Some preparedness authorities recommend storing at least 14 gallons of water per person, which amounts to a two-week supply. But water stored improperly can be hazardous to health. Here are some basic tips for storing water safely over extended periods of time.

Choose the right containers for storing drinking water

There are many types of containers available for storing water for long term, but not all are intended for storing drinking (potable) water. Rain barrels, for example, are great for collecting and storing water for garden use, but are likely not ‘food grade’. Here are a few suggestions for choosing containers for storing drinking water:

Store water in multiple containers, large and small
Although it’s good to have a large volume of water stored, you should have some set aside in smaller, portable containers light enough to carry during an emergency. Be sure to take into consideration that water weighs 8 lbs per gallon. Two-liter pop bottles are a good option for inexpensive small-volume water storage. Over time these water containers can break down and leak. It is recommended to not store them next to food or other items that can be damaged by water. It is not recommended to use milk jugs for storing water; these jugs can become brittle and break down within a short period of time. Glass containers are not recommended for water storage because they can crack during a freeze or break easily during an emergency.

Choose heavy-duty, ‘food-grade’ polyethylene barrels for bulk water storage
These barrels are often blue in color (blue means water is being stored, red would mean fuel or flammable liquid is being stored, and colors other than blue may not be food grade plastic) and normally hold 40 – 50 gallons. Ideally, an outlet spigot should be mounted on the side of the barrel for decanting or draining.

For storing larger quantities, you can buy industrial-type water tanks that store 250+ gallons. These food-grade plastic bladders are housed in a metal cage and can be stacked two or three high. Remember: 250 gallons of water weighs 2,000 pounds, plus about 150 pounds for the cage. Make sure your flooring can support this weight.

Clean water storage containers before filling

Before storing your water, it’s a good idea to wash and sanitize the container. This can be done by mixing 1 teaspoon (5 ml) of liquid household chlorine bleach to one quart (1 liter) of water. Do not use bleach that has scents, additives or thickeners. Another option is to use hot tap water and detergent, followed by thorough rinsing. Never use a container that has previously held toxic substances. Once filled, seal containers tightly.

Label containers clearly as “drinking water” and include the date

Mark or label drinking water containers to avoid confusion during emergencies. Opaque or colored containers especially should have the contents clearly marked on an easily visible part of the container. It’s also a good idea to mark the date the container was filled to facilitate rotation and ensure freshness.

Store water containers in a dark and cool area

Light and warmth will promote algae and bacteria growth, so store water in a basement, closet, shed or food storage room. Do not store water bottles on top shelves; lower to the ground is preferred. Storing your barrel outside could have an effect on the life of the barrel. It is not recommended to store any water container in direct or indirect sunlight. Also, it is best to store water barrels with a non-porous insulation barrier (such as wood) between a cement floor and the barrel.

Water stored in plastic containers should be kept away from gasoline, kerosene, pesticides or similar substances because vapors from these products can penetrate plastic. Containers which have top-mounted screw lids should have the tops covered with a cloth or similar barrier to keep lids clean of mice or insect waste.

Secure heavy water storage barrels from tipping

Heavy containers should always be stored close to ground level and secured to prevent breakage or tipping in the event of any earthquake or natural disaster, or if someone stands on them to access higher stored items. Rope or strapping should surround the container near the top and be secured to a cleat or similar wall-mounted fixture.

Anticipate winter freezing

Be sure to allow for expansion of water during freezing conditions. If there is not enough room at the top of your barrel, it can cause your barrel to become disfigured or cracked. It is recommended to only fill the barrel 90% full if you plan on storing it in a place where there is a potential for freezing.

Use water filters or treat suspect water with bleach during an emergency

If your water is treated commercially by a water utility, it is not necessary to treat it before storing. For added security, water filters and purifiers are available which treat from 25 to as much as 60,000 gallons of water. These items are a valued addition to your portable and stationary water storage to insure water quality for your family.

If you are unsure about the quality of available stored water during an emergency, it is recommended to use 6 drops of unscented bleach per gallon of water. For large quantities of water, stir the water and allow it to stand for 30 minutes. You should be able to smell chlorine after the 30-minute waiting period. If you cannot, add another dose and let the water stand another 15 minutes. Water purification tablets are also available where camping supplies are sold. These may be effective at removing some, but not all contaminants from water.

Replace stored water once a year for freshness

Water stored properly can last for years. However, to ensure freshness it is recommended to replace stored water once a year. Old stored water can still be used for watering the garden or shrubs, car washing and other purposes. It’s usually easiest to siphon water out of the barrels if drain plugs are not provided.

Once you’ve filled, labeled and stored your emergency water supply, bring the family together for instructions about how to access and decant water. Children should be aware of proper procedures for accessing and handling water in case adults are unavailable during emergencies.

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