How to Make an Emergency Water Plan

Emergency Water Plan Step by Step

When the average person thinks about preparing their family for an emergency, they usually focus on food and often neglect water. Humans can survive up to three weeks without food but only three days without water. Having an emergency water storage plan is extremely critical.

Prepping takes both knowledge and forethought. It is very helpful to have an emergency store of water to fall back on but you should also prepare yourself by knowing where you can find sources of water during a disaster.

The Importance of Having an Emergency Water Plan

In third world countries, when the local water supplies are compromised, disease is not far behind. This is because the body needs to be well hydrated for the immune system to work. Also, without water the population can’t keep their hygiene to an acceptable level which also contributes to infections and the spread of disease.

In even the smallest localized emergency, it is not uncommon for residents to experience what it is like to turn on their faucet only to see a few drops come out. Having water stored away will not only ensure you and your family are well comfrotable during a crisis but that they can remain healthy and sanitary.

Don’t go crazy buying only bottled water. It is important to diversify your water stores.

Step 1 – Decide How Much Water to Store for an Emergency

How much water you store in case of an emergency is up to you. It is always smarter to err on the side of too much as opposed to too little. This is especially true when it comes to water. Water is not only used for drinking but washing and cleaning too. If absolutely no water is coming out of the tap, you may find yourself using some of your stored water for bathing also.

Keeping yourself clean and your living environment sanitary is incredibly important during a disaster. Otherwise you can find yourself prone to disease and sickness. When you are in the midst of a long term survival situation, the last thing you want to do is find yourself needing urgent medical care.

Here are some basic rules for determining the amount of water you should store:

Minimum – 1 gallon of water per person, per day: This is widely considered to be the bare minimum for the human body to survive. Therefore if you have 50 gallons of water stored away, then you could theoretically survive 50 days. Or two people could survive for 25 days.

Recommended – 2 gallons of water per person, per day: This is because you need additional water for cleaning and as a means to keep your environment sanitary. Also, there may be a day or two where your body requires additional water intake (sickness, strenuous work, etc). You do not know what kind of situations you’ll be in, so be prepared for any.

For example, for a family of four to store the recommended amount of water to survive a 30 day event, you would need to store away 240 gallons.

Step 2 – Choose a Type of Water Container to Use

Most of us realize the benefits of storing water in large versus small containers. However, it may be helpful to quickly read through the pro’s and con’s of each to gain a better understanding of what may be best for you and your family. For this section, I am considering “large containers” to be any water receptical 55 gallons in size and larger. Small containers are anything less than that, down to your average water bottle. Here are the pro’s and con’s to both methods:

Large Containers (55 gal +)

Many people like to store significant amounts of water for an emergency in large containers such as 55 gallon drums, 275 gallon water totes (pictured below), or even 2000+ gallon water tanks. This is a great way to put away a large quantity of water but don’t forget that this means the water is not portable. Also, if the water tank is compromised then you may loose a large portion of your emergency supply of water.

A 275 gallon water tote.
A 275 gallon food grade water tote is a popular way to store large quantities of water. These can be found for between $80 – $120 on the surplus market.


  • Allows storage of many gallons of water in the smallest possible area.
  • Containers are easy to fill with tap water.
  • Generally inexpensive for the number of gallons it can hold.
  • Possible to treat many gallons of water at a time (for storage or disinfection).


  • Extremely difficult to move.
  • If the container is compromised, many gallons of water can be lost.

Small Containers

Using smaller containers of water is a great way to prepare for an emergency for many reasons. Anyone can pick up an extra case or two of water next time they are at the grocery store, and in the event that the water needs to be used, having individual bottles is extremely convenient. As an added benefit, if one bottle is damaged and leaks, you wont lose your entire water supply.

A supply of bottled water.
Putting away cases of bottled water is an easy way to store a very portable water source.


  • Lighter weight and easy to carry.
  • If one container is compromised, relatively little water is lost.
  • Small empty water containers have many other uses.
  • Allows for easy distribution to others.


  • More expensive than storing tap water.
  • Easier to move means it’s easier for others to steal.

Step 3 – Learn Where to Find Water in Your Home During a Disaster

There are many places throughout your home where you can find some water in case of an emergency. Below are a few of the best places to look in your home, where you may already have water available to you and not even know it.


We at are not doctors or scientists. We are merely a group of passionate preppers sharing what we learn as we go. Always consult with a professional before consuming any water from a questionable source.

Water Heater – Water heaters store 50 gallons or more of drinkable water. Open the bottom drain valve (usually a white plastic or brass colored valve) to retrieve the water. Be sure you turn off the gas or electricity to the water heater first, failing to do this could cause serious damage to your water heater or even cause a fire. This wont work if you have a tank less water heater.

Water Pipes – There is almost always at least a few gallons of water tied up in the water pipes of your house. Open the faucet at the highest point in your house to assist in the drainage of the pipes, then open the lowest faucet (or garden hose) and collect the water.

Toilet – This sounds gross but it is a very good source of 3 to 5 gallons of water. In general, the water in the top part of the toilet should be safe to drink. It might be a good idea to disinfect it first to be sure. Or you can use it for cleaning/washing purposes to be safe.

Fish Tanks – The most common types of fish tanks hold up to 55 gallons of water. You definitely want to disinfect or purify this water before consuming it though. Treat it the same as water you would take from a lake or pond.

Pools/Hot Tubs – These hold an insane amount of water and can be a true blessing in a survival situation. The water in them certainly can be used for cleaning/bathing purposes or for watering your garden. Whether this water is safe for human consumption seems to still be open for debate. If one were completely out of options and going to attempt to drink this water, I would filter it through a carbon based filter (to remove chemical and biological contaminants). Also, if the pool or spa’s filter isn’t running, the water can go stagnant fairly quickly.

Water Beds – Treat the water from a water bed similarly to how to treat water from a pool. It’s best to use this water for washing purposes only as there is often times chemical additives in this water.

Camper/RV – If you own a camper, RV, or motor home you may want to take a look at the fresh water (or “potable water”) tank. There may be some left over water from your last family vacation you can use. Note: It is always good to be in the habit of keeping this water tank full at all times.

Remember that some of the above mentioned sources of water require you to chemically treat and/or filter the water before drinking it. When it doubt, it is always best to treat the water as if it needs purification. Water from water heaters, water pipes, and a camper/RV water storage tanks generally should all be fine to drink without any further treatment necessary.

Water drain valve location
The black arrow points to the water drain valve on this water heater. The valve will either be white or brass colored and opening it can get you 50 gallons or more of drinking water. Make sure the water heater is off if you attempt this.

Step 4 – Diversify Your Water Storage

Just like anything else in life, it is important to diversify. You should not have all of your water stored via one method. You should also not only have large containers of water and no portable water bottles (and vice versa). Have multiple different sources of water is incredibly important. Figure out where your weakness is in your emergency supply, and build it up starting from your weakest point.

For example, if you are plenty of bulk amounts of water stored in large containers and plenty of small bottles available as well, consider another source. Maybe adding a pond to your property can not only be beautiful, but very valuable in a disaster situation. Or consider an “as it is happening” type water storage solution that will allow you to quickly supplement your water supply as an emergency is first unfolding (such as a WaterBOB).

Water Storage with a WaterBOB

WaterBOB Emergency Water Kit

I thought this product was worth mentioning as it is a good option for people who don’t have a lot of free space to store large quantities of water.

I used to live in an apartment for many years and needless to say, it had very limited storage space. I kept one of these WaterBOB’s on standby just in case. If disaster strikes (or is about to strike), you fill it with tap water from your bathtub faucet. A food grade plastic liner keeps the water fresh and clean to drink. Once filled, you leave the bag in the bathtub and use the included hand pump to pump out water as it is needed. This will hold a minimum of 65 gallons of water for emergency use.

If you can find a large plastic food grade bag that has a small opening which can be easily closed off, you may be able to save the money and make your own WaterBOB. Make sure it is large enough to expand to the size of a bathtub.

Check the current price of the WaterBOB here (Amazon Link).

Step 5 – Have a Way to Replenish Your Water

Figure out some way that you can replenish your emergency water supply if disaster strikes. If you are forced to rely on what you’ve stored, you don’t want it to be a limited supply that you watch slowly dwindling away to nothing, hoping that the disaster will resolve itself before you run out of water.

Consider using the satellite view option in google maps to help you locate water sources near to you. There may be a few that you didn’t know existed. Another option is to set up a rain water collection system on your property to replenish your water supply. Having a backup source of water that replenishes itself can be very reassuring when hard times strike.

A Rain Water Collection System
A rain water collection system such as this can help you replenish your water supply in an emergency situation.


The above steps should help you get started in addressing the weaknesses in your emergency water preparations. After planning how you will approach ensuring your water needs are met in a local or region wide disaster, make sure you learn ways you can purify water easily and exactly how you go about treating tap water before storing it.

John Walter

John Walter is an emergency preparedness consultant with eight years of experience and training in related fields. He is a passionate prepper living in the Sacramento area of California.

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