Storing Emergency Drinking Water
Severe weather and natural disasters occasionally affect Florida, which can leave residents without electricity or running water for days or weeks. Drinking water can also become contaminated during a disaster. Although humans are able to live with little food for weeks, we can’t go without water for more than a few days. Collecting and storing safe drinking water is one of the best ways to plan for an approaching disaster.
In the case of an emergency, store water for drinking, food preparation, and hygiene—enough for each person in your household to use 1–1.5 gallons a day for a minimum of three days. (Be sure to store more water if there are children, nursing mothers, sick people, and/or pets in your home.)
Storing Water in Containers
Store water before a natural disaster in clean, good-grade plastic or glass containers using the following steps:
- Wash each container (inside and outside) with soap and hot water.
- Sanitize the containers with a solution of 1 teaspoon of non-scented household bleach per quart of water.
- Thoroughly rinse with plain, clean water.
Avoid using milk containers, which can be hard to clean, because bacteria can grow quickly in them. If they’re your only storage option, then take special care when cleaning milk containers.
Also avoid storing drinking water in bleach containers—the containers are not made of food-grade plastic. Water stored in bleach containers for non-drinking purposes could be mistaken for drinking water and cause serious issues, so take extra precautions if using bleach containers.
You don’t need to disinfect water that came from a public supply, unless a “boil water order” has been issued. However, you will need to purify water from private wells, springs, and other untested sources before storage by boiling or chemically treating it.
Store clean water in clean containers marked “drinking water” along with the date of storage. Tightly sealed containers should be stored in dark, cool, and dry places to prevent heat and light damage, which cause leakage. Don’t store water near substances such as gasoline, kerosene, or pesticides, as vapors from these materials can penetrate plastic. You can also store water in a freezer (frozen water can keep food cold if power is out). However, only store plastic containers in a freezer—glass may not be able to withstand the pressure of expanding ice.
Open a container just before use, and refrigerate afterwards to reduce bacteria exposure. Keep the container high and away from children and pets if you’re unable to refrigerate. Try to use water from opened containers within one to two days. Don’t consume water that is murky, cloudy, foul tasting, or pungent, as this water could be contaminated. Additionally, don’t use water for preparing food, brushing teeth, or drinking if there’s any chance your water source has been contaminated.
For more information on storing water, contact your local UF/IFAS Extension office.
Excerpted and adapted from:
S. Shukla and T. Obreza, “Preparing and Storing an Emergency Safe Drinking Water Supply” (SL220), UF/IFAS Soil and Water Science Department (rev. 06/2013).