Potable Water: In The Wild

"Do not drink the water" signThe city sewage treatment plant goes off line due to a terrorist attack.

A natural disaster – such as Katrina – devastates and floods large geographic areas, making all water unsafe to consume.

An earthquake strikes or wildfire races through your area, knocking out power for your entire region.

A train derails and dumps thousands of gallons of toxic sludge into your city’s primary water supply, making it unusable for consumption or sanitation.

Bottom line:  You are forced to evacuate, and must look elsewhere for water to consume.

Your plan is to rush down to the local super market and grab all the water off the shelves and hit the road.  The problem is, everyone else had that same plan, and they got there before you.

Most people that study and practice prepping know about The Rule of 3’s:

You can live 3 minutes without air

You can live 3 hours without shelter

You can live 3 days without water

You can live 3 weeks without food

Water, though, has some rules.  You can’t just drink any water – you’ve got to drink potable water.  Potable simply means, “safe to drink”.

Drink contaminated water, and you may be accelerating your death, not preventing it.

The two biggest enemies here in the US are Cryptosporidium and Giardia.  Nasty stuff, both of them.

Both of these protozoa can give you severe gastrointestinal distress.  That’s a nice way of saying diarrhea.

Both are capable of causing you to lose more fluids than you are able to retain, and you slowly die from dehydration.  If you are able to get to a medical facility, recovery can take upwards of 6 weeks for severe cases.

If you can’t get to facilities, your options are severely limited.  The long and the short of it is:  Don’t ingest these protozoa!

As a Boomer, this is even more critical.  In general, we are faster to get ill – when compared to a typical 20-something – and are slower to regain our health.  A bad case of, “The Revenge” can take your life if you don’t have immediate access to medical care.


Far and away, the most effective way to make your water potable, is to boil it.

Many (if not most) survival and prepper sites will tell you to boil your water for 5 minutes.  In my opinion, that is a waste of precious resources (fuel and evaporated water) and time.  Water is pasteurized (all bad stuff killed by heat) when it reaches 191F for 1 second.  You’ll notice that this temperature is below boiling temperature of 212F.

Most people don’t carry a thermometer with them, so they can’t tell when they’ve hit 191F.  For me, I wait until I see my first big boil bubble in the pot.  By that time, I have already blown through 191F and have reached 212F.  I know with certainty – even at higher elevations up to 11,000 feet – that the water has been pasteurized and is safe to consume.

Also, it’s very important that the turbidity of the water be removed.  What does that mean?  It means you want the water to look clear.  Particulates floating in the water can house the protozoa, bacteria and other harmful bugs, and prevent the boiling from being fully effective.  If you don’t have some sort of a filter, let the water sit undisturbed for a half hour, and pour off the clear water on top.

Lastly, stay away from water with a chemical or solvent smell.  There are ways to remove these contaminants, but you are ill-equipped to employ them during an emergency situation.


This first video shows how to make a survival filter.  Perhaps more valuable, she shows how to make an Egyptian Well – using natural sediments near the body of water to pre-filter the bad stuff –

Sometimes you’re fortunate enough to have some gear with you.  In this case a Life Straw.

This inventive teacher mixes up a batch of Cow Poo Tea…. and then drinks it with the Life Straw.  A pretty good addition to any Bug Out Bag, car emergency bag, or camping gear backpack –

This inventive fellow fills his canteen… from a tree!  Very easy to do with just a knife and a canteen.

And a tree, of course!

Dave Canterbury – formerly of the Discovery Channel show, “Dual Survival” shows us how to treat water in a number of ways.

Lastly, this video show how to make a solar still – producing pure, distilled water.

As the video highlights, a LOT of work goes into solar stills, and you typically get very little water in return for the effort.  Use this technique in conjunction with other, more productive techniques.


Learn about the water in your area.  Where are the treatment plants?  Where are naturally occurring bodies of water such as rivers, lakes, ponds and the like?  Are they up- or down-stream of potential contamination sources?

Where are man-made sources of water, such as swimming pools, storage tanks and cisterns?  Toilet tanks and water heaters?  Having this information before you need it can be a life-saver.

Do you have the ability to make a fire to boil your water – any time, any where?  Pots or other containers to hold it?  Chemicals to disinfect it?  Filters – or the skills to make one – to clarify it?

The skills and tools needed to make your water potable are readily available.  It’s your job to make sure YOU have them.


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