Rock Waterman


You can’t just store your water in any old container, leave it down in the basement, and forget about it. You aren’t going to want to hear this, but your stored water must be replaced about every six months. That means you’ll want to make it as easy as possible to get at your water and you want your water stored in containers that are relatively easy to carry.

If you use the right containers, the process of draining and refilling them isn’t going to be as daunting as it would be if you had to change out entire barrels of water.  Let’s look at some do’s and don’ts.

When I was in my teens, my mother took on the project of storing our water against future emergencies.   She saved a couple of dozen plastic gallon milk jugs, then rinsed them out and filled them with that cloudy Anaheim tap water. Then she taped the lids back onto the jugs with duct tape and set them all outside at the side of the house where the sun beat down on them year after year.

This was back in the late 1960′s, and happily we never had to use that water, or we may have been in for a nasty surprise. When my parents finally sold that house, we didn’t take that water with us. My brother and I were tasked with getting rid of it all, so we took those jugs out back to the alley and joyfully stomped the water out of them before tossing the empty jugs into the trash.

I like to think my brother Karl and I saved several lives that day.

Storing water in everyday plastic containers is not smart. It’s even worse if those containers once held milk or juice or any other liquid. No matter how much you wash or rinse out a plastic jug or bottle, you can’t get rid of all it once contained, and over time those substances will leach off the inside wall of the container and into your water. What’s more, bacteria and all sorts of unsavory microscopic critters will most likely have spawned and grown from those invisible traces of milk or juice.

No, you want your stored water to be as pure as possible. That also means staying away from anything that once contained soda or soft drink syrups.

(I hope I don’t have to mention that you should NEVER store water in any container that once held gasoline, coolant, pesticides, or other poisons.)

McDonald’s used to make available to churches and organizations a large round cooler with a spigot at the bottom that could be rented for picnics and other events. Some years ago they sold hundreds of these drums second hand to people who thought they would make dandy water storage containers. If you are one of those people with these containers sitting in your garage or basement filled with water, you’re going to want to dump that water out.

Plastic may look smooth to the eye, but it’s really quite porous. Again, no matter how much you rinsed out those containers, traces of Fanta Orange will remain. And if you washed them out with dish detergent, you will also have dish detergent leaching into your drinking water, never mind how diligently you rinsed them.

This doesn’t mean you can’t still use that container to hold water for washing or flushing the toilet if you need it. It just isn’t suitable for drinking. So if you’ve been storing water in any of those large containers that once held something else, don’t despair. Empty it, rinse it out and fill it up again, but this time take a big marking pen and label it “For Washing Only—Do Not Drink.”

So what can you use to store water in? I’ve found two particular containers that have proven not only perfect for me, but most importantly they’re inexpensive and easy to come by. They’re both available at WalMart, so you can pick one or the other up and get started on your water storage right away.

You can find these water containers in the camping or RV department.

The first is a blue, squarish 7 gallon container labeled the “Aqua-Tainer” that will run you about $10.98. The thing I like about these is that they’re stackable.  They have a molded handle and a recessed spout, and the bottom of the jug is recessed in such a way that it fits perfectly around the spout and handle of the one below, which keeps them practically locked together.

I will warn you though that when I tried stacking four of them, the jug on the bottom started to look a little squished, so for myself I’m just stacking two or three to a stack.  But if you’re the sort of person who likes taking risks, don’t let me tell you what to do.  Stack away.

The other container I use is the “Desert Patrol,” an upright 6 gallon container made to resemble a Jerry can, those water containers you’re used to seeing strapped onto the side of a jeep. It’s made of sturdy plastic, and designed to stand upright, so it could fit into spaces that may otherwise go unused. It currently runs $9.98 and also comes with a recessed spout.

(I’ve seen more than one Desert Patrol on the shelves missing the plug for the air hole, so look on the rear side behind the handle to make sure it’s there.  If you see a tiny hole without a small white stopper plugging it, pick another.)

You can’t stack these Desert Patrol cans, but you might be able to stack two on their sides if you feel you have to. I say ‘might’ because I’m not so sure it’s a good idea. Both the Aqua-Tainer and the Desert Patrol are made of hard, sturdy plastic but everything has a weight limit and water can be heavy.  If you turn it on its side, the spout will end up on its side rather than on top.  Even if it’s screwed on tight, you may have heard that water has been known to leak and does have a tendency to spill.

Both the Aqua-Tainer and the Desert Patrol each have their separate advantages.  You can stack the Aqua-Tainer , but it’s hard to carry because of it’s bulky shape.  The Desert Patrol, on the other hand, doesn’t stack, but it’s much easier to carry, not only because it’s a gallon lighter, but due to its shape it can be carried much like a suitcase, and the handle is designed to grab with two hands if you need to.  The Aqua-Tainer you have to lug from place to place, the Desert Patrol, you can schlep.

Both these containers have the Reliance brand stamped into them, but they’re also marketed under the Ozark Trail brand. Most importantly, they are BPA free, so they are ideally suited for long-term water storage. I find the 7-gallon size just about right, and oddly enough, you can buy it cheaper at WalMart than you can directly from the manufacturer.

You can also search online and find all kinds of decent containers that may suit your space better, and don’t forget to check your local sporting goods store.  Just make certain that whatever you buy is certified BPA free and suitable for drinking water.  It should not be translucent because you don’t want light getting in.

And stay away from the collapsible camping jug, except for water you’re planning to use right away, like on a camping trip.  The collapsible jug is a neat-o invention, but you’re not going to store your water collapsed, and besides it’s not sturdy enough for long term storage anyway.

Also, don’t store water long term in metal containers. BPA free plastic is best, and if you really want to use a 55 gallon drum, be my guest.  I don’t use them myself because I don’t feel they’re convenient, but they may suit you just fine.

For purposes of this series on storing water, I’m going to focus on the 7 gallon Aqua-Tainer because it’s easy to obtain and fairly simple to work with.

Don’t worry about buying a lot of containers all at once. The object here is to get you started; you don’t want to put this off because you’re waiting for the day when you have enough money to buy a bunch of containers at one time. Besides, you don’t want to make a big project out of this. Just buy one container for now and bring it home; I’ll show you everything you need to know to fill it and store it easily and painlessly.  I set out to buy one container a month, and in no time I had all I have room for.

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