This guest post is by Dale Martin and entry in our non-fiction writing contest .
In virtually ever facet of preparedness and planning, especially if money is not a problem, there are items you can buy from a commercial supplier. For most of us, however, money is somewhat relevant.
Thus, most of us are constantly deciding on a variety of issues. There are items we can buy commercially. There items we can do without. There are items we can substitute. And, finally, there are some items we can make.
I keep a deck of cards and a set of dominos in my 72 hour kit. I really don’t have to have them; they are strictly a comfort item. They would be an example of items that I could do without easily.
A person might really want to have top-notch electric lanterns or good quality oil lamps for his household emergency lighting. But, if he already has a lot of candles, he can substitute.
Fish traps are a perfect example of a prepper item that can be homemade, and the home-built versions are almost always superior to the commercial made ones you see in sporting outlets.
How does water filtration and purification figure into this arena? Good water is obviously important. It might not make a lot of difference what brand of hunting knife you have in your survival bag, but having good water is critical. Should we bite the bullet and buy a good commercially made system, or is a homemade or camp made system just as good?
Water has a relatively good history in the USA.
Most of us living in the United States are familiar with the little signs that are posted outside of our cities. The signs are posted even outside very small towns. These signs have been there so long that we usually no longer pay attention to them, much like the City Limits signs. They have just become part of the normal landscape that we pass every day, and no longer really notice.
The signs are water quality signs that will say something on the order of “The water in this city is rated Superior”, or some such wording. We are all so used to having good water that we rarely give it a thought. Just turn on the tap, and we have all we want. Contamination? Most of us never give it a second thought. Even a simple “boil water” notice for any particular municipality is unusually rare.
Of course, there are always exceptions.
In 1980, there was a hepatitis A outbreak in Pennsylvania that was traced to a feces contaminated well.
A cryptosporidiosis outbreak occurred in Georgia in 1987 that originated from a contaminated public water filtration system.
In 1993, there was a massive cryptosporidiosis outbreak in Milwaukee. Over a span of a couple of weeks, over 400,000 people became ill with fever, stomach cramps, dehydration, and diarrhea. Over a hundred people died. The cause of the epidemic was never officially named, probably because it was the largest water-borne disease outbreak on record, and no one wanted to take the blame. A sewage treatment outlet a few miles upstream was strongly suspected.
Even small things can sometimes throw a kink in the works. In 1997, something as simple as a contaminated drinking fountain at the Minnesota zoo caused over 350 cases of cryptosporidiosis. Sadly, most of the victims were children.
Most of these events didn’t make big news, even though there were fatalities.
However, given some sort of society altering event that put our water system out of commission, even for a few weeks, drinking what we will call “wild water” would be a wake up call for most of us on just how fragile our society can be in some instances.
As the rest of the developing world knows only too well, there are water borne diseases by the hundreds, if not by the thousands. There are so many water-borne illnesses that simply listing the names of all of them would fill a lengthy paper on the subject. Some are caused by protozoa, some by parasites, and some bacterial, and some viral.
Perhaps the most commonly known of the Protozoan infections are Amoebiasis, Cryptosporidiosis, Cyclosporiasis, and Giardiasis. Giardiasis is perhaps the best well-known as it is (rightfully so) the bogey man of many articles about the dangers of drinking untreated, wild water.
There are also parasitic infections such as Dracunculiasis and Taeniasis.
And, let’s not forget the bacterial infections such as Cholera, E. coli, and Dysentery.
Hepatitus A is perhaps the best known of the viral agents that is water-borne, although it can be transmitted in food as well.
Whether these diseases are caused by protozoa, parasites, bacteria, or viruses will make little difference to the miseries of the infected. Virtually all produce nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting, abdominal cramps, and dehydration. As if that weren’t bad enough, for an extra measure, some of these water-borne illnesses add blood to the vomit as well as the feces. Not exactly a cheerful picture.
Let’s look at Giardia, in particular.
Giardiasis (or just Giardia), which is also sometimes called beaver fever, is caused by a protozoan parasite called Giardia lamblia.
Giardia exists in two forms: an inactive form called a cyst, and the active form called a trophozoite.
The inactive cyst can survive easily for long periods of time in fresh water lakes, streams, ponds, and the like. It only takes ingestion of around 10 cysts to begin an infection. And remember, they are microscopic. Ten cysts (or maybe hundreds) could be in a single drop of water.
Then, the fun part starts. Stomach acid activates the cyst, and it develops into the active trophozoite. See the following photo. Looks like a smiley face, doesn’t it. Surely nothing that cute could be harmful, could it?
The trophozoite attaches itself to the lining of the small intestine with a sucker and starts causing the symptoms. Giardia is kind of like the monster in ALIEN that incubates inside people, changes, and then starts all kinds of havoc. (At least, it is small and doesn’t burst out of your chest like in the movie)
The nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, bloating, and fatigue begin usually in about seven days, although it can be longer incubating. Fever is not common, but possible. It is the most common form of waterborne parasitic infection. To make a long story short, Giardia is extremely unpleasant.
Even if your wild water doesn’t have Giardia, take a look at the following microscopic picture of typical pond water.
Notice the thousands of organisms in the photo. All these microbial little critters are in just a tiny drop of water. Just a tiny drop. Just think how many of these things would be ingested if we were to drink a coffee cup full of this wild water.
Are all the organisms in this photo harmful? Maybe not. But, would we really want to drink them even if we knew for sure they were relatively harmless?
Whatever the event might be that ruined our traditional water supply might not matter much. Regardless of the event, we would have only a couple of choices. (1) Purify water using a commercially made product like Berkey water purifiers. (2) Filter water through a homemade or camp constructed filter.
There are a lot of options doing either. Obviously, we would want to begin with the cleanest looking water we could find, rather than just dipping a bucketful of some stagnant, mosquito filled pool. Even then, you can’t always tell by looking. There might be a dead deer in the water just upstream from where you collect what looks like clean mountain water. And, sometimes test results of grungy looking water show it to be clear of any problems. Boiling, regardless of what filtering or purifying you do is always a good option. In short, we would all try to push the odds in our favor at every point.
The following photo shows a VERY WELL MADE camp style water filter made from a 2 liter soda bottle with alternating layers of finely grained charcoal, clean sand, rocks, and a bottom layer of clean cotton cloth for the final drip.
In this camp made filter, the layers of charcoal, gravel, and sand are packed as tightly into the bottle as possible in order to make the water (through the force of gravity) filter through the layers as slowly as possible. The longer it takes for the water to filter through from top to bottom, obviously, means it is doing a better job of cleaning than if it just flowed through quickly.
The following photo is a close-up of the layering of the same camp filter. (Forgive the mediocre photography.)
Before I filtered some typical pond water through this filter I even added a couple of normal paper coffee filters in the top (not shown in picture) to give this homemade filter a little added advantage.
The filter operated just about as I expected. I apparently had packed the layers in fairly tightly, as it took a while for the water I poured in the top to filter through into a container below.
However, it was obvious when the now filtered water was held up to the light, that the water still had impurities in it. They were clearly visible to the naked eye. Under a microscope, the water still had the appearance of typical pond water; lots of microbial life.
Frankly, I was surprised. I didn’t think it would be totally pure at all, but I did think it would be much closer to pure and clear than it was.
Also, the homemade filter had another problem. The first few buckets filtered in this less than desirable fashion. After that, the filter became even less effective as it clogged with pond water residue.
And lastly, reconstituting the filter with fresh sand, charcoal, and gravel requires a fair amount of clean water.
We have all seen these designs for homemade filters in survival literature for many years, but sadly, the best I can say about actually using one is that they are better than nothing. Any kind of filtering is superior to drinking wild water as it is, but you most definitely would want to boil the water vigorously to kill the microbes after you have filtered it. That still won’t do anything for contaminants, toxins, and pollutants that might also be in the water.
As a “make it yourself” type guy (see the end of this article for my credentials), I am somewhat surprised. I didn’t expect it to be perfect, but I did expect it to be better.
Now, let’s move on to commercial models.
The following photo shows a Royal Berkey water purifier. It is about 2’ tall, and around 9” in diameter.
It is basically two metal buckets, one of top of the other. Inside the top bucket are the filters. They come with two filters, which is probably what most people use. However, they having fittings for two more black berkey filters. Thus, you can use 4 filters for faster purifying if time is of the essence.
Much like the homemade variety, you pour water in the top, it moves through the filtering product, and trickles into the catch bucket on the bottom. It comes with a spout for ease of retrieval of the purified water.
All of this can be put together in 5 minutes, which is definitely not the case in the homemade variety.
The following photo is the black berkey filter itself that you use 2 (or 4) in the top bucket.
I have read the test results on this filter until I am blue in the face, and these reports are not just the ones that Berkey touts in their ads, but independent labs. To make a long story short, it is roughly equivalent to filtering wild water through a rock. It takes a while to filter through, but it is pristine when it comes out the bottom. This old country boy was very impressed.
Secondly, two filters in this Royal Berkey will purify (and, technically it is a purifier, not just a filter) 6000 gallons of water before they need to be replaced. That is a MASSIVE amount of water.
On the move? Transport is not a problem either. The top bucket even fits into the bottom one for moving.
So, the “just as good” question at the beginning of this article is definitely answered. As badly as I wanted it to be otherwise, the commercial model Berkey is so far ahead of anything most of us could make that it is simply not worth it to attempt. Bite the bullet, and buy a Berkey.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dale Martin grew up in the piney woods of East Texas during the 1950’s and 60’s. Outdoor skills became a natural by product of many hours and days spent in the field.
While in college earning a business degree, Dale enhanced those skills by taking several courses in primitive anthropology. Later, Dale spent a number of years researching both primal and modern survival skills and techniques. Dale developed skills regarding snares, traps, firearm silencer design, military history, and other “off the beaten path” disciplines.
- In 1987, Dale wrote TRAPPER’S BIBLE, and followed that up with INTO THE PRIMITIVE in 1989.
- In 2001, Dale was contacted by NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC and asked to write an article about deadfalls.
- In 2007, Dale was contacted by THE HISTORY CHANNEL for his input into one of their MODERN MARVELS segments about trapping.
- In April of 2011, Dale published EVERYMAN’S GUIDE TO OUTDOOR SURVIVAL.
- He is also the author of the science fiction novel SAFARI WORLD as well as the historical civil war narrative THE SHOT.
- He is co-author (with many others) of the compilation book EVEN MORE DANGEROUSLY FUN STUFF (FOR LITTLE BOYS WHO NEVER REALLY GREW UP).
This contest will end on August 7 2012 – prizes include:
First Place : 1 Year Subscription to AlertsUSA, 1 Radiation Safety Package consisting of the following; (1) NukAlert Radiation Monitor and Alarm (5) Radsticker Peel and Stick Dosimeters (1) Box Thyro Safe Potassium Iodide. All courtesy of AlertsUSA. A $150 gift certificate for Federal Ammo courtesy of LuckyGunner Ammo. And a British Berkefeld water fillter system courtesy of LPC Survival. A total prize value of over $700.
Second Place : A six pack Entrée Assortment courtesy of Augason Farms, a Nukalert courtesy of Shepherd Survival Supply and a WonderMill Grain Mill courtesy of Kitchen Kneads. A total prize value of over $550.
Third Place : A copy of each of my books “31 Days to Survival” and “Dirt Cheap Survival Retreat” courtesy of The Survivalist Blog dot Net and “Kelly McCann’s Inside the Crucible Set” courtesy of Paladin Press. A total prize value of over $200.
Contest ends on August 7 2012.