While many people are concerned with food storage options and rightfully so, it would appear that there needs to be more information presented on how to find water in an emergency or after a Schumer Hits The Fan (SHTF) situation. The human body can survive for days or weeks depending on the fat stores and other factors without food intake, but can only survive 3-4 days without water, so finding a source of water is of utmost importance. You should plan on drinking at least two quarts of water a day, more if you are in a hot environment or are sweating profusely. Also, children, nursing mothers or people who are ill will probably need more water. The goal should be to urinate at least one pint of fluid per day to help the body eliminate wastes.
This article is not really directed to the individual that may be at their home or retreat location and have a well, spring or other source of water that just needs to be filtered or disinfected. It is directed to the individual that needs to find water from unconventional sources.
Some of the following items may be used to collect water and should probably be added to your Bug Out Bag (BOB) if they are not already in place. First of all, you should have a container into which the water may be placed. This could be a cup, canteen or improvised container constructed from a piece of plastic or waterproof cloth. Next, a piece of plastic, approximately 12’ X 6’; this could be a piece of clear lightweight plastic, or even a ground cloth, like one would use under a tent. It would be assumed that you would have a piece of string or rope, but a shoelace could be used in a pinch. A piece of absorbent cloth or a towel will be useful. The last item could be considered optional, but given the light weight should really be added. A six-foot piece of tubing, similar to what might find in a fish tank will facilitate collection in many cases and can also be used as a drinking tube.
Let’s discuss various environments that you may find yourself in and the assorted methods that may be employed to help you locate a water source.
If you are in a northern climate at wintertime, snow or ice may be present. It should be considered mandatory to melt it before you try to eat or drink it. Eating snow or ice can lead to a reduced body temperature and possibly additional dehydration. Snow or ice is no purer than the environment that it comes from. If you wouldn’t drink the water, if it were not frozen, without boiling or filtering it, then the same precautions should be followed after melting it.
If you are near a beach, a hole can be dug that is deep enough for water to seep into. If there are sand dunes present, try to dig behind the first set of dunes to get a purer water source. To purify salt or questionable water that has filled your pit, build a fire and get some rocks very hot. Carefully place the hot rocks into the water pit and collect the resulting steam with clean, absorbent material, then wring the material out into your cup or container.
In desert environments the hole may best be located near any green vegetation, under any moist sand, at the foot of cliffs, rock outcroppings or at the concave bank of a dry riverbed.
If there are cacti around, slice off the top of a barrel cactus and squeeze the pulp to get water. Obviously, a machete will make this much easier. Alternatively, the moisture may be sucked out of the pulp in the mouth, but the pulp should not be eaten.
If there are large temperature swings between night and day, condensation may form on metal surfaces. This condensation could be collected with an absorbent material.
In the event of rainfall, obviously as much as possible should be collected. Note that any additional rain may collect in rocky areas, fissures or the crook of a tree. It may be possible to insert a drinking tube directly in a fissure or if the opening is wide enough to lower a cup into it.
In Air Force survival training we were taught to make a hole in the ground, of about three feet in diameter and two feet deep. This should be dug in a place that would receive sunshine for a large part of the day. In the middle of the hole you would dig a deeper depression for the container to collect the water. If the hole was in a naturally moist area no additional water input may be needed, but if it seemed dry, we were told to urinate into the hole (not the cup), or find any other source of liquid or plant material. The sole exception would be radiator coolant. The sun would cause the moisture to evaporate in the sunshine and condense on the plastic that is used to cover the hole. The size of the plastic to cover one hole should be about 6’X 6’ and this size hole should accumulate approximately one quart of water per day. Since we need two quarts as a minimum the 12’ X 6’ piece of plastic mentioned earlier should be enough o cover two holes and thus provide for our needs. A small rock is placed over the container, which also helps to form a cone of approximately 45 degrees. The evaporating water would collect on the plastic and run down to the low point of the cone and drop into the cup. I have since seen this called a belowground still or a solar still. A tube inserted into the cup and brought out under the secured edge of the plastic would allow collection without disturbing the set up and allowing warm moist air to escape.
An aboveground still may also be made out of the plastic by forming a closed container, filled with air and loading it half full of water bearing plant materials. If possible place the bag on a hill or arrange it so that any condensed water would flow down to a collection point. A rock at this collection point would also be a good idea. Water may be drawn from the collection point with a drinking tube or straw that is secured into the bag before it is tied closed so that the bag would not have to be untied. The tube would need to be plugged during operation of the still.
A transpiration still could also be made be tying the plastic to form a bag around the leafy limb of a tree, with a drinking tube inserted. Tie the limb down so that the mouth of the bag is higher than the end of the tree limb. The same limb may be used for 3-5 days. Water will condense in the bag at the low point and may be collected as needed.
It has been reported that of the three types of “stills” previously mentioned, the above ground with the green leafy material will yield the highest amount of water.
Birds tend to flock over sources of water, particularly at dawn and sunset. Bees or ants going into a tree can sometimes indicate a source of water.
Heavy dew can supply water. Tie towels or absorbent material around your ankles and walk though dew-covered areas before sunrise. When the dew saturates the cloth, wring it out. Continue until all the dew is gone or you have a supply of water.
Green bamboo is a great source of water. Water from the bamboo should be clear and odorless. To get the water out, bend the stalk, tie it down and cut off the top. Water will drip out of it at night.
Plant roots may contain water. Dig them up, cut into small pieces and mash the pulp until water runs out. Some fleshy plants or vines may contain moisture. Be sure the plant is not poisonous and cut a notch at the bottom and drain the fluid out. Do not keep plant material longer than 24 hours as it may ferment.
Water disinfection, filtering and purification are topics to be covered in another article and have also been discussed at length on SurvivalBlog.com. Obviously, the best alternative is to have water previously stored or to have other emergency plans for obtaining water in place.