Societal Collapse: Emergency Water Sources And Storage

A significant collapse leads to substantial disruption or the failure of most services. If Society collapses, you better have a reliable water source or a way to store it before things kick off. This includes the electricity used to move water and run treatment plants. You can probably kiss municipal water goodbye if SHTF.

Please. Don’t believe me, ask a Venezuelan.

At one point, Venezuela had the 13th largest economy. They have more oil in the ground than Saudi Arabia, which ranked just below the United Kingdom in GDP. In 2016 Venezuela collapsed for reasons beyond the scope of this article.

As a side note, societal collapse usually has warning signs and is more of a slow burn than an overnight occurrence. (Place link to warning signs of societal collapse)

There are scenarios where authorities won’t come in and save the day. History has taught us this. Try not to get caught up in a cognitive bias, thinking it can’t happen here or it can’t happen to you? It is a possibility.

The government solution to a problem is usually as bad as the solution.

Milton Friedman

Every fiat currency fails at some point, especially when it is mismanaged. A societal collapse in the United States will trigger a worldwide catastrophe from a domino effect because most countries are interlinked economically. More than likely, it will come in the form of economic collapse.

Here is a possible scenario.

You wake up, and the U.S. Dollar is worthless. Think Weimar Republic. All essential services are shut down, including food, water, and electricity. All forms of transportation are shut down, including airlines, trains, and bus services.

Gas stations are out of gas, and grocery stores are out of food. The U.S. dollar is worthless. Barter is the only form of currency.

There is no reliable law enforcement or medical services. Bands of armed thugs are moving around the country, pillaging. There is harsh winter weather in northern states. The only thing you have for initial survival is what you have on hand.

Over time people will band together and start to rebuild, but you need to plan to survive that gap. Water sourcing and storage is the first step in preparing.

If you are interested in this subject, you might also like Ready Squirrel’s comprehensive article, “26 Ways to Prepare For Societal Collapse.”

The woman in the video below has been without running water for eight-plus years.

How much water do you need for societal collapse?

The Federal Emergency Management Agency suggests storing 1-gallon of water per day per person for your 72-hour emergency kit.

One gallon per person is not enough water for long-term emergency water storage—most people living off-grid use close to 50 gallons of water per day to live normally.

As I write this article in my easy chair I’m filling a water cup from a gallon jug by my side. Earlier today, I spent two hours mowing in the hot sun. This gallon of water will be gone before I go to bed. I took a shower earlier, my wife threw in the third load of laundry today and the dishwasher is running.

Scott, Ready Squirrel

For a reality check on actual water usage, go one day without water for the sink, faucet, shower, toilets, dishwasher, or laundry machine. Let’s look at how much water we use when times are good.

Each American uses an average of 82 gallons of water [per] day at home

United States Geological Survey, USGS, Estimated Use of Water in the United States in 2015

Chart 1: Average Annual Water Usage Per Person (USA)

Month Gallons Per MonthLiters Per Month
January2542 gal9281 l
February2296 gal8691 l
March2542 gal9622 l
April2460 gal9312 l
May2542 gal9622 l
June2460 gal9312 l
July2542 gal9622 l
August2542 gal9622 l
September2460 gal9312 l
October2542 gal9622 l
November2460 gal9312 l
December2542 gal9622 l
Average Annual Water Usage29,930 gal112,952 l
This water usage chart is based on the United States Geological Survey, USGS, Estimated water use per person in the United States, 2015

Usage Unaccounted For Keep in mind these water usage numbers don’t account for irrigating a survival garden, raising livestock, or running a large homestead. Activities you might want to plan for when society crumbles.

7 Potable Water Sources:

Your source of drinking water (where your water comes from) will be the first and most important consideration when planning for societal collapse and catastrophes. Remember the rule of 3’s. You can only survive three days without water. That makes emergency water more important than food.

You are stuck in an apartment in some urban city, feeling hopeless. Don’t. You have options. They are just a little riskier.

Storing bottled and jugged water will work in the short term, but more than likely, you’ll need a bug-out location at a family or friends or simply a place with water. A place you can head to, a lake, a stream, a national or state park where you can filter your water until you figure out what to do.

Following are examples of the most common water sources.

1 Rain Water

This is a solid water source that 99% of us have access to. The most challenging aspect of collecting large amounts of rainwater is the tanks and cistern needed for storage.

Even Arizona has a Monsoon season, so you are almost guaranteed to get at least some rain during the year. Collecting rainwater is also a good way to irrigate a survival garden, water livestock, and control erosion and runoff.

550 gallons of rainwater can be collected for every 1000 square feet of collection surface per inch of rain


Below is a snapshot of how much water you could collect in a year, depending on your annual rainfall.

Chart 2: Gallons of Rainwater Collected from 1000 Square foot surface (roof)

Inches Of RainMillimeters of RainGallon Harvested Per 1000 SQFTLIters Harvested Per 1000 SQFT
5″127 mm2,750 gal10,409 l
10″254 mm5,500 gal20,819 l
15″381 mm8,250 gal31,229 l
20″508 mm11,000 gal41,639 l
25″635 mm13,750 gal52,049 l
30″762 mm16,500 gal62,459 l
35″889 mm19,250 gal 72,869 l
40″1016 mm22,000 gal83,279 l
45″1143 mm24,750 gal93,688 l
50″1270 mm27,500 gal104,098 l
55″ 1392 mm30,250 gal 114,508 l
65″1651 mm35,750 gal 135,328 l
70″1778 mm38,500 gal145,738

Tip: To get the surface area of the slopes of a shed or house roof, multiply the length times width for each hill and add them together for surface area. I can imagine putting up a large pole barn or shed with a metal roof to collect rainwater. It doesn’t have to be fancy.

2. Snow Harvesting

If you have snow, you can place it in buckets, bring it into a heated structure and let it melt into clean drinking water, or put it in a big pot and heat it on a wood-burning stove.

There are also methods of collecting melting snow coming from elevation. It can be diverted into a pond or collective holding tank. To figure this out, you’ll need to slow snowmelt which can be done by building trenches and swales.

If you are interested in channeling water on your land or making a holistic system around a property, look at the book Permaculture Designers’ Manual by Bill Mollison.

3. Water Delivery Service

Water delivery comes in all shapes and sizes. Have 5-gallon water bottles delivered by sparklets or have a 5000-gallon water truck pump water into a cistern or water catchment system.

Delivery is an excellent way to prepare for catastrophes, but it’s not ideal for post SHTF. You might not be able to get a delivery of water for many reasons.

4. Natural Water Source: freshwater lake, stream, or river

Natural water sources are an outstanding emergency water source.

My grandparents had a lake cabin in Northern Minnesota. The lake was so deep and clean all of the water for the cabin was pumped right out of the lake. I remember going down with my mask and snorkel to clean the filter off of the end of the hose.

Scott Ready Squirrel

You can manually extract water if the power is out in this scenario (clean lake, river, stream, pond). If you want something more convenient, plan for a hand, solar or battery-powered pump for grid-down.

5. Well

This isn’t an option for everyone, but it is one of the best options if you can get a shallow well. All you have to worry about is putting in a hand pump or setting up solar with a well. I wouldn’t rely on just solar. During a catastrophe, batteries go bad, and equipment can’t be replaced if it breaks down.

If you have a deep well, you will need a particular hand pump to get water to the surface.

I’m writing this. Deep-well hand pumps are maxed out at 300 feet.

6. Public Utilities

Public utilities are an excellent way to stock up on emergency water storage before the fall. They aren’t dependable if society heads south. If you fill your tanks this way, try to figure out a backup to build redundancy into your water system, capture rainwater, dig a well, or build a pond.

7. Community Water Well

Community water wells work in a pinch, but I’m not a fan. I think of these as the HOA of water wells. You never know when restrictions will be placed or if you’ll be cut off from access.

Community well means a public well that serves at least 15 service connections used by year-round residents or regularly serves 25 year-round residents

You see this kind of well in rural areas and off-grid communities. My father has a high-elevation cabin in New Mexico and has access to a community well. The problem is he has to drive 12 miles one way to fill his water tank and he got his key to gain access by word of mouth. A little sketchy.

Scott Ready Squirrel

This type of well is better than nothing, but you depend on too many outside influences to ensure access to water.

8 Water Storage Containers

The most challenging part of storing large quantities of water outdoors is fluctuations in temperature. In a warm climate, above ground, water storage tanks are exposed to heat, so keeping water clean is a challenge.

Water will freeze in a cold climate with freezing temperatures, damaging your water lines and storage tanks. Remedy freezing water tanks by burying them below the frost line. Heat tape can also keep water from freezing but requires a reliable source of electricity or solar.

1. Small Water Storage Containers

This type of emergency water container is not ideal for long-haul emergencies, but they are the most accessible and most available means of storing water for the short term. Following are 11 common examples of this type of storage container.

  1. Commercially Packaged Water Bottles: The easiest to rotate and replenish
  2. Reclaimed PEP Plastic Bottles sterilized for water storage: You may have to go this route for budget concerns, but ask yourself if you are being penny-wise pound foolish. Only store water in a pre-used, decontaminated container if you know what was in it before using it for water storage. It’s challenging to get the flavor of juice and soda out of a PET food-grade plastic bottle.
  3. 3.5-gallon water bricks-Stackable and Robust
  4. 5-Gallon Water Storage Cubes
  5. 15-gallon Barrels
  6. 45-Gallon Barrels
  7. 55-Gallon Blue Barrels
  8. 100-gallon Bathtube Tote This is a novel way to store emergency water short-term, like if you know a hurricane is coming. Throw this in the bathtub and fill it. You’ve got 100 gallons of clean water in your bathtub. I see two companies selling these, WaterBob and AquaPodKit
  9. 275-gallon IBC totes You can purchase refurbished, food-grade totes. Just do a google search or look on Craig’s list. Ensure the totes store edibles if they are refurbished because they are also used to store chemicals.
  10. 330-gallon IBC totes *see 275-gallon IBC tote comment
  11. Mylar bags stuffed in 5-gallon buckets- Mylar bags break easily. I’ve never tried this and wouldn’t do it.

2. Swimming Pool

Swimming Pools are an excellent storage container for a catastrophe. The water should be filtered or boiled, but it’s a vast reservoir or holding tank already in place.

The average [U.S.] swimming pool [holds] 18,000 to 20,000 gallons of water

Texas State Of Water.Org

The downside of swimming pools for emergency water is their tendency to lose water due to heat and wind. Loss can drastically increase in superheated air and wind. The average pool will lose 1/4 each of water each day.

Divert rainwater into your pool and use it as a storage tank if the need arises.

Do the same thing with stock tanks. I had an uncle that raised rainbow trout in a stock tank for a while, get creative, and you can create multiple uses for certain types of water storage.

3. Cistern

Cisterns are an expensive but excellent solution for emergency water storage. Typical plastic cisterns hold 10,000 to 15,000 gallons of water, so If your water source goes down, you still have a lot of backup in reserve. If you decide to go with a cistern, make sure it’s for potable water.

Cisterns can be used to capture water from a low flow well, snow run-off, water delivery, or rainwater catchment.

These tanks come in concrete and plastic. The plastic cisterns are the easiest to work with because they are much lighter. Concrete cisterns weigh thousands of pounds and are not ideal for rough terrain.

To improve water security, consider burying a cistern below the frost line. This will keep water from freezing and keep some miscreants from contaminating the supply.

Most of the cost of cisterns isn’t the cost of the tanks. It’s the excavation and plumbing to get it working.

4. 55-gallon barrels

Barrels are an excellent method of storing enough potable drinking water to get you down the road. One 55-gallon barrel will provide essential water needs for one person for 55 days.

Barrels are An excellent DIY storage container for setting up rainwater catchment. When storing water in 55-gallon barrels, keep in mind the weight of water.

A 55-gallon barrel filled with water weighs 456.5 pounds (207 Kilograms). Once filled, you are not moving them.

5. IBC Totes

These are the large plastic totes surrounded by a metal cage. They work well for water storage and come in 275-gallon and 330-gallon versions.

6. Drilled Water Well

Water well kills two birds with one stone—a well acts as a water source and a storage container. In the perfect world, you want a well, but it’s not always an option. Things to think about when considering having a well drilled are cost, water availability, water quality, and the diameter of the well.

Unfortunately, drilling a well doesn’t guarantee you’ll hit the water. It may be in hard-to-find pockets, too deep, or not present.

The cost to drill a well varies from $25.00 to $50.00 per foot, with the average well coming in at 100 ft deep. There are water wells as deep as 1000ft.

Hard to find, and deep water is prevalent in areas of the Southwest and high elevation areas. If you aren’t sure whether a well would be a good idea, start asking the locals in your area. Keep in mind that water wells over 300 feet need a particular hand pump to get water up to the surface.

When I lived in Arizona my house was on a well in a good area with good water but there was an area close by that had wells going dry. All my neighbors were aware of this. Ask around before popping a well and for sure before buying land, you will save yourself the heartache.

Scott, Ready Squirrel

Water Tank

A water storage tank is anything you use to store quantities of water for emergencies. Tanks for potable water should be made from a food-safe plastic resin like Polyethylene.

The more challenging the tank, the more you’ll pay. More robust tanks won’t collapse or bulge, and some can reduce algae growth.

As with water, cisterns keep moisture from freezing by excavating and burying it below the frost line.

If you have varying elevations on your land, consider where you put the tank, and you may be able to use gravity to move your water around your land or into your survival structure.

Dug Water Pond

Excavate a water pond for water storage. Use the surface water as you would water from a lake or a stream. Ponds will freeze in colder climates, so keep that in mind.

What I like about ponds is they build redundancy into your survival system. You are creating a water source and an ecosystem you can raise fish and other aquatic life to eat.

Ponds for drinking water should be deep vs. large and shallow.

Pick an area for your pond.

You’ll need a specific type of soil that will hold water, preferably clay or silty clay. Sand and gravel don’t do an excellent job storing water in place.

According to Oregon State University, there are two kinds of ponds you can build.

  1. An Excavated Pond was placed on flat ground. Typically used when water demands are light.

2. An Embankment Pond is a pool of water that collects behind a dam. If you go this route, you’ll need an engineer because you could do some severe damage to surrounding structures if the dam fails.

How Long Will Water Store

You can store water indefinitely. Water doesn’t go bad or expire but does get contaminated and needs to be cleaned by filtration, boiling, purification, or evaporation.

Contamination occurs when water is exposed to chemicals or water-borne pathogens like giardia, cryptosporidium, shigella, e—Coli, and viruses.

6 Reasons To Store Water For Societal Collapse

  1. Hygiene: You need clean water to maintain hygiene. Reduce the amount of water you use for hygiene in an emergency by stocking antibacterial wipes and waterless soap
  2. Sanitation: Reduce sanitation water usage using a 5-gallon plastic bucket, contractor-grade plastic bag, and saw-dust as a porta-potty. You don’t have to use water to flush with this method, but you maintain sanitation.
  3. Hydration: You need a minimum of 1/2 gallon of water per person per day to stay hydrated
  4. Cooking: You need water to cook staple items like white rice, rolled oats, instant soups, etc. To reduce or eliminate the need for cooking water, store foods that don’t require water, like canned soups and other non-perishable foods.
  5. Gardening: This may seem strange, but depending on your climate, you may wish to incorporate rainwater or another form of catchment into your emergency plan to keep your vegetable garden going in case of a drought or water loss. Especially important for a long-term survival situation. Have emergency crop irrigation worked out before the tap runs dry?
  6. Pets: Dogs, cats, chickens, horses, or hamsters. Plan to store enough water for your pets and livestock.

Learn more by reading these Ready Squirrel articles, What is more important for survival: Water or Food?, Emergency Water Beginner’s Survival Guide, and Emergency Water: Beginner’s Survival Guide.