Understanding Non-Potable Water
Non-potable water is water that is not safe for drinking, personal, or culinary use. This may be because its origin is known to be contaminated or simply because the water has not been tested or treated therefore is considered unsafe.
When preparing water for storage, telling the difference between water you can and cannot use is imperative. While our water storage contains drinkable water, non-potable water has its uses.
When you don’t know the safety of any given water source, it’s best to err on the side of caution and either not drink it or treat it first. Drinking contaminated water can lead to extreme illness or death. In 2017, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) reported almost half a million hospital admissions and 7,000 deaths in the United States due to waterborne diseases.
There are sources of non-potable water found both in nature and at home. These sources can be used, after treatment, for human consumption or to be used untreated for non-consumption needs. Always assume the following water sources are contaminated and need to be treated.
lakes, streams, rivers
If you're fortunate to have one of these bodies of water near your home, you can feel confident in using it as part of your non-potable plan. Water from these sources can be used for drinking if treated, or can be used for non-potable purposes like watering the garden or flushing the toilet.
Groundwater is the water present beneath the earth’s surface in rock and soil pre-spaces and in the fractures of rock formations. Nearly 98% of the world’s freshwater is underground. Groundwater can provide safe drinking water if the source is sufficiently treated.
Water stagnation occurs when water stops flowing. The longer water sits, the more dangerous it becomes. Most of these dangers can be treated with purification methods but if you have other sources of flowing water (which will also need to be treated), use them first.
Many hot water heaters hold 75 gallons or more of water. Water can be drained out of the bottom of the tank through a built-in spigot, and with a garden hose and a bucket to catch the water. Before draining, turn any hot water faucet in your home to the right. This will allow needed air into the system.
swimming pool & spa
Pool water can only be made for drinking by using one of two methods. A high quality pool water filtration system will remove dangerous contaminants and make the pool water safe to drink. A water distillation system will also work by separating clean water from all unwanted chemicals and pathogens.
The amount of water that a typical toilet tank holds varies depending on the model. Most standard tanks typically hold between 1. 5 to 7 gallons of water. It's not a lot but every little bit helps. Don't get this water supply confused with toilet bowl water which should not be used.
Uses of non-potable water
There are a few instances when non-potable water is just fine to use. Always label a water container accordingly so it does NOT get confused with your drinking and cooking water.
- Garden watering
- Toilet flushing
- Cleaning non-foods contact surfaces such as floors.
- Washing and rinsing both ceramic dishes and metal utensils. Make sure they are thoroughly dry before reuse.
When not to use non-potable water
There are instances when you should never use non-potable water, in its pre-treated state, because of the potential of getting sick.
- Personal hygiene - brushing teeth, bathing, showering, and handwashing.
- Food preparation - washing, cooking, baking, preparing of food in any fashion.
- Surfaces that encounter food - including containers made of plastic, wood, and clay as bacteria can persist on porous materials.
Learn how to purify non-potable water, if necessary, to make these tasks safe.
Find local water resources
Do you have a natural lake or stream in your area? This can greatly reduce the amount of water you need to store. See if this interactive map can help you find natural water resources near you. If so, you can make this part of your non-potable water plan.