I originally wrote this as a request from one of my readers who wanted a guide on everything to do with fresh water for his homestead. After working on it – I thought to myself “why not share this on your blog for others out there who are interested?” So here you go – its long for a blog post so you may want to download a pdf of it or book mark this page and come back to it. As always leave me any questions in the comments section below.
As most of my readers know I grew up in Australia before moving to the Northern Hemisphere 26 years ago. Australia is pretty much the same size land mass as the lower 48 states of the USA, yet we have less people than the state of California with most of those people living very close to the coasts. The number one reason for this is, lack of a decent water supply in the inland areas. Without fresh water there is no life. Australian fresh water supplies coupled with a growing population since I left the country have meant heavy financial investments in desalination plants. Which are basically ways to turn Sea water into Fresh water at a very very expensive price. Can you imagine what happens to these water supplies in a long term grid down situation? Yup you guessed it. All gone. Those who are not prepared will be S.O.O.L. (Sh*t out of luck)
My mother traveled through Papua New Guinea in the early 1960s and saw tribal warfare over who got to control the local watering hole! Forget Mad Max style marauding gangs for “Gazzolene” for their muscle cars! Without fresh water they won’t be alive to get their precious gas.
Ok you say, that’s Australia, most of the country is pretty much desert – that can’t happen here in the U.S of A. Wrong. just look at what is going on in California and most of the Nation’s southwest for that matter. The very same thing that I have seen for years in Australia. Water shortages, lake’s drying up, farm land turning to dust bowls. Things are getting bad and in my opinion only going to get worse. Its up to us to take the right steps to ensure that our families are taken care of in times of drought or disaster.
In this blog post we are going to cover the following important water topics for Homesteaders.
* How to Collect Rain water
* How to purify water from lakes, streams and rivers
* How to disinfect your own well.
* How to check a potential property for a Seep or Spring
* How To Daisy Chain Rain Water Barrels together
* How to dig for a well
* How to keep water safe over a long periods of time
* How to test if you water is safe to drink
* Is Collecting your own Rainwater illegal?
How to Collect Rain water
In my opinion the most ideal water supply set up for us homesteaders is a gravity fed spring water supply. Not every property is going to have this so next best scenario would be a fresh water well, followed by a rain catchment system. Now you see why I am saying if you are currently located in the Southwest you might seriously want to consider moving to some where there are far more abundant water sources.
If you do find you have a fresh water spring on your property do make sure that any feeder pipes that you have going to your water holding tank are covered with screens to act as filters for any debris that may end up blocking your pipes . Speaking of holding tanks – we went for a concrete one. From some of the homesteaders I talked to regarding plastic holding tanks versus concrete ones they found that plastic ones did not fair so well buried in the ground. We have a 1500 gallon one on our property, price wise you can pick up a 1500 plastic holding tank for about $750 but a concrete one will set you back approximately $1750. Its the old adage though that you get what you pay for. My mind set right now is I would rather pay extra now for something that will last my lifetime versus saving $1000 only to have it fall to bits, no doubt at the most in-opportune time.
Even though gravity feed is ideal I would also like to suggest that you install a pressure pump system too. While I truly believe that you should be 100% off grid and self sufficient the amount of energy a pressure pump system uses to have water pressure just like your suburban home or apartment is miniscule. I am literally talking a couple of minutes a day. If the grid was to really go down long term using a pressure pump system with a solar battery pack would really not be much of a drain at all compared to the convenience it offers.
If you have been reading my guides for any length of time you know that I am huge believer in back up supply systems, we also went with a rain water catchment tank system as a back up supply of water for our homestead.
How to purify water from lakes, streams and rivers
I would like to think that everyone understands the health risks of drinking polluted water and the fact that even though water might look “clean” it may contain Bacteria, E.coli, Coliforms, Nitrates and other nasties that remain unseen with the human eye. Dirty water can cause, nausea, cramps vomiting and diarrhea which can be deadly for young children and the elderly. So its extremely important to understand how to clean your water to make it safe for drinking
There are pretty much six tried and tested ways to purify water for drinking purposes. For watering your garden, washing clothes, and showering you can be a little more lax on your purification methods, but still I believe its of importance to stay safe. All you need in a long term grid down situation is to mess up and swallow some unclean water while showering and get yourself bedridden for days on end. Not worth the risk in my opinion. Before we being I hope everyone knows WHY we need to purify our water before consumption? If not lets quickly review the little unseen nasties that can exist in our water supplies, whether from a nearby lake or stream, rain water storage or your preferred method of water storage. They are Bacteria, Protozoa, Parasites and Viruses.
Boiling water is the worlds oldest known method of making water safe to drink. If you are stuck in a jam and your water supply is in question a metallic pot with a nice seal-able lid and a heat source (gas source, camp fire, etc) will see you right. A seal-able lid is advisable not only because you bring your water to boil faster using less energy but you can let it sit and cool to one side after the water has boiled. Contrary to popular opinion you really only need to boil your water for a minute or two, to kill any pathogens in it, boiling it for 30 minutes at a time is over kill and in a grid down situation is not very functional either esp if you are relying on a wood fire to purify your water.
In the modern age one of the easiest and simplest ways to purify your water super is to use household bleach. Make sure you get the kind that has no dyes, perfumes,or phosphates in it. Just plain simple bleach that you can find at your local supermarket or dollar store. It goes without saying that if you were to sit there and chug a couple of pints of bleach you would more than likely get seriously ill. Although I doubt you would die. However in very small amounts bleach is probably the number one method most homesteaders use when it comes to making sure their water supply is safe to drink. The general rule of thumb is 2-4 drops per quart of water and let it sit for 30 minutes. If you water is cold it is advisable to use a couple more drops and or let it sit for a bit longer. I usually go for 1 hour tops on cold water.
I also think that it is worth mentioning – if you are in a bind say your well or water storage tanks have been compromised and you are going for lake or stream water, it is best to do some serious filtering first. As a general rule the chunks of plant life etc that you find when you scoop say, lake water will not kill you it is of course all the little unseen bacteria and parasites that will get ya. However if you use Bleach to purify your water the chemicals in bleach can bond with some of the harmless particle matter in lake water rendering it ineffective for killing parasites and viruses. So strain thru a t-shirt, or even a home made water filter before adding your bleach to your water.
* Iodine treatments
Iodine is another chemical treatment method of purifying your water supply. Iodine treatments kills bacteria, parasites and virus’s but doesn’t kill protoazas. The most commonly sold bottles of Iodine are the 5-7% solutions but for water purification only a 2% solution is needed. The general rule is 20 drops of iodine per 1 gallon of water and let it sit for 30 minutes, however if your water is cloudy looking or suspect you will need to leave it for longer. I would suggest filtering any cloudy water before begging your iodine treatment – if you are in a jam even using a t-shirt (or any woven material you have to hand) to strain your water before commencing treatment will help. The same goes with cold water which you will need to leave your iodine in for up to 3 hrs to be effective in killing pathogens. The down side with Iodine purification of water is that some people do have an allergy to it and might be best served using the bleach method mentioned above. Also you will notice on the bottles of iodine tincture there is a little skull and cross bones dangerous if ingested warning, this of course if taken in large does (undiluted) with all that in mind I would not use iodine treated water for more than 30 days straight. Its worth me mentioning too, always go for the bottle and not the iodine tablets they sell in camping and prepping stores, they can easily go bad with heat or poor storage conditions.
Pretty much any time I pick up a prepping magazine these days I see one of those ads for those portable filters, that look like oversized straws that hikers, campers and survivalists can carry in their bug out bag. Designed for people to be able to grab safe drinking water from even a filthy puddle of water when on the move. They are supposed to be able to filter out dangerous waterborne pathogens for the user. For Homesteading purposes filters work in a similar fashion to these, however I do want to point out that filtering water of sediment , toxic chemicals and pollutants will not always take care of nasty viruses. For that you need a purifier after your filter.
For off grid living, Gravity fed water filters are the best bet, even if you are still using the cities power lines, keep in mind that in a long term grid down situation all your electric powered filters and pumps will be rending useless. Most times after a serious natural disaster when the city power lines go – so does the water supply, you run the risk of not just sewage waste backing up and ruining your water supply but also even dead bodies. Think the Tsunami disaster in Indonesia and Thailand or the Japanese earthquake /tsunami disaster. A solar powered pump / filter combo actually uses very little energy and should be seriously considered over relying on the cities power supply.
Large size water storage tanks and filters can be purchased relatively cheaply from your local Home Depot, Lowes Home building supplies store. The more expensive the water filter the more effective it will be , I have to add that even with the top of the line models the filters will wear out over time and need replacing. The more effort you can take before your water enters your filtering system to remove sediment and pond scum the longer they will last. From all the homesteaders I know the general consensus with them all is that gravity fed filtering systems are the way to go.
Distilling water requires boiling it and catching the steam. The process removes salts, Heavy metals and toxic chemicals in your water. Very similar to water desalination plants that convert Salt water to fresh water its an energy extensive method of creating safe drinking water, but beats drinking salt water when dehydrated, which can be very deadly. An example of a home created distilling water process would be to have a large metal pot half filled with your unclean water, on a fire or stove with a sealable pot lid tipped upside down with a smaller pot hung from the upside lid handle to catch the water droplets as they reach the lid and slide down towards the center.
* Ultraviolet Light
Using UV rays from the sun has been a method of creating safe drinking water for over 4000 years now. Records show the people of Ancient India utilizing this method back then. Using UV rays kills the waterborne pathogens that can cause, Diarrhea, Ecoli, Salmonella and more. This method isn’t advisable for those of us in the frozen north (where we have an abundance of woods to use in water boiling methods anyways) but much more suited for homesteaders based in the Southwest or Australia.
Anyways with that said the basic method require you filling up a clear plastic water bottle (do not use colored plastic bottles as they have a tendency to not let the necessary UV rays in and the sun’s handiwork will not be effective.) and laying them on its side in the sun usually for about 5-6 hours. Try to not use bottles big than a liter as this method is most effective in smaller size bottles. You also don’t want to lay your bottles out say in the morning sun as when the sun swing around from the East then you will not be getting the full effects of the suns rays. A south face roof top would be ideal. Also keep in mind the following :
1) placing the bottles directly on a very hot metal roof may cause them to warp or be damaged
2) placing the bottles on paper or dry grass may cause the grass or paper to catch fire. Surely everyone remembers starting fires with a magnifying glass when they were a kid..don’t they?.
If you do not have any 1 liter or smaller plastic bottles heavy duty freezer bags will work just as well, in fact some people say better as they lay flat on the surface and there for the water get more evenly blasted by the suns rays.(again quart or maximum gallon size bags only !
If you are traveling or bugging out to your homestead during a disaster you may want to invest in a Steripen. It’s a small hand held device that uses ultraviolet light to make safe drinking water for yourself. Depending on your situation and budget you may want to consider purchasing one they can be picked up for anything between $49-$99.
* Chemical purification tablets
Iodine treatment (mentioned above is one form of Chemical purification method) there are various other treatments (such as chlorine tablets etc) that can be purchased from camping and sporting stores. I would only recommend these for people with allergies to Iodine and only for small does of water. Eg if you are bugging out to your homestead.
* Life straw
No one water purification treatment is ideal in eradicating 100% of the nasties that threaten you and your families health and well being. When it comes to this KEY resource always be safe and over cautious, taking extra care and diligence in purifying your water whatever method you prefer. Leaving your water bottles out in the sun for an extra hour because you were worried that the sun went behind a couple of clouds earlier in the day is a minor inconvenience versus fighting off Dysentery right?
How to disinfect your own well.
Well water can become contaminated over time. I would recommend picking up some household well water test kits – you can grab them for under $20 from Amazon (click here) These affordable kits will show you if there are any toxins in your well and they also show you dangerous bacteria levels too.
You can disinfect your well using the bleach method mentioned above. Before you start you will need a gallon of non scented household bleach , rubber gloves, safety goggles (or some form of eye protection) a plastic funnel and some old clothes (as to not damage your good ones).
1.Before you begin if your well water is cloudy or muddy run the water from an outside spigot with a hose attached until the water becomes clear.
2.Check what type of well you have and the best way to pour the bleach in. For example some well’s have sanitary seals so you will have to remove those before you add the bleach. Others may just have an entire cover you can lift off to add your bleach.
- Take your bleach and carefully pore it into your well. Use your funnel if needed
- After the gallon of bleach has been added, run an outside hose into the well casing until you smell the chlorine from the bleach coming from the hose
- turn on every cold water faucet connected to your water supply and let it run until you smell the chlorine then shut it off. If you have a water treatment system switch it to bypass until you have finished.
- Wait 12-24 hrs before using your water system again. Right now your system contains high amounts of Chlorine and will not be safe to drink.
- Once the waiting period is over run a hose to a safe area where it will not affect your plants, lakes, streams or septic system, until you cannot smell chlorine anymore. Your water is now safe to use.
- Its recommended to retest your water supply 7-10 days after disinfecting to see if there is any bacteria remaining. Use the kits that I talked about above.
How to check a potential property for a Seep or Spring
the best time to review potential sites for your off grid cabin is during the late summer and early Autumn. If you check properties in the winter or spring time you are going to see the best case scenario for water supplies on that piece of land which will not really give you the fairest indication of the water supply potential. Ask the realtor to show you the seep or spring,, if they’re not much help then search for depressions in the land that appear extra green or the earth is mossy and soft.. Any signs of vegetation changes in a piece of land are pretty good indicators of a seep or spring so keep your eyes open. If the property has a seep but not a spring it can still be used as a potential water supply. My way of testing the strength of a seep is to use a gallon water bottle or jug and time how long it takes to fill up. For example 2 minutes to fill a gallon jig is a pretty good yard stick. Mountain type terrain with a water supply is a great way to have a gravity fed spring – so keep that in mind.
How To Daisy Chain Rain Water Barrels together
If you want to collect rainwater from your roof to use for watering your gardens and you live in a climate with a decent rainfall you have probably thought about connecting more than one 55 gallon barrel together to save your water. This is a great idea and relatively simple and fairly low cost to do. Even though I can this water is not going to be collected for drinking I do suggest that if your budget allows it to purchase brand new FOOD GRADE water barrels and not pick up free ones from craigslist or used ones from ebay. In my opinion the risk of using barrels that may have stored toxic chemicals or waste is just not worth the cost of a few hundred dollars. (You can purchase 55 gallon food grade water drums for about $70 each at home depot.)
There are two main ways to daisy chain the barrels together – one school of thought is to cut the over flow holes near the top of each barrel and the other at the bottom. I have only tried the top (over flow method) so I can’t really say whats best, but people that I spoke to were pretty evenly split on which method they preferred. Make sure that before you start that you have enough space near one of your house’s gutters and that the space is level and clear of all debris. Pretty much everyone I spoke to used cinder blocks or wooden pallets to elevate their 55 gallon drums off the ground.
I started with the first drum I purchased an Atrium grate from Home depot (which costs about $4.00) and turned it upside and drew around the widest part to trace where I would cut the top of my collection barrel as a template. An Atrium grate is used to keep leaves, sticks twigs etc out of your water barrels. If you live in an area which is besieged by mosquitoes it is highly advisable to cover your grate in drain sleeve a fine cloth that’s used to prevent them getting into your barrel and laying their eggs in the water.
About 6 inches down from the top of the first barrel and on the side I drilled a hole using a 3/4” spade drill bit to act as the over flow outlet. Using 3/4” garden hose adapters I screwed into the hole , and I used plumbers putty to seal the adapter with a locking nut on the inside of each barrel. Then I measured off a length of garden hose that would reach each adjoining barrel and used a female hose adapter to attach the hose to the barrel. You can then repeat for each respective drum. I used a spigot set up at the bottom of my final barrel to be able to run off the chain and to fill buckets and watering cans for my vegetable gardens.
Tip for those of you living in cold climates: If you have freezing temperatures in the winter, you definitely want to drain the barrels, and leave the valve open, Divert all the water from going into the barrels in the winter, otherwise your plumbing on the bottom will burst when the water in it freezes.
How to dig for a well
Hiring a company to come out and dig a well on your property if there isn’t one there already can prove to be a costly affair, with local companies quoting me around $5000 to get it all done for you.
Before you get started you will need to check with your state’s geological survey department to find out what type of soil you have on your property. Obviously drilling down through sandy/loamy soil is going to be easier than clay and rocky soil. They can advise you on how deep you will have to drill down tp find quality water on your property. It is worth mentioning that why you may get lucky and find a decent water supply at say 30ft down, most quality well water (at least from the homesteaders that I talked to was found at around the 100ft level.
State by state there are different rulings on set backs (how far your well must be away from your septic tank or sewer lines) and a quick search on the internet for your specific state for your requirements shouldn’t take you long, but as a general rule you want to be at least 50 ft away from your septic tank and on higher ground as well. You will also want to check before you start drilling that there are no utility lines or existing pipes below that you may damage once you have figured out your drill site.
Depending on how far out you are in your country you may or may not require a building permit before you start to drill your well.
There are do it yourself kids available on the internet, I recommend you pick up a kit from these guys : http://www.howtodrillawell.com/
I actually like their method a lot – no hiring of rigs and heavy equipment to master. Its a simple system with a drill and air hose that pumps the water up and out creating a vacuum so that your drill bit doesn’t get stuck in the mud. If this sounds like something that interests you then go to their website (link above) where they have a couple of videos explaining how it works in detail. Its definitely a low cost alternative to hiring heavy duty equipment and a bunch of guys to dig your well for you.
How to keep water safe over a long periods of time
* Outside of having your own well, water tank or spring I think it pays to have some water stored away separately in the event of emergencies. Most homesteaders and preppers that I spoke to whilst working on this guide recommend a minimum of a two week supply of water stored , ideally more if you have the room. Working on the gallon per person, per day rule that works out to be 14 gallons for 2 weeks water so if you are part of a 4 person family you are going to AT LEAST need 56 gallons stored for a 2 week period.
Best bet for keeping your water safe over a long period of time is food grade plastic 55 gallon containers, you can find them for sale online for less than $100, I would definitely go for new and not used in this scenario. Steel 55 gallon drums are no good as chlorine (which you will use to treat your water damages the steel)
I would definitely suggest that do not use a common garden hose to fill your water bottles but a dedicated drinking water hose which you can find on Amazon from about $10 and up. (depending on the length required etc)
Dedicated drinking water hoses are lead free, BPA free, phthalate free and don’t give your that weird plastic taste you used to get as a kid drinking from the garden hose on hot days.
There are two school of thought when it comes to long term storage of water and treatment with chlorine, many preppers believe that if you use city supplied tap water to fill your barrels that you do not need to include any added chlorine to your tanks since city water is already heavily chlorinated. However if you are using water from your well to store I do believe its wise to add some chlorine to your barrels. Keep in mind water does not spoil, its CONTAMINATION that makes it go bad. So be sure to seal your barrels correctly after filling.
Some of the homesteaders that I talked to like to store their plastic water barrels on wooden pallets in their garage as opposed to letting the containers sit directly on their concrete floor, this is done out of the belief that there could be a potential chemical reaction between the concrete and water barrels, which I am not entirely convinced is necessary. But hey if it helps you sleep at night its a low cost step to take.
The easiest and simplest way to test if your water is safe to drink is the DIY test kits that you can find these days available on Amazon. They are going to set you back about $17 and are very easy to use. However they are not always 100% accurate in general they will give you the general idea if your water is safe or not. They test for Ph levels, chlorine levels pesticides, lead, nitrates and of course bacteria.
Search on Amazon for “First Alert WT1 Drinking Water Test Kit”.
I must add that no cheap DIY test kit is going to be as detailed and as accurate in their analysis as a full blown lab that tests for everything but in a grid down situation I do not think any of these labs will be open for business even if you could afford their fees, if you get what I am saying.
Is Collecting your own Rainwater illegal?
If you have spent anytime at all on the internet and Facebook in the last 2 years I am sure you have seen articles or links that friends have posted and shared about someone getting arrested or even imprisoned for collecting their own rainwater! Most of these sensationalistic articles are designed for nothing more than to get you to click the link (these are called “click bait” in the blogging business) they are pretty much all a re-hash of the same thing exaggerated claims backed up by little and or no facts.
The truth is rainwater harvesting is NOT ILLEGAL. It has been restricted in some states but even those states (Utah, Washington State and Colorado) have relaxed their laws in recent years. In some other states rain water harvesting is regulated, meaning you will have to obtain a permit to do so no different then getting a building permit to work on your house. If you have seen the article about the Colorado man who WAS jailed he had applied for his permit, got denied But went ahead and built 3 reservoirs regardless. That was his real crime, not collecting rainwater. If you are still concerned make sure you contact your local state authorities and double check what the laws are in your particular state.
Water is essential for all living things, without it we die. I truly believe that as the world goes on we are going to have more and more issues with our personal water supplies. Higher costs in getting water from the city, more recycled water and a lot more de-salinated water as well. If you have yet to purchase your own homestead I sincerely urge you to make sure it is in an area with a good annual rainfall and ideally the property has its own well or spring. Far better to take these steps now instead of leaving it for a few more years where properties with well will only increase in price far faster than those without.
As always thanks for reading and do not hesitate to contact me if you have any further questions
Alex The Prepper