Is Your Water Safe, and Do You Have Emergency Water Filtration?
Water mains rupture, supplies get contaminated, flood waters may fill an area with water yet are unsafe to drink. Do you have emergency water filtration, or know how to improvise it?
In this article, we'll discuss three emergency water filter options that you can rig up from common materials. We invested in a Big Berkey a while back and use it daily, but sometimes we're stuck in situations where we need to work with what's available.
How safe is the water?
The EPA tracks 90 different water pollutants, from acrylamide to xylenes. In our area (and many other agricultural areas), we have issues with nitrate and bacterial contamination from agricultural runoff.
Well testing in 2013 found 1 in 5 wells in our county tested positive for E coli, Coliform and nitrates. (Thankfully, not our well. We do get it tested annually, just in case.)
Agricultural runoff was also linked to the toxic algae bloom that caused a water crisis in Toledo, Ohio. Flooding can overwhelm storm sewers and septic systems, flushing sewage into streets and homes.
How do you know if your water is clean?
Public utilities are required to give notice if measured pollutants reach unsafe levels. The EPA website suggests, “If your water comes from a household well, check with your health department or local water systems that use ground water for information on contaminants of concern in your area.”
GET TESTED! The only way to know for sure is regular testing. Recent testing done on a number of wells in our area indicates that pollutant levels can fluctuate throughout the year, so if you suspect you are in a high risk area, test more frequently, or filter your drinking and cooking water. We filter all our drinking water through either the Big Berkey or the Reverse Osmosis filter.
3 Emergency Water Filtration Options
What do you do if there's a disaster situation and you don't have access to a commercial water filter? These filters will not make water safe, but they will reduce particulates. The following three methods can be used to “de-chunk” the water.
Sock and Sand Water Filter
Use an old sock (or new sock if you must) to filter out debris. All cotton is preferred, as synthetic fibers are too smooth to offer good filtration. If possible, fill with sand to provide an additional layer of filtration.
It should be noted that the first flush of water through the sand filter will likely wash out loose dirt particles, if there are any, so the water may initially be cloudy. It took me several cups of water through our sand pile sand to get a clear flow of water.
When filling the sock with sand, it's helpful to tuck it into a large cup or can to hold it wide open. (This is also a great trick for filling pastry tubes.)
To make it a little easier to pour the water in, I wrapped the top of the sock around an old wide-mouth canning ring, and huge the whole contraption off of our deck stairs. You could use part of a coat hanger, some sticks – whatever you have handy.
Tree Branch Water Filter
My husband learned this one back in Boy Scouts. Just take a section of branch about four inches long, skin it and whittle it to size to fit inside a section of hose or a bottle opening.
Let water gravity feed through the branch “plug”, allowing the natural passages within the branch to act as filters. As I have not spent much time on my whittling skills, it was a little tricky for me to get the branch just the right size.
Soaking the whole thing once I got the stick in the hole provided a nice, snug fit. This is a pretty slow filter, and the branch section will get clogged fairly quickly. The water will also taste like “tree” (tannins). Maybe a sugar maple would be a good choice? 😉
Burlap Water Filter
In a study of the dechunking abilities of different fabrics, “Cloth Filter and Turbidity Research on the Effectiveness of Using Cloth as a Filter to Remove Turbidity from Water“, burlap was the clear winner for filtration effectiveness.
While all the natural fabrics tested (burlap, cotton and silk) all offered filtration, triple folded burlap (8 layers of fabric) provided the best filtration and the fewest number of cloth fibers in the filtered water. One of the most interesting results of the study (to me) was that filtering the water through polyester actually increased turbidity readings. The researchers hypothesized that the polyester was shedding bits into the water. Either way, the results are clear – stick to natural fabrics.
After you get the floaties out, boil for 15-20 minutes. The boiled water will taste flat. Aerating will improve the taste. Blow bubbles in the water with a straw, or place in a sealed bottle and give it a good shake.
Filtering Water to Drink
Now for the final step. Once you have filtered out the big chunks, you need to do the final filtering. Use any of these gravity or mechanical filters:
- Katadyn Hiker Pro Transparent
- Katadyn BeFree 3.0L Water Filter
- LifeStraw Flex Advanced Water Filter Bag
- Big Berkey ** Recommended
We recommend these because they don't require power. You need them to filter out bacteria and other microscopic bad stuff that the rough filters will not remove. Using one of the basic pre-filters we noted above, extends the life of the these filters.
Other articles you may find useful:
- Emergency Water Storage and Filtration – What You Need to Know
- How to Build a Rain Barrel, Plus Care and Maintenance
- Preparedness Basics – 5 Simple Steps to Get You Started Today
Last Updated: Jan 9, 2020