For those of us in a functioning, first world country, water is usually as easy to access as air and sunshine. Turn on a faucet and it flows freely. But, it shouldn’t be taken for granted. It isn’t just about natural pollutants, either. As science evolves, so does chemical warfare. With so many Americans tied into large water systems, it wouldn’t be difficult for a terrorist or other threat to pollute main water supplies… whether they did it on purpose or not.
Just like nuclear war was the single biggest threat on the minds of millions in the 1950s and 1960s, terrorism concerns people everywhere today. The drinking water supply, frankly, has few defenses from outside attacks. It also remains open to natural disasters and pollutants that can render it toxic. In some ways, opening a faucet and water coming out is a daily miracle — a miracle that can end if the electrical grid were wiped out or the water supply contaminated. Thankfully, most people can tap into clean water regardless of the government’s ability to deliver, whether those people realize it or not.
Installing a Well
Only about 15 percent of Americans get their water supply from wells. That means in the event of a disaster, only a small percent of the population may continue to have viable drinking water. Sounds a lot like an episode of The Walking Dead.
While people living in cities and suburbia may be unfamiliar with well water and therefore hesitant, it has overwhelmingly been recognized as safe. That doesn’t mean it cannot become contaminated in the same way that public water running through underground pipes does. Wells can be compromised by run-off, salt and chemicals used to clear snow from roads, microorganisms, and heavy metals. The basic rule is that the deeper the well, the safer the water. There are three basic types of wells that can provide sustainable drinking water.
Dug Wells: These are the most ancient types and are just what they sound like. The ground is excavated to below the water table and then the walls are reinforced and the pump is installed.
Driven Wells: These are created by either hammering a well-hole structured pipe into the ground or using water to pull the pipe into the groundwater. Once you hit the water table, the pipe with points on it and the pump can both be installed.
Drilled Wells: These are among the most common and are also just what they sound like. Heavy machinery drills deep into the Earth until groundwater is struck. Then pipes and an electric pump are employed to extract water.
Maintaining A Healthy Well
First of all, you need to make sure that it is legal for you to use a well for drinking water in your area. You can have a well for watering the lawn and other uses, but local ordinances may prevent you from tapping into the groundwater for use inside your home. In some cases, this is not allowed because the groundwater isn’t safe to drink. So, check your local ordinances to be on the safe side. Otherwise, you could be wasting your time and money.
On the other hand, if you want to put in a well “for the garden,” (read: just in case the shit hits the fan), then gather information about the local laws, but put most of your focus on the testing portion to make sure the water is safe.
Inspect the area where you plan to put your well. You want it to be far away from any farm fields that may contain harmful pesticides, and you don’t want it to be near any areas where someone may have buried or burned garbage. Though the ground does help to leech out those chemicals, everything eventually makes it to the groundwater. Frequent testing can help you know when your water is no longer safe to drink from the well.
Hard water, PH levels, and minerals can be a challenge for people using well water. While these things don’t necessarily make the water unsafe to drink, they can have an impact on how it tastes and interacts with other things, like your laundry and plumbing.
Again, frequent testing can help identify any issues with your well water. But, water testing doesn’t fix the issues. You may need a water purifier or water filter installed between the well and the main water line in your house. A water softener can help with hard water issues. Just keep in mind that some of the tools that you use to purify your water will also require regular maintenance, like adding salt to the water softener.
Retrieving from Natural Water Sources
Maybe something happened and you were in the middle of getting your well ready, but now you’re out of water and have no time to dig or drill it out. You may need to get it from another source. There are a couple of ways you can do this.
If the water source is close enough, you can use your pump to pump it straight from the source to your home. If you don’t have electricity, use a hand pump to pull the water from the source to your house. You’ll have to prime it each time, but you’ll have ready access to water. In the event that the source is too far away to pump the water, you may need to transport it by buckets or barrels.
Just keep in mind that this is a method you should use only in the event that things have gone very wrong and local laws no longer apply. You’ll definitely need to filter and disinfect this water before drinking it, because it hasn’t had the benefit of the filtration process that underground water goes through.
Capturing potable water in rain barrels is a nostalgic, but effective method. In fact, even the EPA views this as a viable alternative during droughts and in the face of steadily diminishing aquifers. Rain water is even cleaner and safer than many city systems. Cleaning your gutters thoroughly and directly the downspouts in the barrels will fill those barrels quickly. However, you will need to take steps to prevent foreign material from mixing into the barrel like fixing a screen over the barrel. That will help with sediment size materials. But before you can enjoy your water from the sky, you’ll need to filter and disinfect it.
Water filters are rated by “microns,” which amounts to about 1/25,000th of an inch. A piece of dust measures 1 micron, a hair 100 microns. You get the picture. For rainwater, a 50-micron filter can be used to weed out things the size of sand. Next, run the liquid through a 20-micron, then a 10- or 5-micron filter. This process removes many of contaminants and improves the turbidity, or cloudiness of the water. But, you still need to disinfect your drinking water.
Chlorine: It’s no mystery that chlorine destroys harmful elements in water. It’s in city tap water and just about every swimming pool. It’s what makes your eyes sting. Once disinfected by chlorine, you can run the water through a charcoal filter to minimize the taste and smell.
UV Rays: Ultraviolet lighting can also be an effective method. Basically, UV rays destroy the ability of microorganisms to multiply. They aren’t eliminated per se, just rendered harmless to humans. Simply put a powerful UV light in a clear waterproof enclosure and drop it into the water. You can also purchase a UV light purification system. However, UV rays can also encourage the growth of algae, so this isn’t a stand-alone method.
Boiling Water: The oldest trick in the book for disinfecting water is simply to boil it. This method kills everything. It is not practical for showering, but for cooking or small amounts of drinking water, it does the trick.
Cycling Back for a Well
You probably don’t want to carry buckets from the river every day, and rainwater can be limited, so it’s a good thing you can drive a well using water — if you have access to enough of it. You’ll need to be able to use an ongoing supply of water to do this, so if it’s in a tank, it needs to be elevated enough for gravity to do the work for you.
You need a pipe that is bigger than the one that will actually be carrying the water back to you, and long enough to reach the water table, so you may want to talk to a neighbor who has already used this method. You can make the task easier by cutting jagged edges into the bottom of the larger pipe. Attach a hose to the other end, which leads to the tank full of water.
Allow water to fill the pipe. As it fills the pipe, move the pipe around so that the jagged edges dig into the dirt. When the water comes out the bottom, it pushes the sand and dirt away, pulling the pipe downward until it hits the water table. Once it does, you’ll need to drop your waterline inside the larger pipe. Now, you’ve hit water using very little manual labor, and all you need to do is attach a pump to the water line, prime it, and enjoy your flowing water.
Note that the end of the water line that rests in the groundwater should have screens and slits in it. This helps filter the water before it gets to the pump. If you have an actual well point, it will also have a point at the end, and can be placed inside the larger pipe as you are drilling the well. The suction will pull the well point through as you push water through the larger pipe, with the point making it easier for the pipe to get through the soil. Choose your method before you start because you will need to stop and connect the pipes together as you go.
Bottle and Store Your Own Water
Whether you are capturing rainwater, pumping up groundwater, or collecting water from a nearby river, there’s no reason not to bottle it. In fact, if you are in an emergency situation and you aren’t sure if your water is safe to drink from the tap, it’s best to bottle it after you disinfect it. This way, your drinking water is ready to go if you have to leave in a hurry, but it’s also separate from the water that isn’t disinfected.
- Use a plastic or glass food-grade container. Things like milk jugs or soda bottles with caps can work very well.
- Wash inside with hot soapy water and rinse with hot water.
- Mix in one teaspoon of bleach per quart of water. Household bleach is fine if it has 5.25-6 percent sodium hypochlorite. Wash out the inside of the container with this solution for 30 seconds, then drain.
- Fill with your filtered and disinfected water before securing the seal.
Properly cleansed and bottled water can last for an indefinite period, as long as it isn’t exposed to sunlight or heat in plastic containers. Even then, it’s not so much the water itself that is the problem, but the container. That means that you can amass a sizeable backup supply for an emergency. Whether terrorists or natural disasters ever have an impact on the water supply, it’s always a good idea to be as self-sufficient as you can. If nothing else, it means you have one less thing to worry about in an emergency such as a loss of power or a flood that could contaminate existing water sources.