Humans can only live three or four days without water. When you’re in a survival situation and you find water, you have to address two concerns. First, is the water drinkable? Second, if the water isn’t drinkable, how to you make it so that you can drink it safely?
Two decades ago, you could find drinkable water from streams, lakes and rivers in the north. However, Giardia has spread in recent years, which has greatly increased the risks of drinking water right from a stream, lake or river.
Giardia is an organism that can infect your digestive tract. It can be seriously debilitating, and researchers once believed it was spread through beaver droppings. Unfortunately, recent research has shown that there are other animals that spread it, too.
Pollutants such as those from chemicals or industrial usage can also be dangerous if ingested through contaminated water. This is more common than it was a few decades ago.
Below, you’ll find some tips for assessing the purity of your water and how to purify it when needed.
Assessing the Purity of Your Water Source
Here are some quick rules for assessing water purity. Each situation, though, will have its own unique factors:
• Look for clear water.
• Remember that running water is usually better than still water.
• Water that is coming out of the ground, such as that from a spring, is generally more pure than water running over the ground.
• Avoid water with algae growing in it.
• Avoid water in swamps or marshes.
• Avoid water near roads, as the pollutants from cars don’t all go up in the air.
• Avoid water that flows downriver of cities, towns, industries, mining sites or factories.
• Avoid water that flows from agricultural lands, as this may contain pesticides or fertilizers.
The best way to purify water is to boil it. This gets rid of the bacteria and microbes. However, not everyone agrees on how long water must be boiled to kill all of the microbes. Boil water for at least five minutes, but boiling water for 20 minutes will be the safest.
Heat is obviously required for boiling water, so you’ll need a fire. You will also need a container of some sort. Using a container that you can put directly into the flames is best. However, if you don’t have one, you will need to proceed with rock boiling.
Rock boiling is the process of placing stones into a fire and heating them up. Once hot, you place into a container of water. The water heats up quickly as the heat transfers from the rocks to the water. Put enough rocks into the fire so that you can add the rocks to the water and it will start to boil. Boil for the minimum time listed above.
There are also several things you can add to water to purify it. For example, you can add chlorine dioxide tablets and water drops, AquaMira water treatment drops, or chlorine bleach. However, do not use scented bleaches or those that have added cleaners. Do not use pool chlorine, as this is much stronger than household bleach.
Another means of purifying water is to filter it. There are several types of filters that can be used, including water filters that are available commercially or those you create yourself. The commercial filters will remove most of the bacteria and other contaminants, including Giardia. However, if you don’t have one of these filters available, you can use one of the following methods:
1) Build a water filter from birch bark. While this will not filter out all of the bacteria or chemicals, this is a good choice for an emergency situation. Roll a large piece of birch bark into a funnel, leaving a hole at the bottom that is about the size of a penny. Place several small rocks in the bottom of the funnel, then fill the rest of the cone with alternating layers of sand, grass and charcoal.
2) Use the Earth to filter water. For this, you dig a well about two to four feet from the source of the water. Let the hole fill with water. While there are no guarantees, the water in the hole will be purer than the water source.
3) You can also remove some contaminants by using an item like a coffee filter or clean piece of clothing.
A Final Thought
Finding water only benefits you if you can drink it. Purifying your water is a must in many situations to avoid getting ill and ending up more dehydrated. If in doubt of your water’s purity, it’s best to bypass the source and look for another.