Water, Water Everywhere, But Not a Drop to Drink
Water seems to be on everyone’s mind these days.
Each day brings more news of the privatization of water rights by conglomerates, not only in the United States, but also in poor and developing nations where clean, portable water is already a scarce commodity.
New local watering restrictions are in place, along with new penalties for disregarding them, and it seems that finally even Swiftmud (Southwest Florida Water Management District) has become aware that we are in a drought.
So, in the weeks before hurricane season, what can we do to secure a reliable and safe supply of drinking water in the event of a real emergency?
This question was recently brought home to me as I skiathosmystery heard my sister’s harrowing experiences in dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Ike. As we experienced during Frances and Jeanne, and as we witnessed during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the old maxim of one gallon of water, per person per day, for three days, is unlikely to be adequate should we experience a direct hit, as emergency workers and supplies may take longer than that to get here. In fact, recommendations now call for two and a half to three gallons of water, per person per day, for up to two weeks, plus more for pets.
The obvious answer for most of us is to lay in a good supply of bottled water for drinking and cooking, along with filling the bathtubs in order to flush the toilets. But with recent articles pointing out that the manufacture of individual water bottles can actually use as much as two to three times the amount of water that the bottle itself contains, bottled water may not be the most environmentally sound option. In addition, water stored in plastic over time can foster the growth of bacteria and other pathogens, which are of even greater concern in an emergency as our immune systems may become compromised in times of great stress.
A better solution may come from the world of sailing, such as collapsible water containers, inexpensive and typically made of nontoxic polyethylene with reinforced seams, and designed for both repeated use and long term storage. These are certainly a better choice than the 1-gallon water bottles I laid in one hurricane season, only to discover several months later that they had nearly all sprung leaks and dispersed their contents into my dining room carpet.
While chlorine tablets have long been used for water purification, as one very sensitive to chlorine, I have never liked the idea of introducing chlorine into my drinking water. A better solution comes from a recent article in Mother Earth News, which states that water-borne pathogens may be effectively eliminated with as little as three hours of direct sunlight for water in clear containers over a black background, though six hours is recommended. Since the black background can be virtually anything, including plastic lawn and leaf bags, this is a very economical and environmentally friendly alternative, and we certainly have an abundance of available sunshine. As the collapsible polyethylene containers are translucent, they would work well with this method of purification.
A faster alternative is a device called a Steri-pen, which uses ultraviolet light to kill any viruses, bacteria, protozoa or other pathogens in the water. Please note that it does require batteries, so make sure to keep spares on hand, although a solar recharging case is also available. seosmartly The Steri-pen comes in several models, for occasional travelers to adventurers, including kits which include refillable bottles. Its’ overriding advantage is extreme portability; at only a few ounces, it is a breeze to stow even when you have very limited space. It is also useful for those with pets, as there is no aftertaste, and generally pets will not drink water which has been chemically treated.
Another excellent device, common on oceangoing sailboats, is the watermaker, which uses reverse osmosis to desalinate seawater for use in drinking and cooking. While a land-based reverse osmosis unit is an excellent option, in a power outage it may be useless. Marine watermakers are available both in electric and mechanical models, including handheld models for use in life rafts, and most mechanical models require no electricity.
An inexpensive alternative is the Aquamate solar still, which is a small inflatable still from the U.K., which has been in emergency use for over forty years, though its output is far less than even the smallest watermaker. Still, in a pinch, some clean water is better than none.
For those with a yard, or even a good sized patio or balcony, you may wish to consider having one or more moringas. A fast-growing, small to medium sized tree, native to Africa, moringa oleifera has numerous uses as a food and fodder crop. The white, fragrant flowers are cooked and eaten similar to mushrooms, the seedpods – called drumsticks – are cooked and eaten similar to green beans, the small, protein-rich leaves are added fresh to salads or dried and powdered to soups and other dishes, news il the seeds are pressed for cooking oil or roasted and eaten similar to peanuts, and the roots are used as a substitute for horseradish. The moringa is excellent in the Florida landscape, particularly for residents who spend part of the year elsewhere, as once established they are resistant to both flood and drought. Although they can reach fifteen to twenty feet tall, and make a lovely tropical specimen, they are also commonly planted along fence lines and topped at six feet or so for an informal flowering hedge. The seeds are readily available online and, with proper care, they will grow six to eight feet tall in their first season.
Most importantly for our purposes, the crushed seeds of the moringa, in addition to their use as animal fodder, have been used for centuries to clarify water, causing the solids in contaminated water to sink to the bottom. Numerous municipalities, in the United States and elsewhere, are investigating the use of moringa seeds in the first stages of large water treatment facilities. It is their small-scale use by families and small villages, however, which have impacted the most lives worldwide.
Finally as a matter of cleanliness and comfort, you may wish to keep a Sun Shower on hand. Essentially a black water bladder attached to a hose and shower head, you lay it in the sun to heat the water and hang it from a tree limb or something similar to enjoy a warm-to-hot shower after as little as a couple of hours in the sun. After a day or two on a sailboat they are heaven on earth. In the event of power outage, or even an interruption in the municipal water supply, a hot shower may not only be a wonderful luxury, but a morale booster as well. Sun Showers are inexpensive and available from nearly every boating or camping outlet.
In short, even in the worst case scenario, we have numerous ways in which we can secure our own safe water supply, ensuring our health and well-being and that of our loved ones and pets for the long term.
This article was previously published in the Sand Key Sun, Largo, Florida, April 2009.
Cori MacNaughton is an artist, musician, writer, photographer and organic gardening enthusiast currently living in Largo, Florida, with her partner Marek, their Newfoundland-mix dog, two cats, three doves, and an unknown number of blue tilapia and other fish. Cori is interested in unusual edible plants and growing them using various methods, including aquaponics, which combines the best of aquaculture and hydroponics, creating a closed-loop system which is completely organic. Cori is also interested in alternative energy, green building, and in lessening her footprint on the planet in general. Cori will be writing about these and other subjects on her blog, and on her various related websites, with the ultimate goal of helping to provide those less fortunate with the means and knowledge to grow their own organic fish and vegetables in a small space. Cori’s ultimate goal in life is to make her own corner of the world a better place than she found it.