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What are recommended methods and amounts for personal water storage?

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When severe flooding hit Washington County this January, five bridges were washed out. The town of Gunlock was isolated and the water supply was severed. One prepared resident stored 50 gallons of water prior to the flooding. This sustained him and his neighbors for several days until emergency crews could restore the bridges and the town’s water supply.

With the threat of flooding still in the forecast for many areas in Utah, consider these recommendations for water storage:

Store at least one gallon of water per person per day for three days. If you have pets, add more to that amount. Suggested containers for storing water include 2-liter soda pop bottles, plastic juice containers, glass canning jars and commercial containers made especially for storing water.

Wash the container in warm soapy water, then rinse to remove all traces of food residue. Food residue can support illness-causing microorganisms that can grow during water storage.

Municipal tap water stored without pretreatment can contain potentially dangerous bacteria. These bacteria can cause illness in people with lower immunities, including the very young, the very old and the sick. Therefore, all stored water should be treated to kill these potentially dangerous microorganisms.

To store water in glass canning jars, fill the jars with clean water, leaving ½ inch headspace. Attach rings and new metal lids. Fill boiling water canner half full of water, and heat to approximately 140 F. Place water jars in canner. Heat to boiling, then continue boiling for 20 minutes. Remove jars from the canner and allow to cool. Remove metal bands after metal lids have “popped,” indicating a vacuum seal. Canned water may have a white mineral precipitate or ring on the surface. This is normal and expected. Do not store all of your water in glass since it may break.

For water storage in plastic or stainless steel containers, a chlorine treatment is recommended. Clean the containers and lids in warm soapy water and rinse. Fill with clean water and add 1/8 teaspoon (8 drops) liquid bleach per gallon of water if using a municipal water supply. Attach cap and shake well. Place water in storage.

Bottled water is a quick and convenient method of storing water. However, bottled water in most states is only required to meet the same standards as municipal tap water. This means that dangerous microorganisms can also grow when commercially bottled water is stored. Bottled water labeled “sterile” or “distilled” is treated to remove microorganisms and is the preferred commercial bottled water for storage.

For emergency sources of water, you can use collected rainwater, snow, water from streams, rivers, ponds, lakes or springs. Do not use water that has floating material, flood water, toilet water or saltwater. The best method to treat outside water is to boil it for five minutes. If a heat source is not available, bleach can be used. Add ¼ teaspoon (16 drops) liquid bleach per gallon. Allow the water to stand for 30 minutes before drinking. If water is cloudy, allow it to settle and decant the clear water before disinfecting with bleach.

Water can be obtained from some stored foods and beverages. Hot water tanks, pipes, ice cubes or water softeners also contain clean water. However, since the water supply may have become contaminated during an emergency situation, it is best to disinfect the water by adding ¼ teaspoon of liquid bleach per gallon. Allow the water to sit for 30 minutes before drinking. Water beds, toilet tank reserves and pools are not good sources of drinking water since they may contain hazardous chemicals.

Posted on 9 May 2005

Deloy Hendricks
Extension Food and Nutrition Specialist
Brian Nummer
Food Safety Specialist

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