What Do You Do When The Taps Don’t Work?

This post is inspired by some reports from the States, not anything amiss in the state of our supplies here – yet, anyway!

I came across an article on the current problems in water supply in Baltimore and Detroit that sparked a bit of thinking on my part. Unlike California, the problem isn’t lack of water, per se. Both Baltimore and Detroit have plenty of water available. The problem here is that maintaining the infrastructure to collect, purify and supply water to a city is an expensive job – maintenance costs, wages, etc – that needs to be paid for, and both Detroit and Baltimore choose to pay for this process via billing customers for their water (Don’t get excited about “free” water in the UK – it’s not free, we just pay for our supply via our taxes). If you can’t pay your water bill, the water supply gets shut off.

It’s in the nature of cities in economically depressed areas to have a fair proportion of long-term unemployed, jobless and generally poor people who can’t afford to pay for much. In the case of both Baltimore and Detroit, they’re seriously economically depressed (part of America’s “rustbucket” belt where the death of heavy industry and off-shoring to the Far East has stripped jobs away from the area) and as a result, a certain number of people default on their water bills. There are, by the looks of things, some schemes for assisting those in financial difficulties, but at the end of the day those water pipes still cost money to keep in one piece with clean water flowing through them, so the water companies have to find the money somewhere to keep operating. If people aren’t paying the bills, where does the money come from to pay the workers to fix leaks or operate the treatment plants?

I’m not that interested in the whys and wherefores or the philosophy of paying directly for water or having it tucked into the tax bills. What exercised my mind was scenario planning. Take this a little further (as I suspect will happen to all major cities at some point in the future) and play the mind-games: suppose this happened where I live? Suppose there wasn’t the money to pay for clean water to fall out of taps in endless quantities? As a survivalist, what would I do if the water supply failed, long-term?

Short term, say a few days or weeks, is no challenge at all. We have a big water-butt in the garden and the climate here is soggy enough it stays full, or near-full, all the time, even through we’re using it for gardening and for the bunnies and chooks. We could easily fill up a bucket and pour it into the Berky filter in the kitchen and we’d have pure, clean, safe water for ourselves. If we lived in a city and had some warning (like knowing we’d just had a shut-off notice!) we could fill up containers and store water to tide us over a short break in supply.

But if the supply’s out for months? Or forever? What then?

The usual recommendations are that a human needs 2 litres of water to drink per say, plus washing and cooking water, say about 4 litres a day, per person. 4kg of water. In a week, that’s 28L of water per person. 126L per month. 1,512L per year. Multiply by however many are in your household and then think about the weight-bearing capability of your floors. You really can’t store that much water upstairs!

What if you live in a flat?

And then there’s that perennial problem, the neighbours. If the water’s out for a couple of hours, you can bet someone will pop round to ask if you could let them fill the kettle, because they didn’t have any water stored! All very well when you know they’ll fix the problem in a couple of hours, but what do you do when you’re the only one in the area with a water butt and a filter and the neighbours haven’t had any water for a few days? You can’t go without water for very long – even in a fairly damp, cool climate like the UK, people get thirsty after a few hours and dehydrated after a few more. Bottled water and soft drinks will only last so long and then the local shops will be stripped bare.

After a day or two your neighbours will be losing the plot. Dehydration affects brain function and irrationality will set in. If it’s a choice between drink untreated water or die of thirst, people will drink the dirty water, and since there won’t be water spare for washing, it’ll encourage the outbreak of the diseases of poor hygiene – cholera, typhoid, typhus, E coli and salmonella.

I’ll admit to a big advantage here (and it’s not accidental!); I live in a smallish village in a rural area, not in the middle of a city. We have natural water sources available by way of a small river, various springs and some old wells. I’m not planning on sharing my filter with the village but I can teach people how to build their own, using sand, gravel, charcoal and a bucket, so if (when) our taps run dry in the aftermath of civilisation, hopefully I can reduce the risk of being mobbed by neighbours desperate for a drink.

But what do you do if you live in a flat in a city? How do you supply your water needs without the infrastructure and utilities we all take for granted?

In other news: the bunnies all seem fine and the kits are opening their eyes and beginning to stagger around their cages, beginning the process of driving their mothers slightly demented. I had to pick Jezebel up to get her back in her cage this morning, she wasn’t going back in with those ‘orrible little monsters willingly! In the garden we’re pricking out brassicas and netting them at the moment – both butterflies and birds liking brassica leaves! – and the peas and beans are sprouting nicely. The parsnips haven’t put their shoots up yet but parsnips are often slow so we’re not worrying about it. They’ll turn up in their own good time! We’ve also ordered this year’s tomatoes – last year we were disappointed in our crop from plants bought locally, so we’ve gone back to the mail-order company which supplied our plants the year before, when we had bumper harvests from grafted plants. They should arrive mid-June and we’re looking forward to more big, delicious harvests!

Last August I put some eggs into waterglass as an experiment: my grandmother used to preserve eggs this way during WWII and I’m always interested in food storage methods that don’t rely on a constant supply of electricity so I put 4 dozen away to see how it works. I fished them out a couple of days ago to see the results of the experiment and I’m very pleased: they all looked like eggs, smelled like good eggs, and although when broken the white is very runny and the yolk breaks rather easily (it’d be difficult to get good fried eggs out of them), they taste normal and delicious.

All very good – but then I had 4 dozen eggs to use up! An orgy of cooking and baking ensued and we now have over 9lbs of cakes and another 9lbs of quiche in the freezer.

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9 thoughts on “What Do You Do When The Taps Don’t Work?

  1. It’s pretty hard to find potable water in a city, right up till you start thinking laterally.
    When the water stops it’s not because the pipes in the road are empty, it’s because they are no longer pressurized.
    Before now I used a hydrant point in a dip of the road and simply opened the valve with a hose taped to the outlet.

      • Fire hydrants and water standpipe points. Both use a 1 3/4″ AF square key to open the tap.
        Which if the access hole is big enough, not too deep, and you have a large pair of adjustable’s or moles, it’s doable.
        Note:- VERY ILLEGAL in the UK although if TEOTWAWKI has happened would you really care?

      • Adjustables and moles I have, the square key I don’t!

        I suppose swimming pools could also be a water source…. though I’d definitely want to boil it before drinking…..!

      • Except what are you going to do about the pool chemicals? Additionally what if there had been a Chemical, Biological, Radiological, or Nuclear (CBRN) incident. Any of those nasties in a swimming pool and you’re chances BOMB big time.
        In an emergency I would always look for covered sources of water, toilet cisterns, tanks in houses, bottled water, NOT aquarium though. Even if the fish are alive, the water has one heck of a bio-hazard to yourself. There are around 25 million homes, around 5 million offices, and I can’t even find a figure for shops, all of which will have at least a tap, most will have toilets.

      • I’d be a little concerned about antibiotics in an aquarium, too!

        Indoor swimming pool doesn’t count as a covered water source? The major chemical involved in keeping pools clean is chlorine – which is also the major constituent in puritabs – and boiling would evaporate most of that. Unless I’m (very unusually) in a city when the S hits the F, though, the nearest swimming pool to me is 35 miles so I’m keeping the local springs as my preferred emergency alternative source.

      • Good question. A length of hosepipe run well down into the spring, perhaps? That should take water from under as much shielding (soil) as practically anything. I do keep a month’s water in jerrycans in the shed, anyway – once we’re past the first month, most CBRN contaminants should have dropped well down in concentration? I sort of bank on being way out in the wilds here in rural Aberdeenshire to avoid being near a target for any large-scale CBRN attack, tbh. I’ll have to go back to your post on CBRN and review timescales!

      • Feel free BUT as I always say, don’t just follow what I’ve scribbled, check with other sources of info as well. Then, if the info matches, we’re all smiles. After all get it wrong and !?!

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