Water Collection & Storage Tips for Emergencies

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Scientists spend so much time looking for water on other planets because without water, there’s no life. It’s vital to have a homestead water plan. Lacking an alternate plan to running water can be a life-or-death mistake.

Many homesteaders look for land with a source of freshwater for this very reason. An established homestead may have running water. However, if a water pump stops working or you encounter another problem, an alternative water source can keep animals healthy and crops growing.

Of course, when you make a homestead water plan, a lot of factors need to be considered. Not every farm or home is the same, therefore there is no single homestead water plan that will work for everybody.

Reasons for Having a Homestead Water Plan 

From hurricanes to ice storms, drought to social upheaval, there are many reasons a family could find themselves without running water.

I live in a region where thunderstorms and blizzards are the most common reasons for power outages and therefore the lack of running water. In either circumstance, there’s still water everywhere around me. Still, it’s useless if I don’t have a plan for harvesting it.

Frozen or broken pipes, and even plumbing maintenance or repairs can cause you to be without running water, too.

If you live in a drought-prone area, having a plan to capture and use water is even more vital for tough times.

Factors to Consider

1. Drinking Water

CDC guidelines recommend keeping 3-gallons of water per person on hand in case of an emergency. That’s a gallon a day for 3 days, enough to cook, drink, and do some basic cleaning with. While it’s a good starting point, there are many other things to think about.  

Obviously, the guideline is that you should calculate the number of people in your household times 3-gallons. However, factors such as the ages of members of the house and health conditions could affect the amount that is appropriate per person.

If you are caring for an elderly family member or young children, there can be extra messes that require cleaning. So keeping extra water on hand just for cleaning is prudent.

2. Animals and Plants

All animals require water to drink, so you will need to know approximately how much water they consume per day. Some animals drink more water during the hot months, so it’s good to be prepared for the high end of their daily needs rather than the average.

Droughts or simply the lack of a nearby water source can make growing plants a challenge. Planning to have extra water for such situations or finding a method of soil water retention can keep your plants alive when everything else is going wrong.

3. Location

Location matters. City dwellers’ water supply may not be affected by a power outage, since they are typically fed by water towers that force water by gravity. However, in the country, a well-pump is what will keep you operational. 

A water tower could take quite a long time to empty before residents notice the problem. Whereas a well-pump stopping is almost immediately noticeable to those getting water from a well.

Your location could affect your ability to store or collect water, and may also impact your need to store water. 

Water Storage 

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For many people, the most obvious water plan is to keep some stored where you live. There are a lot of different ways to store water such as rain barrels, cisterns and jugs. 

1. Rain Barrels and Cisterns

Rain barrels and cisterns are both great ways to collect larger volumes of water to be used for varying purposes. A cistern is a large reservoir, often built into the base of a home, and rain barrels are placed beneath gutters to hold water for later use.

Rain barrels are a great way to catch water runoff that can be easily added to a home if a cistern is just out of the question. You can make your own easily with just a watertight garbage can placed beneath a downspout. 

2. Jugs

Many types of jugs and barrels could be used inside a house, garage, or basement to store large quantities of water. Some people use 50-gallon drums filled with tap water for bulk water storage in their basement. 

Water cooler jugs will hold somewhere between 5-10 gallons of water depending on the size you buy. Plus, they’re relatively inexpensive. If you buy ones you don’t have to exchange, you’ll have an immediate source of drinking water. Once it’s empty, it can be refilled from an on-site water source.

Obviously, bottled water purchased from the store is a readily available solution for many people. However, depending on the brand you purchase, you may find yourself feeling thirstier after drinking it as a lack of the appropriate electrolytes can keep your body from properly absorbing water.

Water Treatment/Filtering 

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Any time you plan to store water for an extended period, you will need to make sure:

  • it’s stored properly, and
  • it’s treated to make sure you don’t end up growing unhealthy things in the water.  

When storing water, you must use clean water, and of course a clean storage container. The most common way to treat drinking water is by using bleach. 

However, great caution should be taken when treating any water. All that is required for a quart of water is a single drop of bleach. 

There are tablets and treatment systems that can be purchased for the sake of cleaning water for emergencies, and it may be a good idea to keep some stored on hand if you aren’t comfortable treating your water with “home methods.”

Another option, if you are hauling water from an unclean water source, is to first let the water settle and then filter it through some sort of clean cloth or filter. Once settled, let the water boil for 1-3 minutes (depending on altitude), and you should have safe water to drink.

A good water filter may be expensive but will remove heavy metals, sediment, and bacteria. For some people with hard water, a water softener isn’t enough to remove the iron deposits, so a filter is still used to make the water more palatable.

Products such as the Life Straw are a great emergency tool to have on hand, but really only help you with drinking water and wouldn’t be great for a long-term situation. Water filters will not filter salt, however, and a reverse osmosis system would be needed to filter water for drinking.   

It may also be necessary to test water from a given source before you drink it. A lot of different at-home water test kits would tell you what needs to be done to your water. Some companies will come to your home and test the water for you. If you live off of a well, it’s standard to have water testing done periodically.   

Water Sources 

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In a serious enough situation, snow or rainwater may not be available to you. In this case, you need to find an alternate water source. It’s important to identify sources of freshwater, such as springs, ponds, and creeks that are nearby and accessible.

Artisanal wells can sometimes be found on the side of the road and people stop to fill jugs with clean, pure water. From streams to lakes, be sure you know what kind of water you are dealing with. 

If freshwater is not readily available to you, but saltwater is, learn how you can filter out the salt to make it safe for consumption.   

Consider where you live, and what the weather is like. In some desert or drought-prone regions, it’s possible to collect water from the dew that gathers at night when temperatures drop, and certain plants retain water well.   

Of course, rain, snow, and ice are all good sources of water, if you have access to them. Snow and ice can be melted to capture water, and water caught in buckets can be enough to get you through a challenging situation. 

Hauling Water 

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If water isn’t flowing freely into your home, it’s going to have to get there somehow. Hauling water is no small task.   

In a short-term emergency, it’s easy enough to make do and let things get a little messy for the sake of using that precious water for other purposes. However, if you’re out of water for more than a few days, you’re going to need a better plan than 3-gallons of water per person, tucked away in your basement.   

I have multiple freshwater sources on my land. Even so, our creek sometimes runs dry in summer, and the pond is a bit of a trek in hot weather. With pigs, chickens, turkeys, ducks, and a dog on the homestead, hauling water for these animals is a chore. So we collect as much rainwater as possible to keep the chores as close to the animals as possible.

1. Cleaning-up Purposes

Water doesn’t just need to be hauled for drinking or caring for animals. We need it for cooking and cleaning alike. From spilled milk, sticky fingers, and dirty dishes to making pasta and bread and soup, even laundry. We go through a lot of water in a day, so this is an incredibly important aspect of a homestead water plan. 

Consider what habits would need to change to prevent endless hauling of water in a long-term situation. How often do you shower, do laundry, wash dishes, or flush the toilet?

2. Five Gallon Pails

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Adding a hand pump close to the house or near animal structures could cut down on water-hauling if the electricity goes out. If you keep a water source close at hand, then you don’t have to travel far to get to it or bring it to you. 

Five-gallon pails are a homesteader’s best friend because they are so versatile. We use them for hauling feed, water, sap, butchering animals, storing food, and more.

If you have to haul pails of water, it is easier to divide the water into 2 buckets and carry one in each hand than to carry one, heavier pail of water as it distributes the weight evenly and keeps you from leaning sideways and prevents the bucket from knocking on your legs.   

We always keep some empty pails with lids in our house during the winter months to fill with water from the taps since the outside taps freeze. If we had to melt snow to get water for the animals, keeping pails inside keeps us from having to make an extra trip outside to get one.

A cover on top of a pail or jug keeps water from splashing out and onto you in sub-zero temps. It also prevents extra trips back and forth between animals and water sources.

Ways to Help Save Water 

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When considering the possibility (however unlikely) of never having running water again, look back to the way things used to be. How did they do dishes, wash laundry, bathe, cook, clean, or care for animals?   

There’s a tendency to imagine things have always been the way they are today. But a lot of the old farmhouses in my area didn’t have running water installed until the 1970s. It’s a relatively new convenience for much of the world and is still not common everywhere.

Laundry and baths were once a week, and it was customary to keep basins of water around for washing hands, faces, and feet. Fewer dishes were owned and therefore fewer dishes needed to be washed. 

Having water accessible to you would have been a major chore, so it was treated like the precious resource it is.   

The advice goes “fill a tub if you know a big storm is coming.” In winter, it should be warm or hot water. It’ll help keep your home warmer, and it will give you easy access to water if the power goes out.  

Again, 5-gallon pails might be one of the most valued possessions on the homestead because you can use them for anything. They can serve as a sink, washtub, storage container, they can be used for hauling things like water or veggies from the garden, and they can even serve as a makeshift toilet.   

1. Toilets

Speaking of toilets… toilets require water, too, so have a plan for bathroom usage. You can make a composting toilet using a bucket, but you can also continue to flush your toilet if you can refill the water tank on your toilet. 

Generally speaking, if the power goes out and your well pump isn’t working, you’ll only get 1 or 2 full flushes out of your toilet before it stops working. This is where the saying “if it’s brown, flush it down, if it’s yellow, stay mellow,” really comes in handy.   

2. Recycling Water

Grey water systems can extend your resources and are used in many drought-prone areas. Some soaps and cleaning agents will break down and be safe to use in gardens and for other purposes.

Leftover water from cooking things like eggs or veggies can be used for watering house plants or even serving animals for drinking water after it has cooled down. In this circumstance, you have the bonus of extra vitamins and minerals being passed along to whatever you are watering.

3. Fire Considerations

Water for fire safety purposes is another consideration for the homestead. We have a large water tank that we use for feeding animals on pasture. However, it’s gravity run, meaning we don’t use a pump with it.

Our chicken coop caught fire and burned down one year, and we had that big tank parked near the coop. However, without a pump on it, there was no way to get that water onto the fire.

Having a gas-powered pump for our portable water tank could have possibly helped us put out that fire immediately rather than losing all the chickens along with the building.

4. Mulch

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Many gardeners use mulch to help their gardens retain water, and this is just one thing you can do to cut down on your water needs throughout the growing season. Less time is spent hauling water or spraying down the garden, and in the event of a dry spell, plants stay hydrated and healthy.

Making Your Homestead Water Plan

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The first step to making a good homestead water plan is to identify your needs. In this case, you need to figure out what your water needs are in an emergency.

Next, determine your goals such as how extensive you want your water storage to be if you will collect rainwater or haul from a stream, and things like if you want to add a hand pump to your property.

Once the goals have been determined, you can make lists of supplies needed or work that need to be done to make your goals a reality. With each goal you accomplish, be sure to test out its effectiveness so you can see if there are any flaws in your systems.

You may find that your plan isn’t quite enough to meet your needs after testing things out. If that’s the case, you may need to add more safety precautions into your homestead water plan such as a bigger water filter, or extra or larger rain barrels.

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