All Wet by Gary Benton
During the early American migration across this great country of ours, a primary concern of all early travelers was finding good drinking water. Most of us have never considered the countless people who died from the want of water. Most of us don’t even realize how many more died or became seriously ill from drinking bad water. Many of us take water for granted. We use it by the gallons and we waste it by the gallons. Why, because it is always there.
In today’s society, municipal water supplies are about as pure as they can be. Sure, in some areas, we can smell or taste the chemicals that are used to treat it but I will not get into how safe your individual water is or your local water treatment procedures. It is usually safe enough for us to drink. But how safe is your water when you camp? What if you had no water and have to survive for a period of time?
Lets look at a couple of things to keep in mind about water. First, all water is not equal. Some water, while looking pure, may be filled with what I call “micro-critters.” Second, use some common sense and treat all water, unless you bring it from home or bought it in a store, as unsafe to drink. I will not get into the various things that can be found in water, it bores me and would you. Besides, I don’t remember most of the names and know I could not even begin to spell them. I’ll tell you this though; they sure are ugly under a microscope.
If you have to use water that nature provides, use water that is fast moving. Make sure your water of choice is as clear looking as you can find. While having clear looking water is no assurance it is safe to drink, it is easier to drink water that looks like the water you usually drink. Avoid water from swamps, ponds, or stagnate spots like puddles or hollow tree stumps. Also, avoid water sources near your designated toilets. I always get my water, even water not intended for drinking, up stream at least one hundred feet from our campsite. This is still no guarantee the water is safe. I know what a group of youngsters can do to and in the water in front of my campsite.
There are many different ways to treat water. There are commercial filters that keep the “critters” out. Some are almost as small as a drinking straw. You can boil it for X number of minutes for each thousand feet you are above sea level or use chlorine or commercial water purification tablets. By now some of you know me and already have an idea of which one I would use…yep, the tablets. Seems the filters cost too much and I can never remember how long to boil it or how high I am above sea level. I don’t like to juggle measurements of chemicals so I use the tablets for my drinking water. It is very simple; just follow the directions on the bottle the tablets come in. It works for me.
Now as you Vets know, treated water tastes like it has been treated. Especially when it’s in a metal canteen. Additionally, it will have bit of a chemical smell to it. Many Veterans know that you can mask this taste and slight smell by adding just a little powdered drink to it. I like the cherry drink, so I add the powder to my canteen. Of course, I do not treat the primary container, just my individual canteen. That keeps the main container clean for everyone’s usage and lets us treat our canteens with our individual powders.
In an emergency, if the water you have to drink is slightly muddy or murky, you may have to filter it before you can drink it. This can be water from a river or other source. I call this murky water “hard water” and I hate “hard water”, so I carry a small piece of cloth with me to work as a filter. This “thick” water may have to be filtered a number of times before it looks good enough for you to even consider drinking. If that still doesn’t seem to work, you can construct a filter using many different layers of sand, small pebbles and cloth. This type of filter will usually help the water look better but it is still not safe to drink. After you filter it you can just let it set for a while. The sediments will eventually settle to the bottom of your container. Keep in mind that once it looks good, it will still need to be treated. And, one note on the use of emergency water, if you are not in an emergency don’t use it.
Additionally, if you use emergency water attempt to bring a sample back home with you and give it to your doctor. Bad water is nothing to play with.
Well, I suspect some of you are thinking about using fresh rainwater, right? No need to treat it because it’s fresh and clean right? Think about that for a bit. With acid rain and pollution do you really think that is a very good idea? Maybe the tarp or cloth you use to collect it in is dirty or contaminated by a substance. Sure, it may be pure and then again it may not be. I avoid rainwater because it is just too hard for me to bottle. Regardless, if you are forced to use any water of unknown quality. Treat it. Store all good drinking water in marked containers that are sold for that purpose only. Make sure all your fellow campers know what water is for drinking only. Do not use containers that have previously held dangerous chemicals, alcohol, gasoline or other possible toxic substances. It would be easy to have good drinking water contaminated by residue in the container.
You might not even realize what is happening to you until you get ill. Remember, use only commercially designated water containers.
Water, we use it every day and we waste it everyday as well. When we camp our water supply suddenly becomes much more important, whether we realize it or not. Bad water can cause illnesses such as diarrhea or others much more severe. In some cases bad water can even be life threatening. Remember to drink only safe water from home or bottled water that has been purchased.
If you must use what nature supplies and you are unsure of its purity, either treat it or do not use it. I always think of the old survival adage about water and food, “If in doubt, throw it out.” It is just not worth the risk. Y’all stay safe and have a fun summer.