Amongst the various things we need to have, in order to survive, water is right up there near the top of the list, topped only by the oxygen and the need to maintain our body heat. The human body can only survive about three days without consuming clean, pathogen-free water; even less if it’s extremely hot outside. Yet water can be one of the most elusive resources to find, especially in some environments.
You’ve probably heard some survival instructor sometime, say that we need a gallon of water per day to survive. But that’s just the water for drinking and cooking. We use water for a whole lot more than that. We also need water for keeping ourselves and our environment clean, an important part of maintaining our health. In a long-term survival situation, we’ll have to have water for our gardens too, as most of us will be growing at least some of what we eat.
So how much water we actually need depends on how long a time we find ourselves in survival mode. We can go a few days on that one gallon a day, but if we go much longer than that, we need to up our water usage for cleaning. Put simply, we’re going to need a whole lot more water than we think.
That raises the question of where we are going to find all that water. For the moment, I’m going to leave out the idea of harvesting your own water, either through rainwater capture or having a well. I’m also going to ignore what water you might have stockpiled, as no matter how much water you have, it’s not going to be enough. I’m just going to look at places you can find water, both in the city and in the wild.
Urban Water Sources
It’s unlikely that you’re going to have a river flowing through the city, or at least not the part of the city you are in. While many cities were originally built alongside rivers, they’ve grown to the point where you could be miles away from the river. So you have to depend on other water sources.
Start at Home
To start with, you probably have some water sources right there in your home, which are available for your use. These exist because we use that water on a daily basis, even though we don’t really think of it.
- Hot Water Heater – Your home’s hot water heater will hold anywhere from 30 to 60 gallons of water, depending on the size of the heater. This water can be drained out of the tank via the drain valve, located near the bottom. Just hook up a hose or put a container below the spigot to drain it into.
- Toilet Tank – The water in the toilet bowl is unsafe for human consumption, but there are a few gallons of water in the tank. This water is safe for drinking.
- Pipes – You can find a few gallons of water in the home’s pipes as well. To access it, you’ll need to find the faucet or valve that’s lowest. This will probably be the fill valve for a toilet. Simply unscrew the flexible line from the toilet tank, open the valve, and drain the water into a container.
- Fish Tank – If you have tropical fish in a tank, you’ll have ten gallons of water or so in the tank. Taking it won’t be good for the fish, but you’re more important.
- Swimming Pool – A swimming pool is probably the best source of water you can have in your home. Not only does it hold a lot of water, but putting chlorine in it all the time keeps that water purified so that you can drink it.
Granted, none of these sources of water will keep you going for more than a few days, other than the swimming pool, but they are a good starting point or emergency water supply if your city water is only down for a day or two.
In Your Neighborhood
At some point, you’ll have to move beyond the water you have at home, unless you have a well or are harvesting rainwater. To prepare for this, you need to map out the local water sources beforehand, so you know where to look.
- Municipal Swimming Pool – Like your home swimming pool, the water in a municipal swimming pool will be kept clean, with chlorine added daily. It’s also considerably larger, but others will be taking water from it as well.
- Water Towers – Most water towers have a spigot for drawing water out to test. It might be locked away, but if you can get through the gate or door that’s hiding it, you can drain water directly out of the tower.
- Canals – You might have canals running through your community and not even realize it. They are usually fairly well hidden. But they should show up on Google Maps or on topographical maps.
- Lakes, Ponds, Streams and Rivers – Naturally available water is always the best, as well as being a renewable resource. Running water, like that from streams and rivers, is more likely to be clean than still water, but you should purify it anyway to be sure.
- Public Buildings – Just like the pipes in your home hold water, even when the city water is down, so do the pipes in public buildings. But few people have the ability to access it. All you need for this is the key that the maintenance people use, in lieu of a handle on the spigot. So make sure that you have one of these keys in your survival gear.
- Fountain – Like a swimming pool, you have to keep putting chlorine into a fountain, so if any local businesses happen to have one, that’s a great source of water.
Finding Water in the Wild
Of course, if you’re lost in the wild or on a bug out, those city water sources aren’t going to do you the least bit of good. In those cases, you’re going to have to find your water wherever you can. Fortunately, nature helps us out here, providing us with three keys for finding water.
Water always flows downhill, as we all learned in elementary school. So if you’re looking for water, start heading downhill yourself. If you do, you’re bound to run into water eventually. Keep your eyes open for low spots in valleys and canyons as well, as water is likely to pool in those areas.
Look for Green
Plants need water, so there is always an abundance of plant growth around water sources. If you look for the greenest area around, you’re likely to find water. This is especially true in arid terrain, where the only really green areas you might find are around water. Be careful though, as this sign isn’t perfect. You may only find areas where there is underground water.
If you are in a real arid area and you find a green oasis without surface water, start digging in the lowest point you can find. That water may only be a couple of feet below the surface, so if you dig a hole, it could very well fill up with water seeping in. The deeper you go, the better your chances of having ground water seep in.
Follow the Animals
Animals need water too. They typically drink at dawn and dusk. So if you can find any animal trails, there’s a good chance that they will lead you to water. Just follow them downhill and you will most likely find a water source.
You can do the same by following the animals themselves. A heard of deer, for example, will move to water at sundown, before bedding down. So follow them at a distance, keeping downwind of them, so that they don’t smell you. They’ll lead you right to their favorite watering hole.
When in the wild, avoid camping right at water sources, unless it is a large lake or river. Wild animals will need that water too; but will avoid it if they smell you there or smell blood. Better to get the water you need and then move off 100 feet or so, allowing the animals to get to the water. The same for hunting; let the animals water, then hunt them after they leave the water hole.
Rich is a long-time survivalist, having gotten started in his youth, during the latter part of the Cold War. Yet the collapse of the Berlin Wall didn’t put an end to his survival instinct. He has since added military experience and a career as an engineer to his survival knowledge. This has allowed him to design and build his own survival equipment. He is an accomplished author, who has written over 100 books on all aspects of survival.