Creating and Maintaining an Emergency Water Supply

Depending on the degree of severity of a natural disaster, it’s possible that some households or even whole communities are cut off from potable water. At times, people remain without their regular water supply for days or even weeks, so it’s vital to think this possibility through and prepare for it.

This article will talk about creating and maintaining an emergency water supply, as well as provide you with tips on finding alternative water sources.

How Much Water to Store for Emergency Situations?

Drinking water in cans

If you are wondering how much water you need to store in case an emergency happens, here’s a rough estimate:

  • For drinking, cooking, and cleaning, storing a three-day supply of at least one gallon of water per adult is recommended.
  • If possible, keeping a two-week water supply in safe storage is ideal.
  • Note that water consumption is higher in households in warmer locations, with expectant mothers, and with sick individuals.

Preparing a Water Supply for a Disaster

When it comes to storing water, you have two options: 

1. Purchasing Bottled Water

Plastic bottles with water

Sealed and commercially available bottles are your best shot if you seek the most hygienic water sources in a disastrous situation. Be sure to check our guidelines on emergency water supply shelf life. However, if you don't want to buy bottled water for an emergency, there is an alternative.

2. Storing Water in Your Containers

Purchasing bottled water can be expensive. Besides, it’s not always convenient to store. That’s why many households choose to buy their own containers to create an emergency drinking water storage

Preparing Containers for an Emergency Drinking Water Storage

While the first method of creating disaster preparedness water storage is rather straightforward, the second approach requires some preparation, so let’s take a closer look at it below.

Choosing the Right Water Container 

It’s always the best approach to find food-grade containers to store your emergency water supply. These containers are free from toxic elements and keep the water safe from contaminants. 

To make sure you choose safe water containers, check for the FDA approval stamp on them. Moreover, if you are unaware of how to check the authenticity of your water container, check the following:

  • Whether the bottle or container is properly airtight or not,
  • If it looks durable and is made from tough materials.
  • If you are opting for a large water container or a barrel, ensure that its shape allows you to properly sanitize it before use.

Also, make sure that the containers you are planning to utilize for water storage were not previously used to keep toxic chemicals.

A good place to search for such equipment is in any camping gear store or at places selling house construction supplies. 

What Types of Containers Should Not Be Used?

Keep in mind that there are some types of containers that you should never use for storing water for an emergency. Here are some recommendations:

  • You should avoid heavy water bottles as they are difficult to handle.
  • You should also refrain from glass water bottles because they are easy to break in the event of an emergency.
  • Using containers that were previously holding milk or fruit juices is not a good idea. The protein in milk and fruit extracts might not be thoroughly removed from the containers, which can provide a breeding ground for harmful bacteria.

Cleaning and Sanitizing the Container Before Use

Water bottles next to an emergency kit

Do the following to sanitize the water containers you’ve purchased:

  1. First, thoroughly wash the water container and the sealing cap with dishwashing detergent.
  2. After that, rinse the container both inside and outside.
  3. Combine 1⁄4 of one gallon of water with one teaspoon of odorless liquid home chlorine disinfectant.
  4. Pour this disinfectant solution into the water containers, cover them, and give them a good shake for half a minute. 
  5. After vigorous shaking, pour the solution out of the container and let it air dry. 
  6. Once sanitized, the emergency water container is set to store water. 

Advice on How to Store Emergency Water

Sanitizing the water containers is a crucial preparation step in building disaster preparedness water storage. However, there are still other critical aspects to remember:

  • When you pour tap water into the storage containers, label them with a date and a "drinking water" tag.
  • Check the dates on the water containers regularly and renew the supply every six months.
  • It is best to store the emergency water supply in cool temperatures between 50–70°F.
  • Avoid storage places where the water is exposed to direct sunlight or toxic substances such as pesticides, gasoline, etc.

Removing Water from the Container

Water tanks

If you are keeping water in a large tank and have to use your supply, there are also some things to keep in mind:

  • When you remove water from the storage tank, you should not contaminate it. It’s best to use a clean and sanitized scoop or other similar utensils to take water out of the container
  • Don’t touch the inside of the storage container and the water itself with your hands. 

Water contamination may lead to the spread of bacteria, which would make all the water within a container unusable.

Learn to Make Water Safe to Drink

If for some reason, you have to use water that isn’t from your own supply and are not sure about its quality, there are ways of making it safer to drink, namely:


The most effective way to eliminate disease-causing microbes, such as viruses, bacteria, and parasites, is to boil water.


If people don't get access to clean bottled water and boiling isn't an option, a chemical treatment like odorless home chlorine bleach can sometimes be used to make water suitable to consume.

Disinfectants can destroy the most dangerous or infection-causing microbial pathogens. Still, they are less efficient against highly-resistant species like Cryptosporidium and Giardia infections. 

Besides, the dosage of the chemical should be measured carefully, which is not always possible in emergency situations.


Various handheld water filters can eliminate disease-causing microorganisms from the water supply. 

When it comes to portable water filters, consider the following:

  • Choose one with a filter pore diameter that is fine enough to eradicate parasites. Bacteria and viruses are not removed by many pocket water filters.
  • After filtration, add a sanitizer to the distilled water, including iodine, chlorine, or chlorine dioxide, to destroy any lingering microbes.

Learn How to Find Other Sources of Water

"Not drinking water" sign

If you run out of the emergency water supply or don't have one, you must find other sources of potable liquids. This can be both inside the house and outside:


Here are a few ideas if alternative water sources inside your home:

  • Ice cube trays in your freezer might have clean water.
  • Canned goods often contain some liquid that could be helpful with thirst in the short term.
  • You can also try using water from the heater tank.


If it’s safe to exit outside, you can do the following:

  • Collect rainwater
  • Find streams and rivers
  • Use filtered water from ponds and lakes
  • Natural springs are also a great source of clean water
Note that groundwater might not be drinkable or safe to use during and after a natural disaster. Thus, it’s critical to plan for potential emergency circumstances ahead of time by creating and properly maintaining an emergency water supply.