Readers Turn: Your Emergency Water Storage Questions Answered

"Glass of Water." Photo by Greg Riegler. From the Flickr Creative Commons.

Thanks for all the great comments on the emergency water storage post, both on the site and behind the scenes!

Some of the comments have been helpful suggestions like:

“I always keep a gal or 1/2 gal of water in the bathrooms.  In case the water goes off, It can be used for hand washing or flushing.”

Kirkland (Costco brand) bottled water is also a favorite.

Ruth’s comment was really interesting because it gets to the heart of why so many Americans are not prepared for emergencies.

Ruth wrote:

[W]e prob. should be stockpiling water, but literally have NO ROOM FOR IT! We would seriously probably have to rent a storage shed to store it in–and it would definitely not be cycled through—so I think a risk assessment should be done of what are the chances of needing this…..interesting…do you know of a site that would show that?

According to a 2005 survey by the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, the U.S. is listed as #3 in “Countries most hit by natural disasters.” Fortunately our death rate from those disasters is relatively low (excepting the large death toll in 2005 from Hurricane Katrina).  Floods and windstorms (like hurricanes) are the most common deadly disasters worldwide but earthquarkes and wave/surge/tsunamis while not as common are very deadly when they do occur.

This site created a chart compiled statistics showing your approximate risk of death in various situations.  Heart disease (1 in 5), cancer (1 in 7) and stroke (1 in 23) are the top three causes of death.  Accidents (1 in 36), car accidents (1 in 100) and suicide (1 in 121) round out the top six.

The first deadly “emergency” situation hits the list at number 9, “Fire or Smoke” with a risk of death at 1 in 1,116.  So, you are roughly 10 times more likely to die in a car accident than a house fire.

“Natural Forces” is next at number 10 with a risk of death at 1 in 3,357.  So, you are roughly 3 times more likely to perish in a house fire than in a flood, earthquake, hurricane, tornado or tsunami.

Note that these are the risks of dying in these situations.  The risks of being affected in some way by an emergency situation/natural disaster are likely many times higher.

Your individual risk of something might be higher than the average as well.  For example, our risk of losing power due to some sort of weather situation in a given year is practically 100%.  It has happened every year we have lived here.  When we lose power, we also lose water.  So, in my case storing some water makes a lot of sense.  If you live in an area prone to wildfires or floods, you might need to take steps to prepare for those situations that others do not.

Emergency preparedness sometimes conjures to mind paranoid people living in the wilderness with huge supplies of food, water and guns.  Being prepared does not have to be this extreme.  Most of us do not (and cannot) prepare for the end of the world.  Rather, we are giving ourselves a “margin of safety” to borrow a phrase from Chris Farrell in his personal finance book, The New Frugality.

For example, it might not be very likely that your water will be cut off for a long period of time due to natural disaster, etc.  But could water service be disrupted temporarily during extreme weather conditions?  Could an environmental disaster occur that might render the water supply temporarily unsafe?  Could there be a terrorist attack that affects the water supply?  Could there be a natural biological disaster that contaminates the water supply?  Yes, there could.

It is unlikely these events would end life as we know it but there could be a constraint imposed such as, “Please don’t use the water for a week while we disinfect the pipes,”  or “Until we know more information we can’t guarantee the water supply is safe.  Drink it at your own risk.”    If you have your own water supply, you are going to be fine.  If you don’t, you are going to be overly stressed and anxious in an already stressful situation.

If you are concerned about space or the responsibility for caring for all this new stuff, just do the minimum. suggests a minimum 3-day water supply per person.  For a family of 4 this is either 12 gallons (if you don’t have a supply of non-drinkable sanitation water) or 6 gallons if you do.  If you buy the Deer Park 3L stackable bottles, 15 bottles (~12 gallons) takes up a 1 foot x 3 1/2 foot space (less if you stack them 2 high).  If you are a single person, it’s just 4 3L bottles or 3 gallons.  It’s no big deal.  It’s easy.  You should do this!

What else holds you back from creating or completing your emergency food and water supplies?  Have you ever experienced a situation where you needed to rely on your bottled water storage?  Please share in the comments.