Kevin Dick on water preparedness

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Reader Kevin Dick writes:
I'm a little gung-ho on the disaster preparedness front. I've probably gone through 5 evolutions over the last 15 years of researching, procuring, and storing supplies. Family and friends frequently ask, "Hey Kev, I'm not as crazy as you about all this stuff, what's the minimum I should do." It would be nice if I could tell them to simply buy a couple of prepackaged 72-hour kits. Unfortunately, most such kits are very light on water and many of the other components are extremely cheaply made.

As Eric has noted, water is the number one requirement, perhaps exceeded by any prescription medications needed for chronic, life threatening conditions. So I've thought about water strategy quite a bit and have some minimum recommendations. Perhaps the only unobvious thing is that a water strategy requires a sanitation strategy. If you have to wash urine and feces off your hands, that wastes a lot of water. Fouling your water supply because of open waste and contaminated hands obviates all your initial effort. Having diarrhea also wastes a lot of water, hence the recommended Immodium.

I don't recommend specifically getting a filtration pump as part of these minimum requirements. They're kind of expensive, require you to get to a source of water, and can be finicky to use. If you have one for camping already, store it with your other home equipment. If you want something more than the minimum or are squeamish about drinker brown water, you might also want a pump.

I recommend having supplies in two locations, your home and each car. If you work, it's almost as likely that you'll be away from your home so you better have some water-oriented supplies with you. For your home, you should use a storage area outside, in the shade if you live in earthquake country. I use the hollow benches in my deck. Here are my recommendations for water and sanitation in each area:


  • As many 5 gallon containers of water that you have room and patience to store. 2 is probably the minimum and 2.5 per person is probably the maximum. Use a 1/2 tsp of houshold bleach as a preservative in each container. ($13/ each)
  • 2 8oz pump containers of hand sanitizer. (< $10)
  • 4 rolls of toilet paper packed in individual gallon freezer bags (< $5)
  • Emergency/camp toilet w/10 bags ($15-$30)
  • 1 gallon of household bleach (<$10)
  • 1 24 ct package Immodium (<$10)
Total Cost: $100-$150


  • Daypack w/2 mesh water bottle pockets (<$50)
  • 2 1L Nalgene bottles (< $20)
  • 1 package of 30 Micropur MP1 tablets (~$15)
  • 2-4 3-box packages of Aqua Blox (<$15)
  • 1 8oz pump containers of hand sanitizer. (<$5)
  • 2 rolls of toilet paper packed in individual gallon freezer bags (< $3)
  • Box of gallon freezer bags (<$5)
  • 1 12 ct package Immodium (<$5)
Total Cost: $100-$125 per car

My personal bias towards having a filter comes from backpacking experience where weight restrictions preclude carrying all the water you'll need and it's common to have water that's hard to purify with chemicals. I'd also add one more thing to Kevin's list: some sort of sodium replacement. If you're drinking but not eating, it's easy to get hyponatremia under hot conditions. You don't need anything fancy: table salt will work just fine, but salt tablets are generally easier to get down.

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Salt is definitely worth considering, especially if you live in the desert. I just don't recommend it as part of the minimum kit. You kind of have to know what you're doing so that you don't consume too much. Moreover, after a disaster like an earthquake or flood, it's likely that you'll have access to prepared foods (because they are likely to survive and easy to transport), which are plenty high in salt.

What is the shelf life on the standard plastic water bottles you can get at Costco. They had 20 L of water, nicely shrinkwrapped and in 1L bottles, for ~$5 IIRC (definatly

The shelf-life of bottledw ater is a matter of some debate. Nobody really thinks it's less than two years as long as it's stored in a dark cool place.

The problem, of course, is that these are precisely the places you don't want to store water in earthquake country. Dark is possible, but cool is hard.

My personal feeling is to avoid .5L bottles because cases feel unstable so transporting them can be a problem. Then again, I'm strong enough to haul a 5 or even 10 gal container in each hand. 1L bottle cases feel pretty stable so I've got no problem with them. Also fit nicely in a backup water bottle pouch.

However, I'd either rotate my stock on an annual basis--because it's easier to remember to do it and then you're not screwed if you forget one year--or I'd also have a camping pump to run really old bottles through.

That was "backpack" water bottle pouch.

The 1/2 tsp of bleach per gallon seems very high to me. Any thoughts on where this number comes from?

I reviewed the recommended dosage at:

But this dosage is what I've generally read every time I check.

FEMA actually recommends 1 tsp per 5 gallons:

I just ran across AquaLiterz--liter size boxes from the AquaBlox people. Looks like you can get a case of 12 for about ~$15.

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