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While many philosophers wax poetic about similarities between cultures and groups of people, there is one thing that ties us all together: water. Regardless of your ideology, height, skin color or location, we all need clean water. In most of the world, clean water is one of the things we take for granted. It is this general complacency that can be problematic at best and lethal at worst if things go bad. Whether you are a backcountry hiker or someone who understands the dangers associated with natural disasters, water purification is an essential skill.

Know Your Source

Water is undrinkable when it has high concentrations of bacteria or chemicals. Some of these may be impossible to see with the naked eye. It is because of this that you should treat any and all water before consuming it. Water that is dark in color, has floating matter in it or has an odor should be avoided. This type of water would require more purification than what a portable or self-made purifier can manage. Also, while some water sources may appear clean, bacteria may be present. Do not fall for clichés regarding cool, clean mountain water.

If possible, be very selective about where you get your water. The presence of animals in the area that are using the same water supply can cause unwelcomed additions to the water. Once again, while charming, running streams and creeks are not the optimal place to get water. The churning caused by the flow of the water keeps sediment and potentially problematic particles in all of the water. Look for calm, clear water such as that found in a lake or even a pool. These bodies of water will have much less sediment in them, which makes it easier to purify. This type of water also helps us avoid the protozoa Giardia and Cryptosporidium. They tend to sink to the bottom in still water, which makes it easier for us to avoid them. Avoid drinking water in areas that have just recently seen heavy rain. The flow of runoff caused by rain into a water source brings a very large amount of bacteria with it. At that point it is best to capture the rainwater itself.

Clean Drinking water
Finding safe drinking water can often be difficult. Even if it looks clean, unflitered water often contains bacteria that can cause illness.

Related Stories: 6 Ways To Purify Your Drinking Water

A Clear Essential

Depending on the environment, people can go without water for days or hours. Many of the routine functions of our body rely on constant hydration. Without water, we begin to break down pretty quickly. In an emergency situation, one of your first tasks needs to be securing drinkable water, be it through emergency personnel or ultimately making it yourself. Do not wait until you begin to suffer from dehydration before you act. At that point you will be much less effective at purifying your water and could make mistakes. Do not simply give up and start drinking water you come across. This can have lethal consequences. The side effects of drinking tainted water are not kind and will lead to even further dehydration. As with all aspects of emergency preparedness, you need to have a plan. If you plan for the worst, then you will be prepared for the worst. While things like food and shelter always make our “essentials” list, the most important on our list will always be water.

This article was originally published in the SURVIVOR’S EDGE ™ Winter 2015 issue. Subscription is available in print and digital editions here.

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