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Do you have water if the grid goes down?

On National Geographic’s American Blackout we got to see a lot of common problems presented as the result of a power grid collapse that lasted 10 days. One problem that everyone faced, but didn’t receive a lot of air time was the lack of drinking water. National Geographic did not demonstrate any methods for obtaining water other than going to the store, or as in the case of the people trapped in the elevator and eventually the roof of a building, collecting some from a bucket that had been left in the rain. Since water is one of the most important elements for our survival I wanted to go over some methods of storing water and treating water that could help you in a disaster situation. You must have water if the grid goes down and you expect to live.

If you find yourself without power as they did in American Blackout, food and water were their priorities. Safety and security weren’t big issues until people started living without food and water. The nice veneer of society will vanish in a few days max even if we are only living through a power outage. Can you imagine if there was sickness or a disease pandemic? Can you envision how chaotic a hurricane knocking your town into the ocean would be? The situation presented in American Blackout gave us a lot to learn I think, but as far as disaster goes, a power grid failure would not be anywhere near as severe as a lot of other possibilities.

Now, I am not try to trivialize the scenario at all. A national power grid failure would be catastrophic but only because people aren’t prepared. I think it’s very telling when you consider how many lives might be altered forever just by not having some electricity. I think it is sad that our world is so dependent upon electricity that millions potentially would starve, riot and die because they were forced to live like our not too distant relatives did. Can you imagine the pioneers if you presented this situation to them? OK, just imagine how horrible it would be if there was no electricity… No what?

Where to find water

Water is everywhere normally unless you live in the desert. That is one reason why not too many people recommend living in Phoenix if the grid goes down. For the rest of us that live in closer proximity to lakes, rivers, ponds and streams we have a lot of options for finding water if we are faced with the task of collecting enough to drink. In American Blackout, the people who lived in the city had no water in the pipes because the electricity needed to pump water up into tall buildings was nonexistent. That doesn’t mean there isn’t any water in the city though.

I was surprised they did not have someone manning a hydrant letting people fill up jugs of water. The sheer volume of water contained in the fire hydrant systems of large cities if used properly could have probably lasted a week. Could you have taken showers and washed your car? No, but it is a source of water that could have been tapped into if you pardon the pun.

You could make a solar still or collecting the condensation off the leaves of plants with a bag or getting water from a tree even, but that is for another post. I want to talk to the majority of us that have water all around us and we simply need to get it and make it safe for drinking. In that I’ll start with the obvious and that is you should have water for everyone in your family on hand at all times. Water is cheap (relatively) and it is easy to find. You drink it every day now and there is no reason to be without a minimum of one week worth of water no matter who you are or where you live. Don’t wait until the power goes out to run to the store and try to find a gallon or two.

Water in a suburban setting is most easily collected from rain. Once you have rain barrels set up you don’t have to do anything. When it rains, your barrels will fill up and all you would have to do is make sure it is filtered or disinfected. Water can be used from any stream or creek or lake. What about the golf course down the street? You can drain your water heater in a pinch just by opening the drain valve at the bottom. The trick is to look around you for locations that have water in your neighborhood that you might need to access in a grid down scenario, but don’t neglect stocking up on your own. The stream down the road might be dry.

How to carry water

Let’s say you live near a body of water (lake, stream, well, fish pond) and the power is out. How are you going to get water to drink? You could just walk down there and fill up your bucket or bottle and walk back, but that is going to take a lot of time and energy for something that won’t last long. You need a way to carry a considerable amount of water at one time to reduce your trips and cut down on your risk of being caught out. Humans on average need a gallon of water per day to stay hydrated and provide cooking and hygiene. I think that amount is slightly off because it can’t be the same amount for small children, but who cares. We will use it for a guideline and obviously that guideline has to be adjusted for the scenario you find yourself in. If it’s the middle of summer, temperatures are soaring and you are doing a lot of manual work that amount could easily double. What if you are sick and are throwing up? It’s best to always have more than the average amount of water on hand and you need to have a plan for getting water and bringing it back to your location.

You need to plan now for containers that will hold several gallons of water at a minimum, but carrying these will be difficult without a wagon, cart or improvised method of weight distribution. One of my readers commented that they were planning on using a deer cart to tote their bug out gear and I think that makes a great option for carrying water too. Like the woman in the picture above, running out for a drink of water might not be as simple as it used to be. You have to plan to carry enough back so that you won’t need to go out for another couple of days hopefully.

How to treat water

There are many ways of filtering water and making it safe to drink and I have listed several down below.

Filters – Hands down my favorite method of treating water. Why? Because it is the simplest and takes the least amount of energy for the return on investment. I recommend two types of filters to be part of your preps. For my home, I use a H20 2.0 water filter bucket. I simply dump a couple of gallons in the top and clean water comes out the bottom. Obviously, you want to ensure you are filtering as much gunk out of your water before you bring it into your filter so as to keep your filter elements clean for as long as possible.

For portable alternatives, I have a pair of H20 1.0 water straw filters and canteens. These work great and have kept us in plenty of cool clean water on several backpacking trips with our family. You just pump the water through the pump and clean fresh water is delivered to your water bottle.

Boiling Water – Boiling is probably the oldest method of disinfecting water but it works! All you need is a container (preferably not plastic) and heat. Bring your water to a boil and let the water boil for a couple of minutes and that’s it. The boiling will kill any bacteria and you can drink the water. Let it cool off first.

Ultra violet light – there are UV pens that they sell for camping that are supposed to kill any bacteria in water. I have never used these so my assumption is that it may kill the bacteria, it won’t help the taste or make the water technically cleaner. Saving your life is what is most important though so if you have to drink some water that has stuff floating in it…as long as you don’t die from a water borne illness you can live to fight another day.

Chlorination – Chlorine Bleach is probably the most common household item that you will have that can be used to disinfect your drinking water but it is a little tricky. Chlorine is affected by the temperature of the water you are treating. Always try to filter any water that may be cloudy with contaminants such as lake water first. You can use paint filters or a bandana if necessary. If the water is room temperature (meaning not cold or hot) you would add two to four drops of chlorine bleach per quart. Shake well and let the container sit for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, smell the water. It should smell like chlorine and this is normal. If it doesn’t smell like chlorine add another drop or two and let it sit for 30 additional minutes. By drops we are talking about an eye-dropper size drop, not a dollop.

DistillationDistillation is another option but requires more equipment than the average person will be able to acquire much less put together in an emergency. There is a lot of information about this method online.

We have videos and information about all our water products and systems.

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7 Awesome Uses for Baking Soda

I have it on good authority that some people actually bake with baking soda. That’s not why it’s stocked like a mighty brick in my house. Baking soda is one of those items that has about a hundred and one uses, only some of them limited to the kitchen. It’s nice and cheap, and while I don’t think it’s one of the things that runs off the shelves in any crisis – snow storm, hurricane, or larger – it’s hugely beneficial to have plenty of it on hand. To me, the price and the usefulness put it way up on any must-have list for preppers (or pretty much any adult).

First we want to be sure of what we’re talking about. On store shelves, baking soda is most usually going to be a box, although it can be found in big bags for those of us who use it a lot. It’s the one with sodium bicarbonate listed as the active ingredient, not cornstarch and 4-6 other things in a little round carton. That other one is what you use for bannock bread and microwaved mug brownies – baking powder.

Shoe satchels

Those of us who have ever had a fridge or dishwasher that’s been turned off for a while have probably heard of sticking an opened box of baking soda in there. Arm & Hammer even creates packages with a mesh-lined side flap for just that purpose. That same deodorizing capability combines with a low-level desiccant, and can be used to dry out and kill the sweat or swamp funk in our boots and shoes. This is the stuff that gets added to kitty litter boxes, after all. Stomping out smells is one of its great claims to fame.

The satchels can be made out of cloth, old socks whose mates have gone missing, coffee filters, or used dryer sheets. The imagination is really the only limiting factor here. As long as it allows easy airflow between the footwear and the baking soda inside, it’ll work. Add at least a tablespoon and a half of baking soda, tie up, and drop inside.

If you want to jazz up the shoe satchels further you can add all kinds of things from dried flowers and herbs (lavender, rose, rosemary, mints, eucalyptus) to bath crystals or salts.

This one works not only on shoes, but also on things like old gym bags, the lunch bag from two years ago, a small cooler, a tool bucket or box that has a case of the funk, or a softball bag that’s being repurposed.

Foot Soak

If the smell from shoes is originating because of the feet in them, you can combine baking soda with any number of things to create a foot soak.

Mouthwash, herbal teas, various oils like lavender or eucalyptus or rosemary, lemon slices or juice, Epsom salts (excellent addition), apple cider vinegar, and dried herbs like rosemary, mints, or plantain all get added. A simple soak of 1-2 cups in a gallon or two of warm water for 15-30 minutes can soften and rejuvenate feet, and help control various fungus that want to live in warm, sweaty environments.

Surface Cleaner

We know that baking soda is one of the things we can stock to use as a toothpaste alternate, or to concoct our own toothpaste. It cleans more than mouths, though.

Just sprinkling it on carpets and wooden decks or porches, letting it sit, and then sweeping or vacuuming it up works wonders for some odors and fungi. We can also clean our cutting boards by rubbing with baking soda and-or salt and a lemon, or just scrubbing with a brush and the dry ingredients and then letting it sit for a bit. The powders create a habitat that discourages many microbes, like the kind that live in tiny scratched crevices and outlive even dish soap and the dishwasher.

We can use that trick on dog bowls, sinks and counters, as well, using fresh lemons or limes or bottled lemon juice, or just scrubbing and allowing it to sit, then sweeping it and wiping it up.

Pipe & Drain Cleaner

Getting rid of shower and tub mildew and *that* smell in any pipe uses basically the same ingredients as above: baking soda, salt in some cases, and lemon. Vinegar of pretty much any kind can be substituted for lemon juice if somebody likes that price enough for a different smell, or wants to go with apple cider vinegar.

I like the method where you boil 2-8 cups of water to pour down the drain, then throw a cup of baking soda in and let that sit for 5-60 minutes, and follow it up with 1 cup of vinegar or lemon juice mixed with a cup of water.

There are a few variations, so poke around a bit. Some say to cover it to direct the reaction downward (not so sure about that), and some to limit the fumes in the air (just don’t use white vinegar). Some say to give it 6-8 hours, and some say to just wait until the bubbles stop. Some suggest just rinsing with tap water, and some suggest boiling more water to flush the remnants away. Up to you.

It doesn’t always work, especially in the bathroom where *somebody* sheds 2’ hair with every shower. Sometimes a repeat or upgrade to/of vinegar to the stronger cousins works. Every once in a while, you have to go to a snake or “real” drain cleaner, but a lot of the time, whether it’s a slow drain, a for-real clog, or a smell, the baking soda does the trick.

There are apparently schools of thought where this is bad and degrades things, so research that too.

Fungicide (Outdoor)

One of the things that helps baking soda kill smells is that the sodium bicarbonate is an antacid, a highly reactive one. A lot of growing things prefer an acidic environment. Fungi – from mold to mildew – is one of those things. The beauty is that baking soda is a stabilizing antacid. It’ll react with anything in an extreme, and go through a severe reaction initially (which can also kill bad stuff) but then it’ll self-regulate and return its surroundings to a near-neutral state.

No wonder this stuff is called miracle powder, right?

That miracle powder can help us in a big way with some common crop and garden pests – mildews.

We can add one tablespoon of baking soda to one quart of water (4 tablespoons/1 quarter-cup per gallon) and use it to treat black spots in the yard, roses, and berry brambles suffering from the various black fungus illnesses.

Powdery mildew on any plants can be prevented and treated with the same, however, the addition of a teaspoon of dish detergent and a teaspoon of vegetable oil per half gallon will help it stick better. Once powdery mildew gets started, it’s a constant battle, so having the spray last longer on the plants can save us a lot of time and heartache.

Creepy-Crawly Pests

Fungus gnats aren’t usually harmful, but they are annoying, and there are times there are so many that the soil-dwelling larvae stage start stunting plant growth because they’re consuming the tiny root hairs of plants. A teaspoon of baking soda with a teaspoon of dish detergent in a full gallon of water can also help remove or reduce the populations, without changing soil pH so much that acid-loving veggie plants and perennials can’t handle it and die, too. As with mildews, all soils in the area need treated and the treatment will have to be repeated to break the infestation completely since there are multiple stages and locations in the gnats’ life cycles.

Mixing baking soda 1:1 with powdered sugar and surrounding an ant hill with a 1”x1” wall of the stuff can help reduce those garden pests, too. I’ve had it decrease the visible numbers, but they seem to pop back up. Still, it’s nicer working in beds and playing fetch or weed-eating with a few less ants getting aggravated with you. A ring of baking soda will also help deter slugs. (Grits and cornmeal help with ants and slugs, too.)

Pest Sting & Itch Relief

puppy's too

Baking soda recently got crowned the Most Prized Possession in my house. I was attacked by some sort of not-bee striped flyer, and ended up with welts roughly the sizes of eggs, from dainty little quail all the way up to jumbos, with 3-6” red raised areas around the big welts. Yay! A poultice of just baking soda and water reduced the swelling and pain.

That poultice is best applied with large Band-Aids already open and waiting, especially if you’re trying to doctor your own elbow and thigh.

If the poultice is allowed to dry, it will come off in big flakes or shingles, and can actually help extract a broken-off stinger, fang or tick head.

Like the satchels, the poultice can be improved on. Chamomile tea is awesome, but any kind of tea contains fabulous stuff that helps reduce swelling and pain more and faster. Let it cool and add it to the poultice, open a bag to mix in before the water, or open a used bag to add to the paste. Aloe can be stripped and chopped and added, as can commercially available gel. So can witch hazel, chamomile flowers, lavender oil or flowers, fresh or dried plantain, Echinacea (purple cone flower), chickweed or jewelweed, and lemon balm.

Some people also apparently make their poultice with milk. Not my thing. Likewise, I’m not adding to the mess or pains by using honey or honey crystals in there, but there are proponents of honey as well.

Go as crazy as you like with that one.

Maybe the sting or bite isn’t making you crazy enough to coat your wounds with paste and Band-Aids. Sometimes we’re just hot and itchy and can’t really identify a single place to treat, and a shower or bath isn’t really cutting it.

Baking soda in a tub with or without soothing additives like oatmeal can help.

You can also make a satchel similar to the first use listed, although you’ll want it to be bigger. Again, alone or with things like chipped aloe, oatmeal, chamomile flowers or oil, or tea leaves from a regular grocery-store brewing bag (Camellia sinensis species) can be added. You use the satchel to dab yourself while you’re in the shower.

Baking Soda

There are just so many uses for baking soda, with these the very tip of the iceberg. Run any google search for uses, and you’ll find dozens more, from killing weeds to repelling rabbits and silverfish. It goes in laundry and it gets used for facial masks. Use it to deodorize dogs, make Play Dough, or get gum/caulk out of your hair. The stuff is so cheap, so easy to find, and does so much, it’s worth filling a box or drawer and keeping handy, especially if we live well outside shopping areas.

It’s not one that I expect there to ever be massive runs on, not like generators, snow shovels, tarps and plywood, peanut butter, and toilet paper. However, in a long-term disaster, we could potentially run out. For me, it doesn’t replace a fire alarm and fire extinguisher, some extra batteries that fit that alarm, or having spare oil and coolant in the truck, but it’s right up there with the food and water supplies as a must-have item.