Resource Wars On The Horizon

David Trammel's picture

China and India are just the most well known region where water is shared and running out but there are plenty of other areas where declining water resource wars on the horizon. They might not state that lack of water is the main reason, but its there.

The BBC has a detailed look at some of the issues for this.

"How water shortages are brewing wars"

"Unprecedented levels of dam building and water extraction by nations on great rivers are leaving countries further downstream increasingly thirsty, increasing the risk of conflicts."


As a privledged Roman of the American Empire, getting drinkable water is not at the moment an issue. It can be though at a break of a pipe. Recently we had one in our area and a boil order was issued. Not surprisingly it didn't affect me in the least because, like most good Green Wizards, I have a deep pantry and water stocked up in the basement. It is though one of the issues I think about at times, especially as I put in more of the raised gardening beds I have planned for the new place.

On the micro level it worries me, on the macro level it looms like another storm cloud on the horizon. One among a too large storm front.

Water storage is critical and we should all store some, even if just what the Red Cross recommends (a gallon a day per person for about a week plus pets). That is not much water; it lets you drink and do a small amount of cooking. No toilets, bathing, dishwashing, or laundry.

We deliberately installed the largest hot water tank we could get in our house (over 100 gallons) because that water is potable.

You never know when a water emergency will occur. When we were in South Carolina, a part broke in the reservoir. No water for the entire town AT ALL. All at once with no warning. They got the water going within a day but it looked brown and smelled bad. At least we could flush the toilets but every other use was gone. You couldn't drink it, bathe, cook, wash laundry or dishes (it stained). There were also massive amounts of chlorine so I suppose it was safe.

Every bit of bottled water in town vanished by the end of the day. Luckily, this was a localized emergency so plenty of water began showing up at supermarkets and Walmart within a few days.

I store gallons of water on metal shelves in my basement. It's store-bought water so it starts out clean. Some of it is years old. I suppose I should rotate it but I haven't.
The water is cool, dry, in the dark, undisturbed, on sturdy shelving (water is heavy!) and I've had no problems with leaks. If we have to use this water, I've got it. I may have to boil it (because of its age) but I don't have to filter it because it's clean.

What do you all use for medium-quantity long-term storage of potable water? I can't store more than 20-40 litres, but I'd like to have that around at the very least. I thought about jerry cans, but they're hard to find and very expensive. Plus I think they have an epoxy liner that's a no-no for long-term storage (leaching). And glass is too heavy and expensive.

The supermarket has what you want. It's what I do.
1 gallon jugs; clean, pure, safe, sealed.
Store on metal shelving or other strong stuff; water is heavy!
I've never had a problem with leaks, despite my gallon jugs being a decade old. Maybe they'll all go at once, I don't know.
The key is to set up your storage so it's cool, dry, airy, and in the dark. Everything lasts longer. Then leave them alone, unless you use them. Don't be playing musical jugs because that will lead to leaks.

I tried repurposing recycled containers (like 2 liter soda bottles) but the cleaning and the bleach you have to add to keep the water pure was more costly in terms of time, money, and stability than just buying the gallon jugs at Walmart.

If you feel uncomfortable about storing store-bought jugs of water for decades, then buy them and use them, renewing your storage regularly.

Don't forget you've got emergency storage possibilities if you've some advance warning: fill every jug and container in your house (particularly those very nice 5 gallon water coolers they use on construction sites) and your bathtub (for flushing toilets).

The best way to store water for your garden is in the ground. Improve your soil (this will take years) and your soil will do much of the work for you. Rainbarrels and cubes help a lot, but only if you use them. Installing a cistern and a pump puts you in the big leagues. Can you drill a well?

Know how to minimize water use with disposable plates, paper napkins, and plastic utensils. Sponge baths for you with a washcloth.

You may want to look into buying a Big Berky, to purify water. There are other methods too. At a minimum, let your salvaged water from the creek stand and settle, pour off the clear water, stand, settle, repeat as needed until it's as clear as you can get it, and then boil what you have left.

Hey! I wrote a book on the subject, covering much of this in detail:

ClareBroommaker's picture

There are plastic jerry cans. I don't really even know where to get a metal one anymore. The plastic would be of the same type plastic that many people buy consumable liquids in already.

We have a variety of water vessels. Our collection is based on needing to really economize, so there is a lot of re-use. I recommend you look at every vessel that comes into your possession and ask whether you'd be happy to drink from it if you were desperate. Small containers may not give you that feelingof being all stocked up, but you can put away a lot of them in small places, making for a good stock overall.

I started with empty bleach, vinegar, and milk jugs, intentionally buying those products in the largest bottles so that I could re-use them for water. (I once had four gallons of store bought water in gallon jugs. Both the milk jugs and purchased water jugs eventually leaked at the seams.) Next, I started keeping water in 2L soda bottles and glass wine bottles. We did buy the wine, but others were accustomed to saving soda bottles for us for garden use, so we get plenty. Then I even began to use some quart bottles that isoproplyl alcohol had been in. Finally, we have added some 7 gallon purchased containers for about US$25.

We do have a couple 17 gallon barrels that I keep thinking I should fill even though I'm not happy with how well they seal. These were shipping containers for encapsulated psychiatric drugs (!) so some might raise an eyebrow, but we already used them once for fermenting, so obviously I'm okay with it. Not all needed water is needed for consumption anyway...

Here is why I know that I need water stored. This photo is from earlier this year, just two houses away from me. A water main had leaked undetected long enough that it washed out a cavern under the street until there was no longer soil supporting the pipe though about a 14 foot distance. The pipe broke and gushed so strongly that geysers popped up in the street in multiple places. Infrastructure is failing left and right.

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Sweet Tatorman's picture

A zero cost water storage container option is gallon PET containers that bottled water came in (recycling code #1 in US). Rummage around in the #1 bin wherever plastic recycling is done in your locale. They are fairly common.

Oh yes, I've got a Berkey. I love it. It stays as full as I can keep it, all the time, to give me a little reserve for the intermittent outages. And I keep a few litres in the fridge too, as much as I can reliably store there.

Filtering water is no problem for me - I've lived off-grid and can sling a tarp and rig a two-bucket sand catchment system. I'm just curious about how people store water long-term - my off-grid setups used catchment for emergencies and large cisterns which were designed for potable water storage for every day use. Nothing was sealed up and stored away, the water always flowed through the system rather than resting for very long IN it - the buffer was continually flushed and refilled.

I'm very anti-plastic, so jugs for me are a no-go - they're not even meaningfully reusable - the plastic they're made of (PET) breaks down under oxygen and sunlight and starts to leach nasties after the first use - they're marketed as single-use only for that reason. It's well known they are toxic after multiple uses! If plastics concern you, watch out for that. Supposedly they're fine until they're opened but I don't comprehend how that works, chemically. LDPE/HDPE *can* be better, but it has longer-term leaching issues too, depending on the exact formulation. There are formulas supposedly designed for long term (months to years) water storage - the "water brick" is one of them I've used before, but even those taste "plasticy" after a few months. So yeah, plastic, for me, is out until I find one that I trust not to poison me after long-term water storage.

Re-using jars is what I do now, so I guess I'll continue doing that, awkward and inconvenient as it is!

How about glass sun tea jars? Or gallon glass pickle jars? You'd have to clean them well but they're glass and should come with lids. They're not hard to find at thrift shops.

As always, you'll need heavy-duty shelves to support all that weight. You also don't want to move them or jostle them. A leaking plastic gallon jug is annoying. A broken glass gallon jug is a hazard.

ClareBroommaker's picture

Glass carboys. Glass lined nonfunctioning water heaters.

Sounds like you are set with your cistern, though.

David Trammel's picture

We had a thread sometime back about putting a second water heater in line of your in home water system. The thought was to do it when you needed to replace your existing one, if the problem was with the heater element, and the old one was not leaking. You could then close off the exterior valve and drain them from the bottom valve. I'd suggest putting them up on a block for height too. Easier to tuck a short pan under the valve than try and run a hose.

David Trammel's picture

When the pandemic started, I had used the 1 gallon bottled water containers I had been keeping. They were semi round and stacked if you had the cardboard dividers from the grocery store. When I resupplied I ended up picking up a dozen of these two and a half gallon ones. They are rectangular and seemed to store in less space. They are still of a lesser thickness and quality than I'd use for longer storage but they were about $1 a gallon in cost ($2 something per container).

I am going to replace them with something more durable soon, once I get the storage closets and shelving built at the new place. This review seems to be very good and with plenty of detail and specifications.

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Sweet Tatorman's picture

The old thread David referred to is this one:

Great thread, thanks for the link! When I get a place of my own, I'll probably go back to a similar idea with cistern buffers, regardless of the main water source.

When you get your own place, work on building your soil; adding humus, looking at berming and swales, high and low spots.
The more organic material in your soil, the more water it will absorb during heavy rains without getting waterlogged.

Berming and swaling will direct rainwater where you want it to go, including runoff from your neighbor's yard. This involves heavy work with a shovel as you reshape the landscape so be sure you're digging with a long-range plan. Look for preexisting high and low spots. That low spot that gets a puddle after every rain might be the right place to put a plant that likes wetter feet.

I haven't done this yet, but I have thought about it several times. I have many canning jars of all sizes and I have thought that once they were emptied of they contents to fill them with water and reprocess them with a used lid. Safe water in glass containers.

The main reason I haven't done this is that I lack storage space where they wouldn't freeze. We discovered last year that you can very safely reuse canning lids as long as they aren't rusted or distorted.

Yes! "Canning" your own water for storage is a thing that is done. I would still be cautious about storing them in full sunlight, but it is indeed entirely possible. I believe sailors in the 60's and early 70's would take tinned water in metal cans with them as backups, in case catchment failed or their storage tanks sprang a leak or took on saltwater somehow.

You could freeze some extra water (with plenty of headspace!).

You'd fill up empty parts of your freezer, keeping the electrical load down if the freezer isn't full to the brim.
When you need to free up some space, it's just water. Go ahead and drink it.

If you lose power, the frozen canning jars of water will keep everything else cold.

A jar of frozen water is a tell-tale for power outages: fill the jar halfway and freeze. lay on a quarter or a shiny dark marble. Add more water and freeze. If the marble's at the bottom of the jar at a later date, you know you lost power.

You can't store a lot of water this way, but you've got some and more importantly, you've got blocks of ice to keep coolers cold.

At the moment I am short on freezer space, but it wouldn't take much to shift things around, pull out really old stuff and but in a few jars of water.

David Trammel's picture

What's the biggest canning jar they have? Seems that canning water in quart jars would be incredibly resource intensive. Be more useful to fill them with water rich food stock.

As I see it, the only resource that would be used would be the fuel to fire the canning kettle. Reusing canning lids gives you more use from an increasingly expensive item. You could certainly use the collected water from waiting for the hot water to arrive to fill the jars. However, it does take time to run a load through the canning kettle and I suppose our time is a resource that needs to be conserved and respected.

lathechuck's picture

Inspired by reading about hugelkultur, I've been dropping lots of woody yard waste into the bottoms of the trenches when I dig out my garden. (I need to dig a lot, to cut back the fruit tree roots that would steal nutrients and water from my vege plots). If I dig down 18", put 12" of parallel sticks (e.g., fruit-tree prunings) in the bottom, then 9" of soil on top, it seems to me that I've created a void between the sticks which can hold much more liquid water than the spaces between the sand and clay grains, and the rotting wood absorbs water like a sponge. Maybe it's just be favorable weather, but I haven't found the need to irrigate my garden since I've started doing this. (Small plants do get watered while their roots are working their way down, though.) I also consider this my personal "carbon capture" system.