Obtaining Safe Drinking Water in a survival situation
"Water truly is life"
If there is one hard fast rule which governs all mankind it is the fact that we must have water. It is much more important than food. A person can live 4 weeks without eating, but will die a horrible death after 3-5 days without water.
Everything is wonderful if you can find a ready source of fresh water like a lake, pond, river, or creek. What happens though when one of these sources is not readily available? You need to familiarize yourself with methods of finding, or making alternative sources of water. I will choose a couple of these methods to talk about, but rest assured, there are a many others.
Vegetation: As long as they are not poisonous, you can gather water from most plans. There are some where you can mash certain parts to obtain water. There are also vines that hold water, and if a section is cut out, it will yield water. I will not go into these methods, because they are too in-depth to cover. I will however talk about plant distillation. This is much more simple than the name implies. In the morning, seal a plastic bag around a large leaf bearing branch of a tree or bush. As the plant naturally expels water vapor through its leaves throughout the day, this vapor is trapped in the plastic bag, where it condenses, and builds up in the bottom. This method can actually yield more water than you might think. It will not yield all you requite in a day, but when making water, it is smart to harvest from multiple sources.
Digging a survival well: This type of well is often called an Egyptian Well. This name comes from the biblical story of the plagues of Egypt. Where God turned the water of the Nile into blood, rendering it undrinkable to the Egyptians. In order to drink the water, the Egyptians dug wells along the banks of the river so that the sand and gravel filtered the blood from the water.
While the chances of running into rivers of blood are pretty remote today, there are other nasties that must be removed prior to drinking. If you find yourself in a survival situation where you do not have a container in which you can boil water, you still must drink water, or you will die. In this case, there is a way in which you can naturally filter available water.
When you locate your water source, choose a sandy bank and dig a hole approximately 4 - 6 feet from the waters edge. You must dig the hole deep enough to end up below the surface of the water source. When at the proper depth, it is important to dig down another 8 - 12 inches, as this will allow more water to fill your well. You will notice that the water filling the well is quite murky and muddy. This is normal, and will quickly settle out of the water.
Now cover the well with a bandana, shirt or some other cover to prevent debris from being blown into it. Let the well sit for a half hour or so while you find the hollow stem from a milkweed, or Japanese knotweed plant, or river reed. While it is not necessary to have a "straw" to drink with, it makes it much easier to get the water from the well.
Now remove the cover of your well. Your well is filled with nice cool, relatively clear water. Use your straw to slake your thirst. When you have drank your fill, cover the well to keep it clean for later consumption. It is important to note that while this method does filter the water source through sand and gravel, it may not remove all water borne parasites. While this method is less than ideal, you must drink water, or you will die. While if you ingest water borne parasites you may get violently ill, if you go 3-5 days without water, you will most certainly die. In my book stomach cramps and diarrhea from water borne parasites are preferable to death from dehydration.
Solar Still: In a survival situation finding a clean source of water is of paramount importance. One method of "creating" your own water is to make a solar still. the premise and construction is quite simple. You will first need a few supplies; a receptacle to contain the water, a sheet of plastic or rubber, a medium sized stone, something to dig with.
Start by selecting a sunny location in moist sandy soil. Now dig a hole about 16" across, or about 8" smaller than the diameter of your plastic or rubber sheet. Dig the hole about 12" deep. Now it is time to construct the still. Place your receptacle in the center of the hole. Place the plastic sheet over the hole, overlapping it evenly all around. It is important to make sure the plastic sheet sags in the center. Place weights at regular intervals around the sheet, and then cover the edges in sand. Finally place your medium sized rock in the exact center of the sheet, directly over the receptacle in the bottom of the hole.
As the sun heats the still, water trapped in the soil will evaporate. This evaporated water will condense on the underside of the plastic sheet. Gravity will cause the water droplets to run down the sheet until they collide, and drip into the awaiting receptacle. This method will not produce all of the water you will need to survive. In a survival situation every little bit helps though. If you are having trouble attaining enough water from a single source, it may become necessary to cultivate a number of sources which will each provide a little. A solar still is yet another way to wring moisture from an arid environment. You can also use it to recycle your urine. before you place the cup in the center of the hole, urinate into the hole. Now place your cup, and finish the still according to the instructions above. The sun will cause the water from your urine to evaporate and condense on the sheet. the resulting water is absolutely clean, and 1oo% free of any impurities. I guarantee you will not be able to tell this water from any other distilled water you may drink.
Now that you have located your water source it is necessary to make it safe to drink. I am sure we have all seen that movie where some poor soul is wandering through the desert on his last legs, when at long last he spots an oasis in the distance; he throws himself headlong into the cool water, and drinks his fill. He then relaxes in the shade under a palm until help arrives. What the movie failed to show is the part of the story where the parasites in that oasis water hit his system, and he is spraying everything he took in one end, out the other. Fecal Coliform and Giardia lambla bacteria, as well as Cryptosporidium and other nasty little protozoa, are not our friends. In order to prevent disease, water from "Wild" sources must be treated prior to drinking. Treatment can be performed by a number of means; we will look at purification using chemicals, filtration, boiling, or radiation.
Boiling: For the most part, water is safe to drink after it reaches a boil. There are some who say water must be boiled for 10 minutes to ensure it has been rendered potable. Others will tell you it is safe after 5 minutes at a rolling boil. I believe simply bringing water to a boil is sufficient to kill anything that might cause you problems.
Chemical Treatment: There are a number of chemicals on the market that will kill protozoa in wild sourced water. I will cover a couple of the most popular.
Iodine: Iodine in either the liquid or tablet form can be used to safely purify water from questionable sources. depending upon the clarity of the water, add 5 - 10 drops of 2% liquid iodine, or 2 iodine tablets, to a liter or quart of water. Loosely cap the container, and shake, allowing some of the water to wash the lip of the container. After 30 minutes the water is safe to drink.
Bleach: Municipal water treatment plants use Sodium Hypochlorite, the active ingredient in household bleach, to treat the water that comes from your faucet. Well diggers also use bleach to treat a well after it is drilled. You can render any water source potable by adding 2 - 3 drops per liter or quart. Simply add the bleach to your water, and let it sit for about 30 minutes. While the water will have a slight odor, it is completely safe to drink.
There are also numerous commercially available water purification tablets. One of the most widely available are Halazone Tablets. They are chlorine based, and work quite well. If you plan to spend any time in the forest, or traveling abroad, it is a good idea to carry Iodine or Halazone tablets with you. They are a cheap easy to carry insurance policy. I recommend carrying Potassium Permanganate. It does double duty in that it will purify water, and it can be used with glycerin to start a fire.
Mechanical Filtration: There are also a multitude of filtration systems on the market as well. One of the best I have tried is Lifestraw®. Lifestraw® is a point of use water filtration implement which was developed for people who live in third world countries. It can actually make raw sewage safe for human consumption. I do not plan on drinking sewage, regardless of how safe they say it is, but I guess it is nice to know I can. This fact illustrates how well this product works. Lifestraw® is quite small and easily carried in a pocket, or around the neck with the carry cord included. I carry one with me each time I venture into the forest. I also carry one in each of my vehicles.
Solar Radiation: If you are not able to use any of the procedures above to purify water, you can still use the sun. You will need a sealable clear plastic or glass bottle, and a clean cloth. Make sure to remove any labels from the bottle. To ensure the effectiveness of this method, it is important to use the clearest water possible. Begin by covering the opening of the bottle or jar with the clean cloth. Slowly pour clear water trough the cloth, stopping when the container is 75% full, an securely fasten the cap. Now turn the container on its side to create the most surface space as possible, and place the bottle in direct sunlight. The efficacy of this method can be increased by placing the container on a dark or reflective surface. Allow the water to sit for a minimum of 6 hours if in direct sun, or 24 hours if cloudy or if water is less than clear.