17 February 2013

Water, water everywhere...so why not drink it?

    It has been a while since I've posted anything, but I've got some pretty good reasons. Other than homework and all that, I just applied to graduate school! I have no idea when I'll hear back, but it was quite an effort to get everything in on time. When I find out, which will likely be after anyone who reads this forgot that I even applied, I'll post something about either my shameful disgrace, or ecstatic enthusiasm, depending on what the news is.

     In a different post, we talked a little bit about water storage and using bleach to sanitize it. Today, I want to talk about a few other ways to collect and purify water, and I'm pretty excited.

     Okay, I was going to wait, but I'm going to start with this. I was given a WAPI. Yeah, that's right. Now let me tell you what that is. It stands for "Water Pasteurization Indicator." Cool, ...whatever that is. I'm taking an international health class and the teacher brought these up. One of the concerns in developing nations is water cleanliness. You could boil water, but it takes a lot of fuel and energy to get it to 212 degrees. The alternative is to use pasteurization, which kills most anything at a much lower temperature(something like 161 degrees). This indicator is a tube with wax inside. When the wax melts, then you know the water has reached pasteurization temperatures. Well, I've got one now. In an emergency, you will need clean water. If you've got a shortage of supplies or fuel, then this method will work well to preserve what you do have. You will end up using a lot less wood, propane, electricity, or whatever you are using to heat the water. Here's a little 34 second video I found that explains it:

     You could use any way you can think of to heat the water, even a solar oven, which collects the sunlight and heats up the box. They can get to be over 300 degrees. They'll even work in the winter. Anyway, that's the WAPI.

    If you don't have a WAPI or even a kitchen thermometer, then you can use boiling as a visual indicator. In case you're not sure what that looks like, here's a picture:

    If you do a low boil for five minutes, you'll be plenty good. You may want to strain the chunks, and by "chunks" I mean dirt and sediment if there is any. You can boil water in a pot, can, mess kit, paper cup, or even one of those metal water bottles, if that's what you carry. While boiling is pretty much the most effective way of killing pathogens, it takes time and fuel. If you want to boil it, then go for it.

     There are a lot of ways to filter water. Filtering can be important to get out debris and, if you use charcoal or a commercial filter, it can take out toxins. One of the simplest is to run it through a piece of cloth, like a handkerchief or whatever. This will remove the biggest chunks and a bunch of dirt. You could build a filter using a layering system of little rocks, maybe some grass, sand, and charcoal. There are a lot of ways to improvise filters. I remember one we made in the Boy Scouts with upside down gallon jugs with the bottoms cut off. Each jug's contents became progressively finer as the water passed through them. We'll make some improvised filters another day and we'll go into depth about what works best and how to put them together.  For now, you'll just have to use your imagination.
     There are some pretty great commercial filters that you can buy. There are straws that you just stick straight into the water and it filters as you drink. There are water bottles that basically do the same thing, but you scoop the water into the bottle first. You just squeeze the bottle and the water goes through the filter and squirts into your mouth. I just picked one up as a late birthday present and I'm pretty happy about it.
Water Bottle Filtration System

 It has a little strap on the side, so I can hook it to most anything. The filter in the bottle is good for 100 gallons of water. The stand-alone straw filter mentioned before is good for 25 gallons.
     The commercial filters clean the water enough to drink it. An improvised filter would likely require some boiling or pasteurization, depending on how well it is done.

The Sun
     Yeah, that's right. Now, I'm not talking about solar heat, but that could be used, too, if you build a solar oven. What I'm talking about is ultra-violet, or UV, rays. There are some bottles you can buy that have UV lights in them and will sanitize your water. I've seen around the internet a method using clear plastic bottles, like this:

     This method is used in a lot of developing countries. If the water has dirt in it, or is murky, you'll want to filter it first, especially because the UV rays can penetrate clear water much easier than murky water. Using a reflective background is best, like a sheet of metal or some aluminum foil. You wouldn't want to use a bottle larger than two liters, since the penetration depth in clear water is around 10 cm, which is the width of a two liter bottle.
    A brilliant way I recently learned from a friend(you know who you are) to use the UV method is to put the water in a ziploc gallon-sized bag. You can easily carry some gallon bags anywhere you go and they are much easier to keep in your 72 hour kit than plastic bottles(other than the water you already have stored).

Gallon Bag and 2-Liter Bottle on Foil

     That is a picture of a clear plastic bottle and a gallon bag on an aluminum foil surface. You would want to keep this in direct sunlight for 6 hours(longer if it's kind of a cloudy day). You could just put it out in the morning and call it good at the end of the day if you wanted to be sure. This method does not get rid of any chemicals in the water, so be sure of your water source or use a filtration method.
     Another way to use the sun is to make a solar still. I remember this one from the scouts. There are a lot of ways to make a still, but a simple method is to dig a hole, put a container in the middle, put vegetation and anything with moisture around the container, put plastic over the top, secured on the edges, and something like a little rock in the center of the plastic over the container. There are different methods to do this, and you can build it to almost any size if you've got the plastic. There are also some that are pre-made that you could buy, but that's not as fun. Here are a couple examples:

     You see here that there is a drinking tube. That is used when you don't want to disturb the plastic anchored down by dirt. This type of still is typically used when you do not have a water source at all, but, like the next picture shows, you can use the still to purify water that is not safe to drink.

     You can collect any water and use it to be distilled. If you don't have water, you can use vegetation, like the first picture shows, or even, yes, your own urine. Do not just drink your urine, that's gross, and bad for you, but if you distill the water from it, then it's just water.

     The last purification method I want to talk about is using tablets. I went down to a preparedness/survival store and picked up a bottle of some sort of iodine-based pills for purifying water. You can pick them up pretty much anywhere you can buy sporting goods or camping stuff. You put two tablets in one quart of water(I used one tablet for half a quart; I'm a rebel like that). Anyway, you shake it up and let it sit for at least half an hour.

Tap water                         Purification Tablets                               Treated water

     I know, the treated stuff looks worse than lake water. To tell you the truth, it tastes about as bad. It's like water...with iodine in it. My wife described it as the taste you get from a new plastic water bottle, except stronger. You can buy these tablets with a taste and color neutralizing counterpart that you put in before you drink it. It might be worth it if it works. I looked it up and basically, they're made of ascorbic acid, or vitamin C. Whoa. So I went to my cupboard, pulled out what I think are vitamin C tablets, crushed it a little, and dropped it in. I mixed it up some and it wasn't so bad. It still tasted gross, it was just less gross. I suppose if you're hurting for safe water, then this isn't so bad. Kind of like the bleach method. It will taste funny, but it will also save your life.
     My wife said the vitamin C just made it taste kind of sweet so it masked the flavor. It's not pure vitamin C, so it won't do the trick as well, I suppose, but she gave me a brilliant idea. After you use these tablets, or even the bleach, add some some sort of powdered drink mix, like sport drink powder. Not a bad idea if you ask me, and, since you're here, I'm basically assuming that you asked me,...but, "you don't have to take my word for it."

If you don't get the reference, I'm sorry. You're probably much older or much younger than me.


  1. I remember making a filter for science class with the rock and sand method. I compared it to a Brita pitcher and found more sediment in the Brita water then my filter I made from rocks and sand...that is all.

  2. See you next month ;)

  3. You are a hoot! Makes me want to try out each method just for the fun of it. I'm particularly intrigued with the WAPI. Is it reusable? I imagine the wax just hardens once it cools, so it could be melted over and over again.
    Also,I learned about the Solar Still, using the plastic, years ago, but have never tried it. Some day I just might give it a shot.
    One question about the water bottle solar technique: I've experienced water in my plastic water bottle getting heated when left in our car. Southern California can get pretty hot in the summer (110 plus degrees), not to mention inside a closed up car. Needless to say, the water was so hot it actually burnt my lips when I tried to drink it. So the question: Is the water safe to drink from the plastic once it gets beyond a certain temp? I ask this because the flavor is very plastic tasting.
    Thanks for the input! I received a backpack for Christmas to use for my 72 hour kit. Your blogs have given me much to consider as far as what I want to add in case of emergencies.