by your bathtub, emergency storage water and water in the hot water heater. As you use up the purchased jugs, try to keep getting more water. You may have to save your empty jugs for reuse, if the only source of replacement water is the National Guard water truck. They will not supply you with empty containers, so don’t ask.
It is unbelievable inconvenient to not have water, fresh and safe, available at the tap on demand. We actually got to experience this first hand many years ago in York, S.C. There was a problem in the reservoir and suddenly, with no notice, there no water was available at all. After a day or so of panic — every store for miles was immediately stripped clean of water in every single size container — the city got the reservoir system going again. The water was brown as weak tea and smelled dreadful. You could at least use the flush toilets although the water looked so bad, it didn’t necessarily look as though you had flushed the toilet.
Because this affected only a relatively small area, local stores were able to get tons of water shipped in for sale. Over a two week period the water gradually shifted in color and odor until, at about the four day mark, you could wash laundry without it being permanently stained and wash dishes without them smelling bad afterwards. The city said the water was safe to drink as it was heavily chlorinated although no one did so. By about the one week mark, you could easily take a shower again and by the two week mark, everything was completely back to normal. It was definitely a learning experience — Thank God we could still use our toilets! — and since then, I have always had a dozen or so gallon jugs of water on hand.
You never tell when you might need it, either. Within the last year, there was a massive chemical spill in West Virginia into the stream-fed reservoirs; no one could use their water for weeks. the coal companies claimed the water was perfectly safe even when it was brown, thick, and reeked.
If you are on a well, you may think this doesn’t apply to you. It does! What are you going to do when your electric pump stops working because of a power outage or a mechanical failure? You should have some kind of manual back up to get your water. If your well is too deep for a manual pump, then you need a generator backup to the pump and emergency water stores just like a household using city water.
So, find a place to store several days worth of gallon jugs of water, keep water frozen in your freezer, get rubber disks for all your bathtubs, keep insulated camping jugs for water on hand in your basement and pay attention to news and weather reports. If you don’t need them? That’s great! If you do need them, you will be so grateful you were prepared.