Last updated on January 31st, 2019
Today I filled up and treated a 55 gallon water barrel for long term storage as emergency drinking water (or any other necessary water use).
Having a backup emergency supply of water is one of my highest recommendations for general preparedness at home.
Here’s what I did:
I have several food grade barrels which had been fitted for rainwater collection. Instead I am utilizing them for emergency water storage in the event that my well pump goes bad or if the electricity goes out (even though I do have a generator – but there’s always the possibility of running out of fuel).
I am fortunate in that my water source is from a natural spring here on the property which produces about 10 gallons per minute – so I could always walk down there (to the spring) and collect water in a container via the spring’s overflow spout and haul it back to the house to keep my 55 gallon drums filled (a major chore though – given that water weighs 8 pounds per gallon and the source is about 200 yards from the house 😉 ).
Very Popular Water Container
In any event, regardless of your own unique situation, by keeping a water barrel filled – you will have an emergency source for drinking, filling a toilet tank for flushing, use for washing dishes, etc.. during an emergency.
One ideal location for a water barrel is to keep it in the basement. It doesn’t require much room (figure about 3’x3′). If you don’t have a basement, maybe you can clear a spot somewhere on the 1st floor slab. You might consider your garage if it doesn’t freeze in the winter (an attached garage?). Wherever you decide, remember that a 55 gallon barrel filled with water will weigh more than 400 pounds – so you won’t be moving it afterwards unless you drain it.
Get a barrel that is food grade. If you look at the picture above it clearly indicates the symbol icon for food grade. If you purchase a barrel which is specifically designed for emergency water storage – it will almost certainly be food grade (just check).
Augason Farms Emergency Water Storage Kit
Before filling, clean and disinfect the inside of the barrel. Use a solution of 4 teaspoons regular household bleach per gallon of water to sanitize the container (NOT drinking). I filled up a 2 gallon bucket, 8 teaspoons of bleach, and dumped it in the barrel. I then swished it around and carefully rolled the barrel around (without spilling) so as to get the solution on all surfaces. Then I let it sit for 30 minutes before dumping it all out. Note that bleach on your clothes will permanently ‘bleach’ them. So unless you like spots on your clothes, be careful.
My barrels have a water spigot near the bottom, so I set the barrel up on concrete blocks to facilitate fitting a container underneath to collect water if and when I need it. I could also attach a water hose to the spigot for more flexibility while using the water. Note that you can get hoses which are safe for drinking water (designed for RVs and campers).
Some emergency water storage barrels come with (or you can purchase separately) a hand pump for extracting the water.
Next, fill the barrel with your tap water. If you have municipal water, it will already be treated with chlorine to a level of about 0.5 ppm (a small amount), but apparently just enough to eliminate most harmful organisms.
If you’re using untreated water (e.g. well water?) or any untreated source, the CDC recommends adding 8 drops of regular liquid household chlorine bleach (unscented – no additives except for sodium hypochlorite) per gallon of water to eliminate most harmful organisms in clear (not cloudy) water. This dosage is based on bleach with between 5 – 6% sodium hypochlorite (it’s listed on the label). Some newer liquid bleach is concentrated to 8.25% sodium hypochlorite (it’s on the label) and will require only 5 drops per gallon of water.
Having said that, I’ve worked up a reference to make it easier:
Fact (from the CDC website)
There are 64 drops of liquid chlorine bleach in one teaspoon.
Note that a drop’s volume depends mainly on the surface tension of the fluid and the aperture being used to create the drop.
How To Treat Water For Long Term Storage
To treat water that has not already been treated:
(numbers rounded for convenience)
For treating water with either 5-6% or 8.25% (sodium hypochlorite) bleach
5 gallons water (40 drops or ‘5’ one-eighth teaspoons of 5-6% bleach)
5 gallons water (27 drops or ‘3’ one-eighth teaspoons of 8.25% bleach)
55 gallon water barrel (7 teaspoons of 5-6% bleach)
55 gallon water barrel (4.5 teaspoons of 8.25% bleach)
Note that household liquid bleach during storage will break down into oxygen and table salt – losing potency over time – up to 50% in just 6 months to a year.
How To Store Water For Long Term Storage
After treatment, be sure that your water barrel is sealed (lid on securely).
Label container as “drinking water” and include storage date.
Keep stored water in a place with a fairly constant cool temperature.
Do not store water containers in direct sunlight.
Do not store water containers in areas where toxic substances such as gasoline or pesticides are present.
I recommend that you drain and refill (and re-treat) your water containers every 6 months if you can. It’s generally not necessary (if treated, sealed, and stored properly), however it is good insurance (just in case) while being fairly easy to do, and will ensure quality water if you ever need it.