The Hierarchy of Water Needs

Categories: In the News.


A very important point to understand about purifying water in an emergency is that you don’t have to purify all of your water to the same degree. I call this the “Hierarchy of Water Needs”.

Think about the different uses for water…
non-electric water distillerAt the top of the list is drinking water for infants, newborns, young children, the elderly and immune compromised people. Do you remember the cryptosporidium outbreak in Milwaukee in 1993? Over 100 people died from that incident, and most of the deaths were the very young, the elderly or people with compromised immune systems. Use only the highest purity water with absolute certainty of biological protection, or in other words, use distilled water or a large name bottled water, such as SmartWater or AquaFina. Avoid other types of water if at all possible.

Also at the top of the list is water for medical purposes. See the previous recommendations regarding water quality.

Next, and still extremely important, is drinking water for adults. It’s very important that you protect yourself from the different types of contaminants that can be in your water. This is especially true in an emergency situation, because the infrastructure that keeps us safe can fail in an emergency, possibly allowing dangerous levels of biological, chemical and even radioactive contaminants in the water. Again, you should use distilled water or bottled water. If your source water seems to be quite clean and there are no chemicals or heavy metals in the water, you may be able to drink water that has been properly boiled or chlorinated, according to the Red Cross recommendations.

emergency waterWater for cooking is also important. If you are cooking soup, pasta or vegetables directly in water, this water will end up being consumed, so take care to have good quality water. Of course, always start with the cleanest water available and as long as there are no chemicals or heavy metals in the water, prolonged boiling may be sufficient. If you are worried about the quality of your source water, you can filter the water first, with a good filter, such as a Berkey or Katadyne, or use distilled or bottled water.

Next comes water for hygiene purposes. It’s important to wash your hands and other parts of your anatomy in order to keep clean and not spread germs. It’s very important to use chlorine in this instance, because chlorine has a residual disinfection effect. Start with the best water you have available, filter it or even boil it if needed, and then add chlorine to the water in accordance to the Red Cross recommendation.

Water for cleaning surfaces. Cleaning tables, dishes, cutlery, toilets, etc is also very important, because you may find yourself in unsanitary conditions (toilets don’t flush). In this case you want to use chlorinated water, but since you aren’t consuming this water you will be able to use a higher concentration of chlorine in this water. I recommend these guidelines.

To produce distilled water in an emergency, I recommend the Survival Still.

Click here to see my advice on bottled water.

I recommend that you print this article out for your records.

Glenn Meder


  1. SM3

    I did a small local class on water in emergencies. As part of the class I demonstrated the still. People were fascinated (fyi I never knew people didn’t understand different volatile compounds evaporate at different temperatures, until I had to answer their questions about why it really is a remarkable way to make safe water). Anyway, I love it. I wish I had more time, I’d become a dealer and do more demos, but right now I’m focused on Nurse Practitioner school. Thanks for writing this. I’ll be sure to share it with friends.

  2. Steve


    I found your article interesting. I had not thought of this hierarchy before you brought it to light. Currently I rely on stored water and plan to increase my storage capacity by 220 gallons soon. In addition to my stash of stored water I have purchased powdered calcium hypochrite to be used as a water disinfectant. Although it remains potent longer that bleach it does seem to outgas chlorine and I suspect it has a limited shelf life.
    Recently my attention has been diverted to dealing with fecal waste under emergency conditions. I plan to purchase 100 lbs of cat liter as an absorbent and for odor control. Do you have any thoughts on hydrated lime and its usefulness in managing human waste?

  3. Michael Mckee

    Thank you very greatful you keep up with telling people about the most important yet never considered issues iN an emergency..WATER. Keepon keeping on brother

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