Overlooked Water Sources In An Emergency

David Trammel's picture

As disruptions in our daily infrastructure due to weather related disruptions, the hurricane on the East Coast this week being a good example, as well as other more mundane problems, busted water mains or electrical outages being another example, there may be times when your stored water supply (and you are storing emergency water aren't you?) will begin to run short. In those cases you may need to scrounge for additional water. Here is a list of places that are often over looked.

Just by its typical construction, your home has several accessible water resources. These include:

1) Your Freezer and Refrigerator: I keep several gallons of water as ice in the bottom of my freezer, in the case that the electricity goes out. Once those containers melt, the water is drinkable. A good place to store extra water is your freezer. And can be adjusted as you get empty space in it. Don't forget that big tray of ice in your refrigerator too. Once it melts, you can drink the water too.

2) Your Water Heater: Most typical water heaters contain a lot of emergency water. Learn how to open the drain BEFORE an emergency though. Put in place the tools and the containers you need too. Most water heater drains sit close to the floor (an argument on why you should consider raising it on blocks when you replace it next time), so have a plastic or metal pan that is short enough to get under the drain or get a short length of hose.

3) The Pipes In Your House: Depending on the size of your home, you can have quite a bit of drinkable water in the pipes running everywhere. Locate the lowest facet, and you can drain most of it. Remember, in an emergency you might want to close the shut off valve at the point your outside water enters the home (typically next to your water meter) to prevent contamination if the local water supply is compromised.

4) Bathtub and Toilet: If you have time as an emergency approaches, one good action is to fill your tubs and sinks beforehand. This provides you with a large temporary supply that's easily accessed. Toilets provide a smaller supply, but remember, use the water in the upper tank, and not the water in the bowl. Water there though, can be used for your pets. The bacteria that would give us problems, pets typically are not affected by.

5) Canned Foods: Your emergency food supplies are another big overlooked source of water. The water and juice that is inside most canned vegetables is a source of extra water and nutrition in an emergency. Don't discard it. The saltier brines can be diluted with some extra water, and will provide needed electrolytes too. If water is an issue, consider what foods you eat, and pick the ones from your stores that contain the most water, or use the least water to prepare first.

6) Irrigation Lines and Garden Hoses: If you are a gardener and have irrigation lines in your yard, these contain stored water. Tapping them can be a challenge but most systems have a way to drain the pipes for the Winter. If not consider retrofitting them before an emergency. Also, consider buying a small hand pump and some flexible tubing. You can use it to drain irrigation lines and other harder to reach sources. Don't forget your outdoor hoses either. Typically you have that 50 feet of garden hose coiled on the outside wall. Those loops contain water too. You can carefully unspool it and drain the water in an emergency.

7) Rain Water Capture: Many disasters come with rain. If you don't already have a rain water capture system, you can improvise one with a large tarp. A standard 10x12' tarp will collect over 70 gallons of water when there is one inch of rainfall. Now there will probably be significant loss, but tarps as well as plastic storage containers are useful in a pinch.

Moving away from your home,
8) Fire Hydrants: Water in municipal lines is under pressure, so do this carefully. Note, your neighbors will be thinking about this too, especially if they see you out there doing it, so be prepared to share.

9) Commercial Buildings: If you look up in any commercial building, you'll see the fire sprinklers. Just like your home water pipes, the sprinkler system contains stored water. Depending on the size of the building, this source can be huge. Look for the fire department access, which is typically well marked. The water though, like the water from fire hydrants can be under pressure. Don't forget, commercial buildings have toilets and water heaters too. A good addition to your emergency tools is a four way sillcock key to access exterior taps, available at hardware stores.

10) Backyard pools or yard water features: Get familiar with your neighborhood using Google maps. Don't trespass but homes abandoned in an emergency may be accessible.

11) Local streams and drainage: If you take the time to notice, there are a lot of streams and drainage in a typical suburban environment. Almost every small bridge is there to allow water to run off safely. Scout these ahead of times and you may be able to supplement your water in an emergency.


Now how to filter and purify questionable water is the subject for another post, BUT these sources can help you in an emergency.

What other sources can you think of?

Put this item on your shopping list right away. Not one of those giant bathtub storage bags but a simple flat rubber gasket/disk to hold the water in. They're a few dollars at the hardware store. Fill the bathtub when you know the water emergency is coming.
You'll be closing the drain, of course. BUT! Your drain may still leak a bit. The flat rubber disk on top of your closed drain gives you a better seal.

Don't forget to fill all your containers if you've got advance notice. Teakettles, coffee pots, thermoses, sun-tea jugs, and those insulated coolers you use at picnics and job sites.

The other thing to stock up on is paper plates, disposable cups, plastic flatware, and paper napkins.
Yes, they'll be trash but during a water emergency, drinking water is more important than washing dishes with limited fresh water.

lathechuck's picture

You must have clean, pure water to drink, somewhere between a quart and a gallon per day (depending on the weather and activity).
You probably need water to cook with, but if you're using steam to cook vegetables, I imagine that the water hardly needs to be pure. Filtered through a cloth (or coffee filter) won't remove the germs, but the boiling process to create the steam will. (I'd do both, so my pot didn't get dirty.
You may need water for sponge baths, but that, too, can just be filtered.
If the regular water supply is seriously impacted, you should consider a composting toilet for feces, and a safe place to use urine as fertilizer. Think about how to do this NOW, rather than improvising. Bear in mind that, in an emergency, people might be suffering from diarrhea, and I'm not sure whether that's compatible with composting. I'd probably want to be able to flush, in that case, with captured rainwater. Rather than pouring from a bucket into the toilet bowl, just refill the tank after flushing normally (it's just the way it's designed to clear the bowl).
We capture rainwater in 55-gal plastic drums that once held flavorings for a local soft-drink bottling plant. They should be available for a nominal cost ($20?), if you talk to the right guy at the plant. I epoxied a barbed hose fitting into the bottom side-wall, and pushed a meter or so of clear plastic tubing over it. It's a sight-glass, as well as water dispenser. Algae and sediment from the roof can build up at the bottom of the barrel, so I thread a flexible piece of wire down the hose, into the barrel, when I have water to spare, and break up any blocking debris a couple times a year.