Suburban Survival: Water Emergency Week Day 4

What could happen here in safe suburbia, really? Well… what if a flood, tornado, earthquake, blackout, ice storm or other emergency cut off your drinking water supply with no warning? And your huge legacy oak is blocking the escape route? Or if even the Suburban can’t navigate the quake-heaved streets?

After you’ve indulged in extreme self-hatred about your lack of preparedness, here’s where you can find drinking water around the home for a short term, quick supply.

1. The Toilet:Don’t make that face, this is an emergency! Not the bowl, dummy, that’s where you poop and where e-Coli lives. You can mine several gallons, though, from the tank. Filter it through a piece of cloth if it’s been awhile since that tank was cleaned. (You won’t be using your loo until service is restored; you can figure that one out for yourself.)

2. Hot Water Heater: A water bonanza of up to 70 gallons. To get at it, make sure gas and electric connections are off (and leave them off until service is restored). Put a large container under the water heater’s bottom drain and open the drain. Then, open a nearby sink faucet to release the pressure and start the flow.

3. Your Plumbing: The pipes are filled with residual water, and it’s just standin’ there doin’ nuthin’! Turn off the main water supply line to the house. Then open a water faucet at the highest point in your house to let air in. Next, open the faucet at your home’s lowest point–in the basement or downstairs–and let the water standing in the pipes drain via gravity into a container.

4. Ice cubes: As badly as you might want a cocktail, retrieve ice cubes from your freezer and put them into storage containers to melt.

Bad idea: Don’t pour yourself a chemical cocktail by drinking water from swimming pools or hot tubs.

Military Edition: Water Emergency Week Day 3

The “Greatest Generation” lived in a world of cans, not bottles. During World War II and for decades after, emergency water was provided in grey cans that were used by the military, as stock for civil defense shelters and for provisioning life boats. Some obvious disadvantages were weight and short shelf life due to corrosion and can materials leeching into the water. (Were can openers provided for life rafts?)

Collectors of all-kinds-of-random-stuff will appreciate knowing that these cans pop up with some regularity on ebay.

Makes those wasteful bottles look better, hey? Today’s military issue “emergency water” is packaged in 4 oz. flexible pouches which are easy to move in bulk and have a 5 year shelf life.

Not that the pouch has in any way replaced the bottle. Because pallet-loads of bottled water are expedient to package and ship in large quantities, the pouch is reserved for specific emergency situations, like a survival kit for a life raft. Bottles are movin’ out in this 2005 pic from slagheap on Flickr. Here, U.S. Navy Seabees organize bottled water for distribution in Biloxi, Mississippi in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Your Parent’s Fallout Shelter: Water Emergency Week Day 2

I’ve declared this the totally unofficial Water Emergency Week here at Thirsty in Suburbia, just because it’s a strange, unsettling and interesting topic. Day two… cold advice from the Cold War.

I was in first grade when the Cold War’s fever-pitch panic hit its stride in 1963 and vaguely remember feeling fearful over dead-serious bits of advice such as this video. (Or film, as it would have been called then. Attention Mad Men writers: this would be a killer storyline! How would Betty decorate the cozy Draper shelter?).

Funny, the most visceral memory I have of this period is a frightening episode of The Twilight Zone, “The Shelter”, in which formerly-friendly neighbors find that adequate shelter, water and supplies are the least of their worries in the face of a civil defense emergency–that the biggest threat to their survival might be each other!

Emergencies, Disasters and Scary Times

Under the dire headline, California faces ‘grimmest water situation ever’ The Guardian (UK) includes the quote from a local farmer, “It’s an absolute emergency and anything to get water flowing quickly is needed.”

Emergency. When that word is used in conjunction with water, you know things are getting scary. Before Hurricane Katrina, there were few Americans who could ever conceive of an wide-scale emergency in which they would lack access to adequate drinking water. Then we watched as Louisiana and Mississippi water utilities failed in the face of broken pipes and the lack of electricity to run pumping and treatment facilities. Water everywhere, and not a drop to drink, literally.

What does it take, water-wise, to survive in a disaster? According to, you’ll need at least 1 gallon of water per person per day for at least 2 weeks, preferably for a month.

The website points out this sobering example: if a moderate to major earthquake hit Los Angeles, California today, and only half of the population lost access to water for two weeks, the governement would need to bring in 25,863,740 gallons of water over the two week period just to provide subsistance water. Twenty-five million gallons of water just to survive. That is 1,847,410 gallons of water a day over roadways that will surely be damaged by the earthquake.

This site (and many others) sell just about everything you could imagine for surviving in a disaster. This includes drinking water in boxes and pouches as well as bags and jugs for transporting water. The 4.2 oz. pouches are $20.16 for a case of 100; 8.5 oz. boxed water is $2.09 for a 3-pack. All have a shelf life of approximately 5 years.

It’s the same idea, really, as bottled water but these sure don’t have the same chic-style branding of their bottled cousins!


RNC: Protesters OK with bottled water in Minnesota

Denver might have been “green” but Minneapolis is greener, as protest organizers sell bottled water for $3.00 a pop. And where are those dandy recycling bins from last week–no room in the van? Thanks to Kevin D. Hendricks for sharing these fine photos on Flickr.


DNC: Water makes gas seem cheap

Seen at the Green Frontier Fest, held along with the Democratic National Convention in Denver: a clever visualization of the obnoxious cost of bottled water. I’ve no idea who’s behind it, but the photo is from Jeffrey Beall’s Flickr photostream.

DNC: have your water and drink it, too

Primo brand bottled water is all over the press and the Democratic National Convention in Denver, as it’s the only brand (right now) that comes in the politically-correct biodegradable bottle. I’m not sure, though, why Denver Water’s DNC tap water twist hasn’t captured alot of media-love as well.  The Denver Post reports,

When Democratic National Convention delegates, protesters and gawkers are looking for a cool drink, Denver Water will have it.

The city’s water utility — combining the finest in beer-keg and dairy-milking technology — has built the Denver Water Trailer. The $42,000 trailer was to carry 200 gallons of cold — 42 degrees Fahrenheit — water at events from the media kickoff party Saturday at Elitch Gardens to Invesco Field at Mile High on the day of Barack Obama’s acceptance speech.

The water trailer also will appear at the Green Concert at Red Rocks Amphitheatre and Green Frontier Fest at the Denver Performing Arts Complex’s Sculpture Park.

The trailer is the brainchild of a group at Denver Water looking for a way to provide an “environmentally friendly” service at big outdoor events. “There are always lots and lots of plastic water bottles in the litter after a big concert,” said Terri Chavez, a Denver Water community-relations specialist. “So the idea was to reduce that.”

Nice to know LA’s got balls

Los Angeles water officials discovered that several open reservoirs had elevated levels of bromate. Bromate, a carcinogen, forms when sunlight combines with bromide and chlorine. Ah ha, an innovative solution! This June, the Ivanhoe Reservoir was covered with millions of 4 inch, black, high-density polyethylene vapor control balls.

But… are the balls recyclable? Made from what…crude oil? Reportedly, when an underground storage facility is completed in 2013 and the balls are no longer needed the “shade balls” will be shredded or otherwise recycled. Seems like more of the same shortsightedness–solving the immediate problem while creating a new future problem.

And speaking of carcinogens, what about the sun-exposed plastics floating around in the drinking water supply? This is an issue that is still without definitive answers.

Aside from that, it looks insanely, irresistably freaky. Were it not so functional it could pass for an ambitious and visionary public art undertaking. Maybe they should have billed it that way.

First photo, from the Flickr photostream of councildistrictfour. Second photo, from Opflow Online at See also for a news article with stunning photos and video.