Hydration Matters: Store Water for Emergencies

Dangers of Dehydration

Our bodies are about 70-75% water.  Every cell in our body needs to be properly hydrated to function.  When cells are dehydrated for too long, they die.  When too many cells die, organs begin to shut down.  When body systems stop working, we can become very ill.

In cases of severe dehydration, our heart cannot work properly, and it stops beating.  Dehydration is a very dangerous thing.  Thankfully, it is easily preventable, simply by drinking plenty of water.

The average person loses about 6 liters of water every day just by breathing, sweating, and urinating.  The recommendation is to replace these lost fluids by drinking about eight 8 oz glasses of water throughout the day. In our modern world, we have the luxury of clean drinking water pumped into every building we walk into, so getting enough fluids is usually not a problem.

Warning Signs

Monitor yourself and your family for signs of dehydration.  Here is what to look for:

  • Thirst is usually the first sign that you are dehydrated. Drink several cups, and be sure to sip, sip, sip throughout the day.
  • Bathroom frequency. How often are you urinating?  If it has been more than 5 hours, drink several cups of water.
  • Urine color. Urine should be the color of lemonade.  If it is darker than that, you are dehydrated.  If you are not using a normal toilet (camping, portatable, or emergency toilet) where you can’t tell the color, pee into a clear container or a clear plastic bag first before dumping it so you can see its color.
  • Pinch the skin on the back of your hand, and let go.  It should spring back quickly.  If it takes several seconds to fall back down, you are dehydrated.  The longer it takes, the more dehydrated you are.
  • Headache
  • Fatigue, weakness
  • Dry mouth, chapped/ cracked lips
  • Dizziness
  • Tunnel vision
  • Confusion
  • Faintness, a feeling like you are going to faint

The best way to prevent dehydration is to sip throughout the day, rather than gulping down large amounts all at once.  Don’t wait until you are dehydrated to drink.  It is better to sip throughout the day to prevent dehydration, rather than trying to recover from dehydration.

Don’t try to ration your water.  I have heard horror stories of lost hikers who died of dehydration with a bottle of water on their body.

Another way to prevent dehydration is to monitor how much fluid everyone is taking in.  This is easier said than done. You would need a tracking sheet for each person, and every time they drink a glass, you write it down.  That’s too much work for me.  My solution is more visually based.

I bought everyone a 63 ounce bottle, which is how many ounces we should be taking in throughout the day (more in the summer).  So, in the morning they get filled up, and they should be gone by the end of the day.  The straw makes it easy to sip.  Midway through the day, it should be half empty.  By the time you go to bed, it should be empty.  This helps make monitoring fluid intake much easier.  Of course, if they want more, they can have more, but this is the minimum.  Full disclosure, the amazon link price is $19, but I bought this one at Wal-Mart for $9.

63 oz. water bottle. Straw for sipping.

The Rule of 3

In the world of survival, we are governed by the “Rule of 3”.

We can survive:

  • 3 minutes without air
  • 3 hours without shelter (from extreme heat/cold)
  • 3 days without water
  • 3 weeks without food

Assuming air and shelter are taken care of, one of our biggest concerns is water.  It’s easy to take water for granted in our society, because clean drinking water is provided for us, right in our homes.  In my house, I have 5 faucets that pump out clean water on demand.  What if that service was interrupted?  Plumbing is a modern convenience that has created a sense of security, but what if that system fails?

This week, the water main in my neighborhood ruptured, and everyone in a 20 block radius had no water.  Suddenly, many of my daily duties came to a halt, and I was painfully aware of how many of those tasks are dependent on clean water:

  • We can’t flush toilets
  • We can’t do laundry
  • We can’t wash dishes (so we can’t dirty any either)
  • We can’t cook anything that needs to be cooked in water (rice, beans, oatmeal)
  • We can’t take showers
  • We can’t wash our hands
  • We can only drink what beverages we have on hand (which at that time, was a 1/2 gallon of milk)

The city informed us that it would take at least three days to repair the water main.  Fortunately, since we have friends who weren’t affected, we just stayed with them.  But what if the entire city supply was contaminated?  What if there was no one we could stay with?  This got me thinking about how unprepared we are for a major disaster.

Even though the situation was not dire, local stores were sold out of bottled water.  The shelves were empty.  The city had to bring in tanker trucks, and bottled water from surrounding cities, just for this one neighborhood.  I have seen videos of people standing in line for food and water rations after a disaster.  They look terrified.  I don’t ever want to be desperate, so this week I have worked water into my emergency preparedness plan.

empty shelves source dailytarheel
In another town, a broken water main left bottled water shelves empty (source: dailytarheel.com)

Conserving Water During Disaster

It was nice that the city distributed bottled water, but it wasn’t nearly close enough to cover our daily needs.

Since we could not wash dishes, I was hesitant to eat on our regular dishes.  The last thing I want is nasty, dirty dishes piling up in the sink for three days.  What if it was more than 3 days?  The house would stink, it would attract flies, and eventually, we would run out of clean dishes.  An easy solution to this is to have paper plates, cups, bowls, and plastic eating utensils in the emergency kit.

I encourage you to put these supplies in an emergency kit that is stored away from the kitchen. Later, when the water was back on, my kids opted to use those instead of washing dishes. I had in mind to save them for another emergency.  They burned through my emergency stash of paper plates within a week! The good news is, now I know how long those supplies will last us.  I keep them in a plastic tub in a storage closet now.  Out of sight, out of mind.

Food Considerations

In a previous community CERT meeting, we were taught how important it is to store food and water for emergencies.

As they were talking about storing enough food to feed your family for 3 days, I was rather proud of myself for having plenty of food stockpiled.  I had about twenty pounds of dry beans and rice that could feed us for weeks.  I had ample amounts of pasta, oatmeal, and whole wheat flour.  They stressed how important it is for us to take care of ourselves as best we can during a disaster, and I felt confident that my family was secure.

When they started talking about water, my proud smile faded, and was replaced by a look of grave concern.  What if there is no clean running water? What happens when that convenient system is interrupted? Recent disasters like the severe drought in California, and the Flint water crisis show how important water is, and how frighteningly dependent we are on public services.

Without water, much of my food is useless.  I can’t cook any of it without water! I have a few gallons of water stored, but much of that would have to go towards drinking water.  If I had to cook with it, much of it would be lost.

For example, spaghetti is a family favorite, but not the best meal for an emergency.  I use almost a gallon of water to boil pasta, and that water gets poured down the drain!

I quickly realized where my emergency plan was lacking, and I set to work revising it.  Now, my food stockpile includes foods that do not require water for cooking.  In fact, these foods provide water!

  • Canned soups, stews, chili
  • Canned beans
  • Canned fruits
  • Canned veggies
Not only do these foods come with water, but also valuable protein, fiber, and vitamins!

A Note About Sodium

Someone kindly pointed out to me that canned foods are often high in sodium, and sodium has a dehydrating effect.  It’s true, that high concentration of sodium pulls moisture out of cells. However, our bodies do need a certain amount of salt (electrolytes) from foods in order to function properly.

For example, electrolytes are necessary for our heart to beat normally.  Too little, and it stops beating.  Too much, and it beats too fast, or too hard, leading to hypertension (high blood pressure), which we don’t want. There is a balance that we should aim for.

Try not to exceed 2300mg per day, but don’t go under 500mg per day either.  Somewhere between 500mg-2400mg is a safe range.  For a healthy person, I would aim for around 1,000mg of sodium per day.  This would ensure that you are getting enough, but not too much.  Of course, if you have orders from your doctor to limit your sodium to a certain amount, you should stick to that.

I would definitely avoid high sodium foods such as chips, ramen, and condensed soups.  Although they contain their own fluids, canned soups are high in sodium (even the low sodium options are still high), and contain very little nutrition.

Sports Drinks and Pedialyte

During extreme heat, or long periods of intense physical activity, we sweat a lot.  Sweat is salty. So remember when I said your body needs some salt to work properly?  That’s why athletes drink things like gatorade, to replenish those lost electrolytes from sweating.

The average person does not need to drink these types of beverages because we usually get plenty of sodium from the foods we eat.

If this is something you are concerned about, you don’t have to stockpile gatorade. Here is a simple oral rehydration recipe:

  • 1 liter of clean drinking water
  • 1/2 tsp. regular table salt
  • 6 tsp. sugar
  • Anything you want to add for flavor: lemon juice, crystal light, a few splashes of juice if you have it.

These are things you will already have in your kitchen so you don’t have to waste precious storage space and money on “special” drinks.  The only things that gatorade has that this recipe does not, is some minerals like potassium.  However, as long as you are eating balanced meals, you don’t need to worry about this either.  Later, I will post how to plan healthy, balanced meals for disasters.

If you want the reassurance that gatorade offers, by all means, go ahead.  I’m not saying you shouldn’t drink gatorade, just that it is largely unnecessary.  You can also buy the powdered kind, in individual packets so you can control how much goes into it, and it takes up less space.

The exception to this, would be young children who have severe vomiting and/or diarrhea. According to the World Health Organization, “Diarrhea is currently the second leading cause of child deaths and kills 1.9 million young children every year, mostly from dehydration.”  Diarrhea is very common during disasters, especially for the very young.

Young children cannot tolerate gatorade, it is too harsh on their system.  If you have young children in your home, it might be worth it to have some Pedialyte Freezer Pops in the freezer.  Even if they melt when the power goes out, they can still be consumed.  By opening one popsicle on an “as needed” basis, you don’t risk contaminating the whole container as you would with a large bottle that may not get used.  Also, they don’t take up that much space in the freezer, and can even help keep your frozen foods cold for longer.

I recommend stocking up on these before you need them.  That is the whole point of prepping.  If you wait until you need them, the store shelves may be empty.  I would rather be prepared, than gravely concerned.


When water is such a vital part of survival, it amazes me that we use so much of it for non-essentials.  We don’t NEED to have our waste flushed away by clean drinking water, but that is the way our sanitation system is set up.  In a disaster, clean drinking water will be preciously scarce.  We will need other methods of handling our waste.

Also, with water being scarce, we can’t do many of the things we do to keep our home environment clean and healthy.  Often secondary disease from filth are picked up well after the initial disaster is over, and there is not enough water to wash dishes, clothes, etc.  So how do you keep clean with only a little bit of water?

That is a whole other subject, and I will cover it in detail soon.

How Much to Store?

The recommended amount to store is 1 gallon, per person, per day, for three days.  So one person would need 3 gallons of stored water to last 3 days.  There are currently four people in my household, so here’s the math:

(4 people x 1 gallon) x 3 days= 12 gallons of water

Oh, and we have a cat, so I need to add in the water for him.  He doesn’t need a whole gallon, but I count it that way for easy math.  Besides, it can’t hurt to have extra water in case we need to share with a neighbor. Now that I think of it, my sister might very well come and stay with us during a disaster, so I include her in my calculations.  So here it is:

(6 living things x 1 gallon) x 3 days= 18 gallons of water

Eighteen gallons of water would take care of us adequately for 3 days, assuming it is not in the middle of summer, and 110 degrees.  During the summer, I would calculate 1.5 gallons per person.

Storage Containers

I live in an apartment. I just don’t have a good place for 18 gallons of water in the bottom of my closet, or lining the wall of my dining room.  Single gallon jugs of water are not practical to store for some families.

What I like to use are 7 Gallon Water Containers.  You can find these at Wal-Mart from $8-$14, depending on the type.  We use these when we go camping.  Since we are very stingy with water when camping, we can make 7 gallons last about 2 days before we have to go fill it up again.  They are made of heavy duty plastic, and will take a beating.  If you find yourself in a situation where the city is providing clean water for you, it’s nice to have these to fill up.

In my opinion, it’s a lot easier to store and carry one 7 gallon tank than seven 1 gallon jugs. The downside is, they are not light.  When full, it weighs about 55 pounds.  However, I am young and strong, and I have other young and strong people in my household.  It is not a problem for us to carry these. So depending on your situation, you might want to opt for the easier to carry one gallon jugs.

Do not use milk, juice, or chemical containers to store water!

No amount of cleaning these containers can remove the tiny particles of milk, juice or chemicals. Your water will be contaminated, and unsafe to drink!  You or your family may become very sick from drinking water stored in these types of containers.

They say soda bottles are fine, as long as you wash them thoroughly with soap and water, and rinse them well.

How To Safely Store Water Long Term

Stored water should be replaced every 6 months.  This is because over time, still water becomes stagnant.  Microbes (tiny microscopic organisms such as bacteria, and viruses) can survive and reproduce in the water. You can slow down this process by adding a few drops of bleach per gallon of water.

Most tap water is already chlorinated for this reason, so this step may be unnecessary, (unless your city has issued a notice that the water should be boiled).  As long as your container was sanitized before you filled it, and you keep it closed until you are ready to use it, most tap water should be safe to drink.

If you use well water, or any water that has not been treated by your local utility, you will want to use the bleach to make sure the water is stored safely for future use.

If you have doubts, you can always use water purification tablets right before you drink it. Campers, hikers, and international travelers use these all the time to prevent sickness from water contaminated by bacteria, parasites, or viruses.  It will not remove chemical or man made toxins from the water. If you have any doubts about the safety of water, do not drink it.

Peace of Mind

Recent disasters like the severe drought in California, and the Flint water crisis show how important water is, and how frighteningly dependent we are on public services. Considering how important water is for our survival, it should be a higher priority over anything else. Before you stock food, you should stock water.  Remember, we can live 3 weeks without food, but only 3 days without water.

During and after a disaster, stress is high, and your mind will be preoccupied.  It can be easy to let a long period of time pass before you think about hydration.  This already happens in our normal lives.  Sometimes we just get busy, and forget.  It’s not until we are parched, and “dying” of thirst that we realize we are dehydrated.

So during a disaster, it is important to make sure everyone stays properly hydrated. The last thing you want is for someone to end up severely dehydrated to the point where they need to go to the hospital, which may already be overwhelmed, and not able to take care of you.  So take care of yourself first, and make sure you and your family stay hydrated.

Give yourself, and your family the peace of mind that dangerous dehydration is one thing you will not have to worry about.

Information about water treatment and storage was found at https://www.ready.gov/water

A more in depth guide about storing food and water for emergencies can be found at www.redcross.org