Saturday, August 15, 2009

Emergency Water and Waste Disposal

More on collecting rainwater at home.

Correspondent Chuck D. shared the results of his own research into collecting and storing water at home. I have taken the liberty of reprinting his emails as numbered points.

You're right -- this is a "simple at first" thing that really isn't. That was my experience when I started to research and buy for it. I ended up spending some money on accessories that I didn't need because it isn't simple and there is no readily available "How To for Dummies" in one place.

1. Size of system. It comes down to what readers are planning for and how much water they anticipate using while the power to a conventional system is down. If it's loss of power to pump the water and the power is off for a week or 10 days because of a run-of-the-mill disaster, yes. But if you're planning for long range period such as a Hurricane Katrina, or if terrorists blow up the power grid, or want to hole up during a swine flu epidemic, where power may be off for weeks/months, then readers will need to look at something larger than a few barrels.

2. Portability. If readers are planning to use the water for household purposes (and I bet they are), then they have to get it from the collection point to the point of use at or inside the house.

As you know since you're storing some, water is heavy -- 8.33 lbs/gal. Do the math, and full a 15 gallon barrel is 125 lbs, a 30 gallon barrel is 250, and a 55 gallon barrel is 450 lbs. One guy in reasonably good shape can wrestle 125 lbs around; the others will take at least two guys and/or some equipment to move.

Given that the probable main purpose of doing is this to provide a supply of potable water, then probably it makes sense to store the barrels in the house near a spigot and drain so you can periodically change the water out and refill them and still have access to them. You might as well use the municipal water supply for this while it works. Granted this isn't exactly in the mold of Romantic survivalism, but it is immensly practical.

You also need some kind of a hand pump or a siphon to get the water out of the barrel. A decent hand pump can be had for about $40.00. It should pump a gallon out of the barrel with 16/20 strokes.

3. Pipe threading. Most of these pumps seem to have the narrow threading (NPT - National Pipe Thread) on them. Therefore, your barrel needs to have that threading on one of the bungs (it should since NPT is a standard thread) or you will need to invest in an adapter. ($8-$10)

It appears to me that the adapters may vary in size (not sure about this), so if you need one it would be wise to check on the size of the bung hole and adapter sizing to make sure it fits.

If you get an IPS threaded pump, then you probably will need an adapter, because the barrels we can get in the U.S. normally don't have either bung threaded with IPS. Online suppliers like Northern Tool or Latta typically display the adapter with the pump so you can pretty quickly figure that you need it. But good luck if you go to Lowe's or Home Depot -- you'll probably have to teach them, even if they have the pump.

4. Protecting plastic barrels from sunlight. When I got my barrels, I remember the product literature indicated that you should not leave them exposed to sunlight as it would degrade the plastic. It did not say how it degraded the plastic, how long it took or whether the degradation would affect the water inside.

It does suggest that if someone is going to store the barrels outside whether for outside or inside water use, they should consider whether they need to shelter them in some way from sunlight.

Thank you, Chuck, for these highly informative pointers.

My wife noticed a brief article in Sunset Magazine on collecting rainwater which mentioned that old wine barrels can also be used. The article did not address the key issue this raised in my mind--will the stored water taste like wine? It is practically a Bibilical question... a wood barrel would dispense with the plastic degradation issue but raise others--like everything else in life.

Next up: longtime correspondent Chris H. shared photos of rainwater/filter system and something few plan for: alternative disposal of human waste.Chris lives in a small Northwest city, and also has food-drying racks and an amazing cider press.

I use 4 50 gallon barrels joined at the bottom with an overflow (far right) and a hose bib at the bottom right. Although the rain comes off a composit shingle roof, it can be made potable with this simple gravity system which uses silver-impregnated ceramic filters. You can filter pond water if necessary.


The AquaRain type system has affordable ramifications for all potable water-challenged places anywhere in the world. There are many variations of this low-tech solution. But because low-tech, low maintenance also mean low-profit, corporations are uninterested generally.

Also lets not forget the toilet. Municipal sewer systems can break down, too, even if you have water. So I built one of these in my city backyard:

It's just a sophisticated porta-potti... which is legal. I call it a "comfort station". No "stuff" ever hits the ground (5 gallon bucket), no odor (use peat moss). I compost the it for my fruit trees. Note the solar powered vent.

Thank you, Chris, for the excellent photos and suggestions.

Once of my recent jobs (after helping a friend install some curved plywood sheathing) was digging up a clogged sewer line (fun stuff, I recommend it as a way to burn calories). I mention this because digging a deep hole for human waste--a latrine--might not be that easy depending in the soil in your area.

Having built a plywood "shack"/shed/cabin in the middle of an abandoned field with only a handsaw and other hand tools in my younger days (and digging a latrine, carrying water to the garden in 5-gallon buckets, etc. etc. etc.) then I have already considered how we might dispose of human waste safely and inconspicuously in a dense urban area for a few weeks of "emergency" such as after an earthquake. Dig deep, dig often, compost.

Chris's system is much better and well worth studying.

These titles might be of some interest:

Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water

A Dangerous Place: California's Unsettling Fate

Merchants of Grain

The Paradox of Plenty: Hunger in a Bountiful World

Paradox of Plenty: A Social History of Eating in Modern America

The Nine Nations of North America

Diet for a Small Planet

The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals

Gardening When It Counts: Growing Food in Hard Times

Storey's Basic Country Skills: A Practical Guide to Self-Reliance

Just in Case Kathy Harrison

The Urban Homestead: Your Guide to Self-sufficient Living in the Heart of the City

Depletion and Abundance: Life on the New Home Front Sharon Astyk

If you want more troubling/revolutionary/annoying analysis, please read Free eBook now available: HTML version: Survival+: Structuring Prosperity for Yourself and the Nation (PDF version (111 pages): Survival+)

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