Friday, February 7, 2014

When the Water Fails

The latest water crisis in West Virginia had been an awakening for some of the unaffected folks, while its developed into a real crisis for the poor people involved. They could not use their water source. Just how do you survive if your water becomes contaminated? Are you ready for this event in your own neighborhood? 

Until I moved to my present location, I took water for granted. The only precaution I took was to store about 50 gallons of water under my house just in case a big storm knocked out the power and I ran out of gasoline for the generator so that I could run my well pump. I was on a private well for water at the time. If I had been on city water, I probably wouldn't have taken any precautions at all. Water was always there. Water was a given. But now the situation in West Virginia has shown us that perhaps that is foolish thinking. 

So have you given your water any thought lately? 
(Water always comes out of the faucet, right?)

On my farm we catch rainwater. Over the years we've expanded our ability to catch and store water. Some of our tanks are covered, thus protected from the weather, leaves, dirt. Some are open, housing fish, being used for crop irrigation. In addition we have separate safe drinking water storage containers stored under the house for in case of a hurricane. 

Although I do not need to implement it, I have the knowledge and ability to distill ocean water into drinking water. I could build a solar water sanitizer. I could make a homemade water filtration system. 

If forced to relocate, I am aware how previous generations gathered drinking water in lava caves and from fresh springs located under ocean waves. And with a sheet of clear plastic or glass, or even a bottle, could make a simple water still. One still won't produce much water, but make a hundred out of discarded trash and you are set. 

Water is such a basic thing. If it gets contaminated to the point that it can't be used, then we're in deep trouble! Our civilization is doing all sorts of things that are endangering our water. Runoff from farms, industry, mining, forestry, even parking lots and salted highways. Fracking. Drilling for gas and oil. Chemical industry. Paper making. Textile industry. Power generating plants. Sewerage treatment. Food processing. Ocean shipping. Trash dumps. Just to point out a few activities that are pumping contaminants into the water system. I'm amazed when I read articles about the various toxins being found in various drinking water systems and people aren't screaming and rioting about it. Not just toxins, but medications, hormone disrupters, micro bits of plastic, etc. 

Oh boy, I can feel myself on the verge of a rant. Calm down, take a deep breathe. Focus back on the homestead. 

Yes, homestead. Self sufficiency. Self reliance. When I first came to Hawaii, harvesting rainwater scared me. It still scares the State of Hawaii Health Department, who does not deem catchment water to be potable even if the most modern sanitation systems are used. But ya know, I'm really glad I harvest my own water. I can control it's quality. It doesn't arrive to my sink via old asbestos pipes, or more modern pipes which harbor a layer of sludge on the bottom and needs extra chlorination when the pressure gets low during drought times. Nor contains chemical contamination due to the toxic pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers used by commercial farming and industry. Luckily the main air pollution in Hawaii is due to the volcano. It's not from a chemical plant, industrial smokestacks, automobiles and trucks. I can work with the volcano. 
(This is one of our 3 water storage tanks.)

Did I say that Hawaii says that catchment is not potable water? Then why use it? Well, let me first say that catchment water at the Volcanes National Park and Kilauea Military Camp are both declared legal potable water. Uumm.  So if you're a federal facility, catchment is just fine. But if you're not, then it's not legal water. Uumm. Perhaps enough said. 

Good filtration systems with UV sterilization units that are properly maintained make catchment water perfectly safe, even for drinking. Although one state office claims the water isn't potable, other state offices approve that water for not only residential use but also public use at B&Bs, etc. Crazy that one hand says no while the other says yes. But that aside, it indicates that correctly treated catchment is fine. 

While no water source is safe from a mananical enemy, I feel comfortable knowing that my catchment water is rather safe. I don't have to worry about industrial chemicals, agricultural runoff, or other dangerous contamination. My system can still give me water even if the electric grid goes down or if the county's water pipes crumble. 

I'm not suggesting that everyone run out and start collecting rain water, but it may be an idea to look at your options. Perhaps a storage tank or two of reserve water. Perhaps a well. I don't know. But just assuming that good clean water will flow out of your kitchen faucet every day may be delusional thinking. I'd rather not take the chance and find myself like people in West Vrginia. 
All three of our tanks are currently full. I floated a bit of greenery in this tank so that you can see that it's up to the brim. Having full tanks is a wonderful feeling! 


  1. Aloha, Su Ba,
    I hope this comment adheres to your next post's admonitions about comments - you probably take little comfort in coping with the various malicious comments posted by cowards (please see, a blog I love, for Erica's rant about the scurrilous louts she labels as "douche waffles"). I hope to never transgress anyone's rules when I post, but humor is a delicate substance, occasionally provoking a frown when the hoped-for response may only be a quick smile.
    Oh, drat! I completely went cleanly off-track - I meant to say, YAHH! Most important thing to have access to is CLEAN potable water! All the time, any time. Madame Pele may shrug her hips and bust da pipes, so have a bunch of modern-day calabashes safely held, so you don't worry about dehydration. I did some weird research during my training that involved water -too much, to none available- but the final lesson to me was that we humans are 80% water, and changing that percentage abruptly has consequences. So - be like a Boy Sprout - Be Prepared. [sorry for my little joke - yes I was a Scout, both Boy and Sea varieties]
    Good item to have stashed is a Lifestraw or two, also. You can hide them, wrapped cleanly, and hope you never need one.
    I watched dark brown water shoot out our faucets on too many occasions on Maui after a water shut-off, and I reached for the bottled stuff on those days. I used dozens of Zerowater filters too, even though they weren't expected to catch stray Giardia and da kine.
    We depend now on our deep well, but this is the year I add a pump and tank to store water that we can draw from the river running in front of our house, and hopefully, a second line to a tank that can be fed from an artesian well up the hill (fingers in knots for that!).
    Please feel free to truncate at will. I would never take offense.

  2. Please post links to your versions of solar sterilization and salt water conversion. If you will...thanks. Great on e. im getting chuckles here and there...:)

  3. Hi there,

    I came across your blog from (I think?) the Homesteader blogging network. I was wondering if you would be interested in a DIY water filtration blog post? It's an obsession of mine.

  4. Sorry, for some reason my name did not display... I am on Google plus as +Nevin Thompson

  5. Well said, Su. Water is definitely one of the most basic and most important necessities that everyone must have. Therefore, we must exercise precautions to conserve, in case an unfortunate circumstance caused a scarcity on this resource. Just like how you have your own water storage in case of emergencies, and that you make sure those tanks are enclosed well to avoid any contamination. Thanks for sharing this with us.

    Augustin Pavel @ AXEON Water Technologies