organisation and preparedness

emergency water storage {disaster prep day 7}

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This weeks action step, as part of the disaster preparation series, is to store some water for emergency situations.

Are You Ready We tend to take access to clean drinking water for granted. Why store water when you can just turn on the tap?

The problem is that during and after an emergency, your regular water supply may be cut off or contaminated.

There doesn’t even need to be a natural disaster to threaten water supply. Sydney residents will remember the 1998 water crisis, where Sydney Water Corporation put all Sydney residents on a ‘boil water’ alert. It is when water becomes scarce or possibly contaminated that we realise how much we take it for granted.

{Update}: A couple of days ago, there was a chemical spill in the US that affected water supply in West Virginia. This warning was issued to residents: do not drink, bathe, cook or wash clothes with tap water. Water was shipped from nearby, but it took over 24 hours – that’s 24 hours without any water at all, unless you were lucky enough to pick up some water from the store. Stores were stripped bare of water and price gouging occurred (read more on It doesn’t take a widespread natural disaster to put water supply in jeopardy.

Today’s disaster preparation action step is to store some water in case of an emergency.

storing water – How much?

It is recommended that all households store at least 3 litres of water per person, per day and have at least a 3 day supply (the Red Cross recommends 2 weeks worth).

So for a family of four, that means storing at least 36 litres of water in case of emergencies. Two weeks worth would be 168 litres.

The 3 litres per day is to cover basic hydration as well as food prep and hygiene. You may need more water if you:

  • do manual labour
  • live in a hot climate
  • are pregnant or breastfeeding
  • have a medical condition

Storing that much water at home may seem like a lot. But lets compare it to a regular day: the average person in Australia uses around 200 litres of water per day, of which 5 – 10 litres is for basic survival!

how to store water

Ideally, you should store purchased bottled water. I purchased a few 15 litre jugs of water. To spread the cost, I purchased them over the course of a few months, when they were on sale. They are stored under the stairs (the same place we would shelter if we had a cyclone), and their used by date is not for another two years. Assuming we don’t need to use them in an emergency, we will consume the water close to it’s used by date, and refill the containers with tap water.

Alternatively, you can use specially designed water storage containers that you can find at a camping store. Wash these out well with soapy water before use and rinse well before storing tap water in them.

You can also use empty soft drink bottles to store water. Don’t use empty juice or milk containers because even when cleaned, they may harbour microscopic bacteria that will contaminate your water.

Sterilise your empty soft drink bottles with a solution of water and non-scented household chlorine bleach. Rinse thoroughly and fill to the top with tap water. Tightly close lid, taking care not to touch the inside of the lid.

Write the date on your soft drink bottles or camping water storage container. Water can be stored in this manner for up to six months.

Store all water in a cool, dark place and don’t forget to monitor the used by dates and rotate water as needed.

[For more information on storing water, see the Red Cross PDF on Food and Water in an Emergency.]

In the case of emergency

Prior to an emergency, if you have warning, fill all available containers, sinks and baths with water (don’t fill baths or low sinks if you have a toddler). This can be used as well as the water you have stored.

Put as much water as you can in the freezer to make ice. This will help the food you have in the freezer last longer if you have a power outage.

Monitor public announcements on your radio so that you know whether or not tap water is safe to drink. Follow directions to boil water before drinking if told to do so, and continue to boil water until you’re informed it is safe not to.

Drink as much water as you need to stay hydrated and healthy but don’t waste it. Avoid hot heavy work if possible, in order to conserve water.

If you have a private bore or water tank that is affected by flood, get the water tested for contamination before consuming it.

Treating water

You may be in a position where you need to treat water. Only drink treated water if no other water is available.

The two main ways to treat water is to boil it (which takes a lot of energy and may not be possible in a power outage) or treat it with chlorine bleach. This is why it is suggested you carry bleach and a dropper in your emergency kit.

Here is an excellent article that explains exactly how to safely treat water by either boiling it or treating it with chlorine bleach. Print it out and keep it with your emergency kit.

It’s not until we no longer have a safe, clean, constant water supply that we realise how much we take it for granted. Instant, clean water is certainly a modern luxury. Water is not something we can go without for long, so it’s important to have some on hand in case of emergency.

Are you making preparations for disasters? How is it coming along?


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  1. No power and no bleach?

    Another way of disinfecting water is by sunlight.

    If water is left in a clear PET bottle in sunlight for 5-6 hours that will kill bacteria.

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