Pacific Swell | Southern California environment news and trends

How to prep for an emergency – without bottled water

Hurricane Irene has come and gone, but not before leaving its mark on the East Coast. After pounding the Mid-Atlantic States, the storm blew into New York City last Saturday before settling its wind and rain onto New England. As the East Coast wrings out, many are left with a massive stockpile of emergency supplies they hurriedly purchased just last week. What were people pulling off shelves in droves? Bottled water.

We may not live in hurricane territory here in Southern California, but we’re no novices when it comes to emergency preparation. (For a complete list of earthquake supplies, click here.) Experts urge that we stockpile a gallon of water per person per day, as a major metropolitan area could be without water for 72 hours or longer. We need to keep water on hand. However, what if you avoid bottled water? Are you able to continue your green habits in an emergency situation?

First, let’s talk about why some of us don’t like bottled water. Foremost, it is not generally considered safer than tap water and can contain chemicals leeched from the plastic. It’s a consumer material that costs as much as $10 per gallon, while tap water costs 1 cent for the same. Only 10% of bottles are estimated to be recycled. Essentially, what you’re paying for is a convenient container that can only hold around 16 ounces of water.

The good news? You can avoid bottled water in your emergency preparations as long as you replace it with carefully-contained, clean tap water. Amy DuFault is a green living expert who lives in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Last week, she dutifully prepared for the arrival of Hurricane Irene without stockpiling bottled water. “At the store yesterday, the plastic water bottles were flying by me before I even got in the store,” she wrote in an email on Saturday as the rain whipped at her windows. “People didn’t seem to realize they still had a fully functioning tap. They could have easily bottled their own water and not only saved money but a massive amount of plastic.”

DuFault and her family prepared for a possible water crisis by filling carefully-scrubbed Tupperware picnic juice jugs with tap water. Luckily, their damage was relatively light. While they lost power and a tree in their backyard, DuFault and her water-filled juice containers safely weathered the storm.

You can still prep without bottled water in Southern California, where we usually don’t get several days warning before our potential natural disasters. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recommends that “If you choose to prepare your own containers of water, you should buy air-tight, food-grade water storage containers from surplus or camping supply stores.” You can find containers that can hold several gallons of water in a BPA-free material. 

With other containers, FEMA recommends that you clean them with soap and water, rinsing throughly. You should replace the water every six months. And whether you buy or bottle your own, they recommend that you keep water purification tablets such as Halazone on hand.

We live in a post-Katrina world, well aware that a hurricane or other natural disaster can wreck massive amounts of damage in a few short hours. Can you effectively prepare for an emergency without bottled water? Yes, you can. Now let’s just hope that none of us will have to use our supplies sitting nicely sealed in our storage areas.

Image: bfurlong/Flickr