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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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Store Water Properly for Emergencies

Consumers concerned about the availability of water when year 2000 arrives may be tempted to buy unnecessary water devices.


People who want to store water for any emergency don't need fancy equipment.

What's most important is that potable water used for drinking, cooking or brushing teeth is stored correctly, said Craig Runyan, water quality coordinator with New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service.

Even regular tap water needs treatment before storage. "If the water source doesn't have a sediment filter, the first step to clear the water by letting it settle for several hours. Then filter it through a clean cloth," Runyan said. "This helps separate organic matter, such as soil or vegetative debris, which contains hard-to-kill bacteria."

Clean storage containers by washing them thoroughly and triple rinsing with clean fresh water, he said. Rinse any cleansing agent used completely from the containers.

Plastic containers work best for storing water. Glass also is good, but may be less desirable because it can break.

"Avoid metal containers for prolonged storage, especially when certain disinfectants will be used," Runyan said. "Acid-based disinfectants can react with certain metals to release contaminants into the water, making it unsafe to drink."

Boiling water for at least two minutes will kill most disease-causing organisms. Organisms that are harder to kill require a longer boiling period. "But do not boil water for more than five minutes," Runyan said. "Excessive boiling concentrates metal or chemical impurities that do not evaporate out and increases the chance of toxicity."

People who plan to store more than five to 10 gallons of water may choose to use disinfectants, instead of boiling. Chlorine bleach and other chlorination treatments can be used. Chlorine tablets disinfect drinking water, too.

"People who are allergic to chlorine or find it objectionable can use iodine," Runyan said.

Methods for disinfecting stored water are not recommended for prolonged or regular water use, he said.

For more details about storing or treating water properly, contact the local county Extension office.