[REALITY CHECK] How Much Water Do You Really Need?

waterstorageWe’ve all heard the vague statistics about how much water we use each day, or how much we should drink, or even how much we should keep on hand for emergencies.

Rarely do we question these numbers, because we never really have to…

Unless a chemical spill contaminates a major waterway that serves an entire region of the country, leading officials to issue a historic water ban that last for over 5 days… like what occurred this week in West Virginia.

Over 300,000 residents in and around the state’s capital, Charleston, we’re suddenly told not to drink, touch, bath in, or even wash clothes in the tainted municipal water.

5 Days in West Virginia

Many West Virginia residents now know exactly how much water it takes to sustain their everyday lives — or at least how many everyday activities are nearly impossible without an abundant water supply.

The water ban, which was first instated late on Thursday, January 9th, lasted until Tuesday the 14th. Slowly but surely, the bans have been lifted on a community by community basis.

By the Numbers

So how much water do we really need on a daily basis? I usually recommend 1-gallon, per person, per day, with a 14-day supply minimum. Let’s just round that up to 60 gallons for a family of four.

That covers drinking water, a little cooking, and very basic hygiene, such as brushing teeth. That doesn’t include bathing, washing dishes, food preparation, or basically any other nonessential daily activities.

Contrast that with your everyday usage…

According to the USGS, an average faucet flows at the rate of 2 gallons per minute. Hand washing dishes consumes about 20 gallons of water per day. An automatic dishwasher uses between 4 and 10 gallons of water per load, depending on the model.

Flushing the toilet, as many of you know, uses 1.6 gallons in newer toilets, but 3 or more in older models…

A 10 minute shower uses about 20 gallons of water. Washing your hands and face counts for about 1 gallon of water per day (per person). When it comes to clothing, an average washing machine uses 25 gallons per load.

In a West Virginia  Scenario

The biggest difficulty in determining the size of your water storage comes down to standard of living. In a complete collapse situation, we would aim to conserve as much water as humanly possible, using it for little else but drinking. That’s a no brainer.

That’s also the least likely scenario you’ll be facing. It’s far more likely that your emergency water plan will be activated by a West Virginia type scenario, one in which you’d like to function in a relatively normal capacity. In that case, you’re going to need additional water for washing your hands and face, flushing toilets, and washing dishes.

In a situation like the one in WV, we could assume that the toilet would be flushed only when necessary. Perhaps that’s twice a day per person = 3.2 gallons per family member.

Add to that 1 gallon per day, per person for hand washing, face washing, and brushing teeth.

Another gallon per person per day for drinking water.

Add in 10 gallons per dishwasher load, one load every other day, that’s roughly 5 gallons a day.

Last but not least, I’d add at least 2 more gallons a day for food prep.

Using my very rough estimates, the math works out to:

5.2 gallons per person, per day + a household overhead of 7 gallons per day = 27.8 gallons per day for a family of four.

And that doesn’t even include bathing… which you can avoid for only so long.

Once again, using this extremely crude math, this means that a family of 4 in Charleston, a relatively urban city, needed roughly 139 gallons of water to sustain a very scaled back version of the American lifestyle — three 55-gallon barrels of potable water.

How many Charleston residents do you think had 140 gallons of water sitting in a tank? How many had 0 gallons in storage?

 What water uses did I miss in my equation? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!


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  1. Everyone who has a bath tub(s) should get a water bladder for each tub. They hold up to 100 gallons and have a small pump on the top to access the water. They are available from cheaper than dirt and they are only about $20.00. Also I recommend at least one solar shower. To conserve water, get your body wet, then turn off the water flow. Lather up and then turn the water flow back on to rinse. Use a small plastic tub inside your kitchen sink to do your dishes. Two tips from my sailboat days.

  2. Great ideas!

    The only challenge to the bathtub bladder in the case of West Virginia was that there was no warning. These people basically woke up to no safe water. So while there may be some sources in your home, like the water heater, they would have needed to shut off the outside water source immediately and then only had whatever water they stored in advance.

    Just another example of how we have to be ready in advance.

  3. i would like to find the company or website that sells the water bladder & the solar shower kit . any info would be helpful

  4. I have addressed this idea before. You cannot store (or carry along) enough water for survival. While a reasonable amount can be in with your preps, you HAVE TO have a plan to get water, and purify it if necessary because you simply don’t know how long your normal source will be unavailable. Where the closest open water that can serve utility uses and possibly be purified. The closest spring for safe water. A more important plan includes a hand pump, or battery powered pump, or a windmill if you have a well. Remember the sailors lament “water water everywhere, and not a drop to drink”. Storing water just isn’t feasable, it “spoils” and the tank gets funky. You need a alternative source!

  5. I have a stockpile of baby wipes for hygiene purposes, also, an over the ground pool with a real good cover and no chemicals sits in my back yd. I also have water purification items. You can drink water from hot water heater and tank of toilet if need be. Canned fruits and veggies have drinkable liquid. I also keep plenty of ” no cooking” canned goods like ravioli, spaghetti and chunky soups, as well as canned meat and pouch foods. Keep some plastic and paper product supply. { disposable means no dishes to wash} I also ALWAYS fill Gatorade and juice bottles with water immediately after they are empty and put in closets or cabinets..

  6. Also clean out the heavy plastic laundry soap bottles and rinse bottles, bleach bottles. Super clean them. Then fill with clean water for non-drinking uses. They are heavy plastic and don’t break down as milk jugs do. Keeps this plastic out of the landfill, repurposes and saves money because you already paid for the bottle. That saves money to use on potable water cans/jugs/Jerry type cans. These can be stored in a shed or garage. When I change out the water, I use it to either water plants and trees or pour it in my washer for loads of clothes. A good bleach rinse. Rerinse and refill. Cycle out any bad bottles at this time and leave a space for expansion for freeze at the top of the bottle.
    And those sodapop bottles are good for potable water use. As well as dry storage of rice and small piece foods like some pastas, cereals, legumes like lentils, flour, and whole grains. Big water cooler bottles are excellent as well and affordable.

  7. Our city has a faulty old water system that has crashed a couple of times and we went days and days without tap water waiting for pipeline valves and parts to come in by truck. The city employed several food grade milk tankers to bring water in, but then limited shares to (1) five gallon amount per person. People were a little pushy, so forget bringing extra family members with extra jugs unless you are confident of them in a fight!! It amazed me at what people brought to put water in. Quite a few had no 5 Gallon water bottles and were carrying one gallon milk jugs, and all sorts of other pitiful containers. I had several 5 gallon water bottles at home, but only one was full. Needless to say, I now keep 10 five gallon water bottles and use them one at a time for everyday kitchen stuff to create some freshness rotation. I have a stack of about a dozen cases of bottled individual water that we can put powdered drink flavors etc. in. Out in the corner of the yard I have eight 55 gallon nylon food grade barrels with tap water in them for use other than drinking. I have a small trailer that can handle 2 barrels of water if I need to get out of town to get water refills. I sometimes worry if it is enough.

  8. H20 is the essence of our exixtance. Protect at all costs.
    I appreciate all the comments and applaud Frank for doing the math. I keep several hand filters around critical areas.

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