Emergency Water & Sanitation Ideas

Lately, I've been thinking about water and...well, poop. About 80 percent or more of the population in North America live in the suburbs or the city, and in an emergency, water and personal sanitation could become a real issue in a hurry. So I started poking around on the Internet, and of course, there are lots of solutions out there, but for a price. A BIG price--and my frugal bent (and budget!) just can't get behind those solutions. So I started thinking...


Two events in my life lately started me cogitating on water in the event of an extended emergency.

1) I'm planning on reroofing my house and I thought hey! Maybe I can afford to have the downspouts empty into water barrels! Even a small house can collect a few hundred gallons in a good rain storm. But as I researched things further, I realized that the water that collects from roofs isn't safe, and some "experts" even suggest that no matter what you do to filter it, the water shouldn't even be used to water food plants much less used for drinking. Plus, water barrels are expensive in my opinion, and I tabled that notion, albeit reluctantly.

2) A few weeks ago, one of my sons dropped by and I gave him the little kiddie pool for his two-year-old that I've had for a while for when the grandkids come by during hot weather and want to cool off and have some fun. After I gave him the kiddie pool I thought that I could have made good use out of it as a water catcher during a rain storm. I did a little math, and found that a one-square-foot opening in a container can "catch" a bit more than half a gallon of water if it rains one inch. So if a kiddie pool is, say 5 feet round, that could net me 3 gallons of water (actually a bit more) if an inch of rain falls.

So what if I bought, say, half a dozen kiddie pools? I would probably go with the hard sided ones, and on sale at the end of the summer season I can buy one for about $10. I could buy a boatload of them for the same price it would cost me to get a 50-gallon water barrel, which I'll admit would be nice to have but probably isn't in my future. As I collect the rain water, I can scoop the water out and store it in small containers in the house or garage. Or if it was during an emergency, I'd collect the water, filter it, boil it, purify it, and promptly use it.

I'm thinking that a small mesh screen could go over the top of the pools when I'm collecting rainwater so leaves and such don't get in there. And I'd wash both the pools and screens and then rinse them with a tiny bit of bleach to get them super clean before using them. To use the water for drinking and cooking, I'd first boil the water for about 5 minutes and then let it cool completely. Next, I'd add about 8-10 drops of bleach (the kind that doesn't have any scent or other additives) per gallon, mix well, and then let it set for 30 minutes before using. If the water was cloudy, I'd do this bleach treatment twice before using.

This isn't a perfect solution, and I haven't got all the answers yet, but it's a good start. And if an emergency suddenly hit, I would have water for drinking, etc., and that would go a long way toward making me feel that I have some control over what could be a scary situation.

Now on to...


It's a subject that doesn't come up much (as in, at all!) in my conversations with family and friends, but if we were hit with an emergency that caused our water and sewers to stop working, wouldn't it be nice to have worked out this particular problem beforehand? Why yes. It would.

Again, if you have money, go ahead and throw bunches at this issue. But as usual, I want to find a better...er, cheaper way. What can I say. It's my particular fondness.

Keep in mind that even though the electric grid may be down, the sewer system might still be working. If the sewer main is alright, you can continue to use your indoor plumbing, but you'll have to pour in some water into the toilet tank every time you want to flush. But that's a small price to pay for the convenience. Because if the sewer main is down you'll need to get creative, and it won't be easy or pleasant, I'm afraid.

Get two 5- or 7-gallon buckets. They obviously don't need to be food grade so they'll be cheap. You want something to cover them so odor isn't a problem, and it would be nice to have a seat of some kind. I know you can buy "bucket seats" online, but you could also cut out a hole in a piece of plywood or just sit on the bucket. Use the remainder of the plywood for a solid cover between uses. You could get away with only one toilet seat, but you'll need two covers.

One bucket is used for liquid waste. (We'll call it #1!) Mark the bucket. Urine is considered sterilized (unless there's blood in the urine or someone has a kidney infection), so you can actually pour it out somewhere in your yard when the bucket fills up. I would probably give the newly emptied bucket a swish with a bit of water and a few drops of bleach...not really sure why except it would make me feel better at the very least.

Now on to the bucket for the solid waste. (Mark this as bucket #2!) ONLY use this bucket for poop. If you mix #1 and #2, things start to smell way worse than if you keep them separate. In the empty bucket, place two heavy-duty plastic bags and have the tops fold over the outside of the top. It might be a good idea to duct tape them in place. Next, add a layer of something like kitty litter, sawdust, or leaf mold. Dirt will work in a pinch also. When anyone uses the #2 toilet, they need to completely cover the waste with another layer of the sawdust (or whatever you choose to use). Keep the lid on between uses. When the #2 bucket is fairly full, put a thickish layer of sawdust (or whatever you're using) over the top. Tightly twist the top closed and use a twisty tie (they usually come with your heavy-duty bags or tie it tightly with several knots.

Bucket #1 isn't really a problem for disposal, but bucket #2 is. You can't just throw it out into your backyard. If you have the room, however, you can dig a trench and empty the contents of the bags into the trench and then fill it up with dirt. The trench needs to be at least two feet deep, and mark the spot so you know it's there. Don't place these trenches anywhere near a water source--not even where you have natural rain runoff. If you have open space or forest anywhere near you, I suppose that in an extreme situation you could dig a deep trench there and have at it. But make sure the land doesn't belong to someone. And again, make sure it's nowhere near water. An alternative is to keep your used(filled) #2 bags in a far corner of your yard or somewhere unobtrusive and wait for the authorities to tell you where you can take them when things begin to settle down and services start back up.

Make sure you have toilet paper handy or else make a big stack of reusable cotton flannel wipes that you can launder and bleach for repeated use. Whether you use paper or cloth, keep the used wipes in a sealable freezer baggie. If using paper, you can throw the used TP into the trench with the bucket #2 contents or burn it. And have plenty of hand sanitizer or else wash your hands thoroughly after every go. In an emergency situation, germs can become much more dangerous than during normal times.

This is only a beginning guide on water and waste in an emergency situation. But I think it's important to think these things through. It's easy for many of us to think about food, but water and waste are more problematic and therefore easier to put off thinking about. But do yourself and your loved ones a favor and think about it today.

There you have it. "Go" in peace. :)


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