Without water, life on this planet would not be possible. But the vast majority of the water on the planet is not potable; only 3 percent is drinkable. Most of that is in underground aquifers or trapped in snow and ice where it’s not readily accessible to humans. The rest is saltwater, which might as well be poison for we humans. In the backcountry of North America, water is usually a readily available commodity, as the climate of most of the wilderness is perfect for streams, creeks and rivers. Finding water in more arid regions—such as the Southwest or the dry cold regions of the north—can be challenging, but not impossible.
Regardless of its source and despite desperation, be wary of any water you come across. Without proper treatment, any water might be loaded with bacteria, viruses, protozoa, parasitic worm eggs or chemical contaminants.
1.1. Potential Toxins: Bacterial spores such as Campylobacter jejuni, Salmonella, Shigella, and Escherichia coli; viruses such as rotavirus, Norwalk virus, and hepatitis A parasitic worms like tapeworms and flukes; and industrial toxins such as lead, mercury and cadmium all lead to unhealthy and potentially deadly drinking water.
1.2. Parasitic Protozoa: The complex parasitic protozoa are especially prevalent in almost all water found in nature. Many, including Giardia lamblia, Cryptosporidium parvum, and Entamoeba histolytica, transform from free-living forms into dormant but highly infectious cysts when expelled in the host’s feces.
1.3. Giardia Lamblia: Giardia lamblia is a protozoan parasite that enters the water via the feces of mammals and then attaches itself in the small intestines when people drink that water.
It can cause diarrhea, vomiting, bloating and weight loss.
1.4. Cryptosporidium Parvum: Cryptosporidium Parvum is another protozoa species that populates fresh water in North America via the same method as Giardia. The result of ingesting water infected with C. parum is tremendous diarrhea.
Humans can go without water for only a few days. High and low temperatures, a lack of shade, dry or windy conditions, and other factors can further reduce the amount of liquid reserves left in the body and dramatically reduce the time available for waterless survival.
2.1. Salt Buildup: When too much salt is in your system, water is leached from individual cells to compensate for and correct the imbalance. The body fights this by urinating to remove the salt, so we urinate more water than we drink. The result is dehydration.
2.2. Efects of Fluid Loss: The body compensates for the fluid loss by increasing the heart rate and constricting blood vessels to maintain blood pressure and flow to vital organs. Eventually, you’ll feel nausea, weakness and delirium. As you become more dehydrated, the brain and other organs receive less blood, which leads to coma, organ failure and eventually death.
2.3. Common Signs of Dehydration: Some symptoms of dehydration are dark odiferous urine, darkened skin around the eyes, unusual fatigue, loss of skin elasticity and a deep line down the center of the tongue.
2.4. Prevent Dehydration: Even when you are not thirsty, drink small amounts of water at regular intervals to prevent dehydration.
2.5. Don’t Eat Snow!: Melt the snow first. Consuming snow or ice can reduce the body’s temperature and lead to additional challenges.
2.6. Slaking Thirst: Rinse your mouth for 30 seconds before swallowing. Most of your thirst comes from a dry mouth.
3. WATER AND YOUR HEALTH
Your body’s normal temperature is 98.6 degrees (F). It gets rid of excess heat primarily by sweating. The more you sweat, the more moisture you lose. If you stop sweating during periods of high air temperature and heavy exertion, you can quickly develop a heat-related injury.
3.1. Keep Drinking: Drinking water at regular intervals helps your body remain cool and decreases sweating.
3.2. Cold-Weather Sweating: When bundled up during cold weather you may be unaware that you are losing body moisture. You must drink water to replace this lost fluid. Your need for water is as great in a cold environment as it is in a hot environment.
3.3. Too Much Water?: Over-hydration can occur if total water intake exceeds what your kidneys and sweat glands can process. A rule of thumb is that consumption that exceeds 1.5 liters (1.6 quarts) per hour can result in over-hydration. Over-hydration can cause low serum sodium levels resulting in cerebral and pulmonary edema, and, possibly, death.
3.4. Heat Cramps: The loss of salt due to excessive sweating causes heat cramps. These are moderate to severe muscle cramps in legs, arms or abdomen. These symptoms may start as a mild muscular pain. Stop all activity, seek shade and drink plenty of water.
3.5. Heat Exhaustion: A large loss of body fluids and salt causes heat exhaustion. Symptoms include headache, confusion, irritability, excessive sweating, weakness, dizziness, cramps and pale, clammy skin. Seek shade immediately. Lie down, loosen all clothing and sprinkle yourself with water while fanning the wet skin. Drink small amounts of water every few minutes.
3.6. Heat Stroke: An extreme loss of water and salt and the resulting loss of your body’s ability to cool itself can cause heat stroke. Symptoms are the lack of sweat, hot dry skin, headache, dizziness, quick pulse, nausea and vomiting, and confusion, leading to unconsciousness. The victim must be quickly cooled by any means available. Massage their arms, legs and body. When they regain consciousness, let them drink small amounts of water every few minutes.
4. FINDING WATER
In a survival scenario, you must measure the risk versus the reward of every task. This becomes especially true with calories and water consumed. Expending calories and time on a fruitless long distance hunt for food or water is a bad investment of both.
4.1. Follow the Leader: Animals can often lead you to water. Grazing animals, such as deer, are usually never far from water and typically drink at dawn and dusk. Converging game trails often lead to water.
4.2. Birds and Water: Birds can sometimes lead you to water. They drink at dawn and dusk. When they fl y straight and low, they are heading for water. When returning from water, they are full and will fly from tree to tree, resting frequently.
4.3. Insects and Water: Insects, especially bees, can be good indicators of water. Bees seldom range more than a few miles from their nests or hives. They will usually have a water source close by. Ants need water as well. A column of ants marching up a tree is likely going to a source of water.
4.4. Observe Wildlife: If you haven’t seen any wildlife for a while and then suddenly you do, there is likely a source of water nearby.
4.5. Ice Melt: When ice is available, melt it rather than snow. One cup of ice yields more water than one cup of snow.
4.6. Body-Heated Water: You can use body heat to melt snow. Place it in a container between your layers of clothing (not directly on the skin).
4.7. Morning Dew: A good source of water is dew. By stretching out a sheet of plastic you can capture dew during the night.
4.8. Safe Sources After Radiation Exposure: After a radiation exposure, naturally filtered water from springs, wells or other underground sources will be your safest sources. Any water found in the pipes or containers in abandoned buildings will also be free from radioactive particles.
5. FINDING WATER IN PLANTS
Many types of plants have plenty of water, either in their roots or in capillary systems in their vines, branches, fruits or leaves.
5.1. Observe the Leaves: Broad-leafed trees, like cottonwood and willow, indicate abundant water is present. However, trees with needles, such as pine, juniper and cedar, grow in dry to semi-dry areas.
5.2. Cactus Pulp: Cut of the top of a barrel cactus and mash or squeeze the pulp to get the water out. Do not eat the pulp.
5.3. Bamboo: Cut the tops of bamboo stalks and water will then begin to drip from the cut area.
5.4. Plant Roots: Many plant roots hold water. Mash them into a pulp, strain of the water, then purify it before drinking.
5.5. Palms: The buri, coconut, sugar, rattan and nips all contain liquid. Cut a lower frond, pull it down, and water will drain from the tree at the injury.
5.6. Water Plants: Ice plant and Amaranth (aka: pig weed) are ground coverings found in much of North America that contain large amounts of drinkable moisture.
6. GROUND WATER
In the desert, water may be found underground. If you are lucky, the water table might be only a couple of feet below the surface. Sometimes, water can be found in specific places such as at the base of a cliff or at the bend of a dry riverbed.
6.1. Water in a Dry Lake: Find the lowest point of a dry lake or riverbed and dig. If you hit wet sand, stop digging and allow the water to seep into the hole.
6.2. Stream and River Bends: Dig into the far bank of a bend in a dry stream or riverbed. Since that is where the water was hitting the bank with the most pressure, some moisture may remain.
6.3. Plants Know Best: If you see thriving vegetation in a barren area, there is probably a water source there. Dig down in low areas and you might find moist sand or water.
7. WATER AT HOME
Sometimes, an emergency situation will have you stranded at home, where you might run out of your reserves before the catastrophe has been resolved. There are numerous sources for water in and around your home.
7.1. Rainwater: Processing rainwater is one of the cheapest and easiest things you can do to help improve your level of self-suffciency. Be sure to treat the water for chemical run of and other impurities before using.
7.2. Water Heater: There might be up to 80 gallons of fresh water waiting for you to tap into.
7.3. Toilet Tank: The water in the tank of your toilet is perfectly safe to drink
7.4. Fish Tank: After processing, a 20-gallon fish tank will provide drinking water for a single person for weeks.
7.5. Pool Water: A 15 x 4 foot round pool has around 5,000 gallons of water you can use after processing it.
7.6. Water Pipes: After the pressure drops, water may have collected in low spots and can be collected by disconnecting the pipes.
7.7. Canned Foods: Most canned foods are packed in water or juices that can be consumed..
There are dozens of filters, distillers and chemical treatment options available for a wide range of situations. If none are handy, there are natural methods such as stills, bleach, boiling and solar disinfecting that you can use to make water safe.
8.1. Filter Size: The smaller the pore size, the more effective the filter is. Use a filter with the smallest pore size you can find.
8.2. Chemical Limitations: Chemical treatments eliminate bacteria and viruses but they do not eliminate particulate matter, and they usually have a negative effect on the taste of water. Note that long-term use can be harmful, especially to children and pregnant women.
Water doesn’t have an expiration date. What causes water to become undrinkable are the chemicals, algae, bacteria and biological contaminants that get into it. Make sure the containers you use to store water for long term are BPA-free and approved for food grade use.
9.1. Three-Day Supply: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that a three-day supply should be kept on hand at all times but suggests keeping two weeks’ worth of water. Three days of drinking water for a family of five is about 15 gallons.
9.2. Rotate Your Stash: Rotate out your stored water every eight to 12 months. When you buy a new case of water, date and place it in your stash and use the oldest case of
water from your supply.
9.3. Water Cooler Bottles: Three, five, and seven-gallon water bottles for home water coolers are a cheap storage solution that enable you to store a large amount of water effciently.
9.4. Stackable Containers: Stackable water containers made with food-grade plastic are great for tight spaces.
9.5. 55-Gallon Barrels: A BPA-free, UV-resistant 55-gallon water barrel will provide almost a month of water for two people.