Humans need water to survive. Experts suggest that a moderately active adult requires three-quarters of a gallon of water each day, either from drinking water or other beverages. When emergencies render water supplies undrinkable, this need for water puts people at risk for a number of diseases, including cholera and intestinal worms.
Fortunately, there is a process by which you can make unclean water safe to drink. If you find yourself without any potable water reserves, this procedure will help you thrive until the emergency is resolved.
Step #1: Filter Dirt and Debris
The first step in rendering water safe for human consumption is to remove any foreign objects or debris. The easiest way to do that is to use a filter. Around your house, coffee filters are often available and work perfectly well for this task.
However, if coffee filters are unavailable, any piece of cloth will do. Simply fasten a clean shirt, sock, or other piece of clothing to the end of a container filled with water and then pour the water through the cloth into another container. The majority of foreign objects should be removed from the water as a result.
Step #2: Boil the Water
After the dirt and debris is filtered from the water, bacteria must be dealt with. The easiest way to do this is to boil the water. You should bring the water to a full rolling boil for one minute, then allow the water to fully cool before going on to the next step.
During certain situations, boiling water using a stove might not be practical. When faced with this scenario, you can attempt to boil a smaller amount of water over an open fire. If boiling is completely impossible, you can skip to the next step--however, boiling is highly recommended if at all possible.
Step #3: Add Chlorine Bleach
While boiling will kill most of the harmful bacteria in unclean water, it's still a good idea to add chlorine bleach before drinking. The prospect of drinking bleach-infused water might not be particularly appealing. That said, it's much better than the diseases which represent the alternative.
As a rule, you should look to add 16 drops of bleach to every gallon of water you are preparing. The most important thing to remember is that you should not use bleach that has any additional ingredients, such as scents or colorings. Straight, old-fashioned bleach is the best choice.
Step #4: Determine If Water Is Safe
The easiest way to determine if the water is now safe for drinking is to let it stand for 30 minutes. At that point, it should smell like chlorine. If it does smell like chlorine, it is safe to drink--even if it smells like it would taste really bad!
If the water does not smell like chlorine, you should add another 16 drops of chlorine for every gallon of water being prepared. Then, wait another 30 minutes. If, at that point, the water still does not smell like chlorine, you'll need to find another source of water.
When tap water and wells do not respond to this treatment, the only reasonable alternative is to collect rain water. However, be aware that rain water is typically contaminated and should not be consumed without treatment. Also, treating rain water might lead to the exact same undrinkable water as tap water--particularly in urban environments where pollution is an issue.
Treating water for human consumption isn't easy. Because of this, it's important for every disaster kit to include a supply of clean water for drinking. That said, so long as you have some clothing and a bottle of bleach, most water supplies can be made drinkable in a pinch.
If you're concerned about your water quality even when it's coming from a city system or well, you may also want to invest in a water filter for every day use. To learn more, you can contact a local water treatment company.