The Prepper’s Water Storage Primer

Because I live in an area that receives a decent amount of rainfall throughout the year I keep my water storage plan simple – I have ten, five-gallon containers bought at Walmart in the sporting goods department a 200 gallon rainwater catchment system and another 55 gallon food grade barrel that I have put in place to catch water off of the room of my chicken coop – I use this water to water my chickens, but of course if needed I could filter and drink it too.

If you live in one of the drier desert regions, water would be a major concern and that may necessitate the storage of thousands of gallons of water for an emergency. How much that you store will depend on where you are and the amount of rainfall that you receive…

A rainwater catchment can be as dedicated as the one pictured below, or as simple as purchasing a livestock watering tank or kiddie pools, and catching the water from your down-spouts, or the rain as it falls. You can also rig up tarps or plastic sheeting, to funnel the rain water into containers.

My 200 Gallon Rainwater Catchment System

Don’t store water in used five gallon milk jugs. They’re not strong enough for long-term storage and eventually will breakdown and leak. The five gallon containers sold in the sporting goods section of most department stores work great, as do the 55 gallon food-grade plastic drums.

Rain water harvesting drum

55 Gallon Water Drum

Just be sure the drums are clean and contained no harmful chemicals before filling. If you must use small containers, empty 2-liter soda bottles work well. They are stronger than the aforementioned milk jugs, and have better lids and are more convenient to use.

A Note about Tap Water for Long-Term Storage

If you’re storing tap water from a municipal water system there’s usually no need to add  chlorine bleach as suggested by some. Water from the municipal tap already contains enough chlorine and or other chemicals to thwart any bacterial growth and can be stored without any other additives.

When putting water away for long-term storage instead of using bleach, I use a Water Preserver Concentrate that will extent the storage life to up to five years, instead of using chlorine bleach.

Choosing the Right Retreat Property to Ensure Water Independence

When buying a retreat property your first consideration should be a reliable, non-grid dependent, water source nearby. The best source would be a deep-well (have it tested before using, especially if it’s an old well), next best would be a full-time spring, next would be a river or cheek, and last a pond or lake all water from ponds, rivers and streams, should always be treated as if it is contaminated with the worst pathogens because it probably is…

Please leave your thoughts and comments in the comments section below… thanks.

About M.D. Creekmore

M.D. Creekmore is the owner and editor of He is the author of four prepper related books and is regarded as one of the nations top survival and emergency preparedness experts. Read more about him here.


  1. Happy Camper says:

    Water is everything ! Ive got 3x 10,000L tanks, 5,000L in the swimming pool and can pump water up from my creek.
    Getting water where you want it to be is a massive job if you dont live in the burbs.
    My big problem ATM is no hot water ! Not enough sun sadly to run the hot water system. So its cold showers.
    Last month I got flooded into my property.
    Water, water, water… You do my head in

    • Happy Camper
      Have you though about using pond piping on the roof of a building that can be linked over to your home? If that does not work, can your rafters can take the weight of the water on your roof? If that works for you, then you can lay out the coiled pvc on the roof and connect the rolled PVC tubing(1 inch)to solid PVC and plumb into your water heater.
      If you have not come across ‘pond pvc’ it comes in a 100 foot flexible coil and you cut the amount as you need it.
      The 1 inch connecting parts are suppose to fit tightly but they do not. You will need to prep the pieces as you would for any water pvc connections but use extra glue to connect those parts. Let them dry thoroughly before adding your next connector.
      This is similar to the system my dh used in a cabin years ago that had no water source into the house. His was not as fancy as this but along the same lines.
      Does your homestead have an elevated water tank that you could tie this system into?
      Hope this gives you a working platform that might work for you.

  2. Looks like a neat system you have! We’re fairly well set for water here with a 300′ deep well, and a gravity line from a near by creek that we have water rights to. The Columbia river and other creeks,ponds, and other sources are within two miles of home. I also have well buckets standing by.

    I do need to wire the pump house so I can run it with my gen set. Oh, the pump house; we pump from the well into a 500 gallon tank, then pump from there into a bladder tank that services two homes on our property. I always have an almost 500 gallon reserve that can be bucket dipped from the pump house. That reserve has (so far) always been enough to keep us in drinking, washing, and flushing water. We use grey water for flushing after washing the dishes.

    Hmmm, maybe I should get me a pony, and train him to harness. A cart with a 50 gallon tank ( 400 lbs when full) would make the trip from the river a whole lot easier! LOL!

  3. JP in MT says:

    Our current place is all grid dependent, even water. We have the parts in place for a catchment system if it comes to that. We also have a year round running creek within a mile, but that water definitely will have to be filtered.

  4. Goatlover says:

    Water! Of all the areas of preparedness, we are most blessed with access to good water. FIVE Artesian wells (over 800 feet deep) are within 1,500 feet of us. One free flows water through our stocked fishing pond/canal system. Two more are used to provide water to our home, garden, and barn. Other is hooked to the irrigation system, and the final one is just a nice extra one we open up to refill canals if we get too dry around here. Eleven pounds of pressure, just by turning a valve, no power needed except to irrigation the grass and pump into the house. I also purchased a 50-pound bucket of pure pool shock powder from a local chemical supplier and have it stored in a well-ventilated shed out back. It will purify more water than I can use in a lifetime, but I wanted plenty on hand for family/friends/barter.

  5. PreppingMomma5 says:

    Can anyone chime in about Berkey water filters for home? We are looking at purchasing the largest size for our family.

    • This is the one that I have and have used for years…

      I also have detailed plans on how to make your own water filter in my book 31 Days to Survival.

    • cgbascom says:

      We purchased a Berkey Water Filter (the plastic one) about 3 years ago. We loved that it gave us great water to drink, however, the filters are hot glued into their support brackets and that became a problem. Our new well was 100 feet deep, but it was sunk in sand that when filtered through the pumping system became silt in the drinking water. When we filtered it through the Berkey it wore the glue off the brackets and prevented the filters from standing upright. We have since moved and our current well is sunk in limestone. We have great water here as well and I will be resurrecting the Berkey with new filters and using it again. We’ll see what happens. Even after all that, I would still buy a Berkey Water Filter.

    • Glad you asked about water filtration. I am contemplating what system to purchase.

  6. Mr Creekmore, can you explain the issues with the black filter quality control over the past few years? My understanding is that Berkfield changed the manufacturer of the filter units resulting in an inferior product which would disassemble at the bottom of the filter/base ring connection. In fact, there was a youtube video of how to effect the repair.

    ‘Where do we stand now? I also have some from 4 years ago in storage.

  7. Soggy Prepper says:

    I had posted this on my facebook and was wanting to get around to writing something about it for your blog M.D. But, that will probably never happen so I’m just posting it here like it is. It fits in with your water storage article. This is a lesson I just learned and have NEVER read about anywhere.

    Nitrates. This is the lesson for the day. What do YOU know about nitrates? Me? I knew they existed in smoked meats and sausages (mmmmmm, sausage).
    Did you know if you store water or have a well you should check for nitrates? I did not know this. I do not have a well, I have city water. But, I do store water and some of that water has been stored in 2 liter pop containers and gallon juice containers. Nitrates turn into nitrites that basically bond with hemoglobin and reduce ability to carry oxygen. Suffocation basically. Too much nitrates in drinking water (usually third world country’s) can cause blue baby syndrome and death. Lots faster in fish.
    So, I killed pretty much my entire fish tank today.
    I poured about a gallon of water stored from 12-2012 in my tank so I could rinse it out and put fresh water in for James to take as he happily went and split up firewood for winter. Flat water tastes gross, fresh is heavily oxygenated and thus “tastes” better.
    About 15-20 minutes I looked in my tank and fish were NOT happy, listing sideways, floating tummy up. OH SHIT!
    Filled up a different bucket and treated it quick, pulled all fish out, did a water change and took water to Petco for testing. No chloride, which is what I initially thought killed them. Sky rocket nitrate scores, off the chart type. wth?
    Come home, pull out more dead fish, water change again. Got to taking with a friend and I took a stored water sample from 9-12 and from 11-12 and tap in for testing. tap and 9-12 were perfectly fine, chlorine present, which is to be expected but no nitrates. Tested the 11-12 (I had poured either that same month or 12-2012 in ) and tested off the charts. Like off the chart nitrates got the fish guy super excited!
    I did not poop in these bottles, nor did anyone else that I know of. I did not catch fertilizer runoff and bottle it. It is not well water. All I can think is that during those months that I filled the bottles with water the tap had a spike in nitrates. Or the pop/juice contained nitrates that went crazy in the container. I have not read anything to substantiate that.
    I have never read anything about stored water and nitrates on ANY survival blog or prepper blog. Nada. Zip. Zilch.
    But now YOU are aware. Get test strips that test for nitrates, ph, alkali, so if you store water…. And you SHOULD!!!!… can test for nitrates. Most likely won’t hurt you in small quantities (from what I’ve read) but can mess up (or kill) babies and elderly, definitely fish.
    I still do have my pleco, 4 cory cats and a spotted Raphael (cat fish) alive so far. One of the 5 goldfish I bought to “see” has suffocated and died. I’ve changed out 35 gallons of water (it’s a 16 gallon tank) 7 five gallon buckets worth and the nitrate levels still magenta pink. Put some bunghole sewer smelling microbes in to help, but they don’t act fast.
    The spotted Raphael is over 15 years old. I had it before we moved into our house and we lived here 14 years. I bought him at the old walmart out ocean beach when they sold fish. I will be sad if he dies.
    Just very unfortunate. I didn’t know. I feel bad that I nuked my fish, I just didn’t know about nitrates in water. Gona be testing all my stored water now with test stripes. Gona look on Amazon for better prices cause at petco you get 25 for $17.00 and that is NOT cost effective even though they are necessary.

    • Seasoned_Citizen says:

      sorry to hear about those nitrates and your poor fish.

      here’s what I found:


    • mom of three says:

      I don’t store our city water either with in 15 minutes, of filling a glass the water is NASTY TASTING. I bought a Brita pitcher, and I’ve been finding still in the package the Brita filter’s to filter our water. Water storage is going to be hard for us I buy bottled water and rotate all the time. I worry here in the city. Our other place has a year round running stream but would need to get a good filter like the Berkley, to feel safe about the water situation. So sorry about your fish, I truly understand what you went through I got rid of ours and miss them but I don’t have the extra energy for them anymore.

    • Ocean beach Walmart that used to sell fish lol? I think we live in the same town in Washington state. If so the tap water is unfit to drink imo. I cross the bridge and fill jugs at Apiary spring. Its free and just before Vernonia. Either that or I run my rain water thru my doulton countertop filter

      • Some of us sound close enough to be almost neighbors ! LOL

      • Soggy Prepper says:

        My DH used to work up Apiary road for a gentleman making an hydraulic wood processing machine.
        We are in the same area! Kinda nice knowing that!

        • That is nice to know:-) I really like this area and there are a lot of like minded people around also.

  8. Sisterjudi says:

    Years ago there was an article in Readers Digest with pictures of a country that had monsoon rains and there forest washed out,huge tree everything was mud.They had to boat load in water.I was so sad to see the devastation.Then I read how the water was stolen and high prices were charged for the water.Then I began to read of thee importance of water.So for last 25 years I do my best to educate people on storing water for emergencies.Would you believe they laugh at me.They do.
    I stored much water in the early days in milk and soda bottles.That was disaster don’t do it.I flooded my own home for real.It was a nightmare.However a great learning experience.Thank God I can swim only kidding it wasn’t that bad,lol when I searched for property I wanted a spring but instead settled for a big body of water in my. Ack woods,with ducks fish and deer.Licky Eh?Then I built closer to the house a fish pond and have water and fish and cat tails you can eat them did you know.I learned that here on MD s site.I have just learned that raising potatoes in pots requires a lot of water,I am working on that.Lastly I am looking at a 2 bedroom farm house in Ga with a trout stream on the back of the property oh boy would I love to get that,yes I would.
    Without water you can go maybe 3 days,Please put up some water.Thanks for article

  9. We use 10 gallon containers ordered from Amazon. They work well, but never tried them for long term use.

  10. Good article. As you said, milk jugs are no good for long term storage of water, although they are fine for short term when you know/suspect an emergency is about to occur.

    The problem is that milk jugs are designed for short term storage of a product with a short shelf life. They don’t need to last months or years because milk doesn’t. So they split and dump water all over, as I can personally attest.

    Also, the Red Cross site says: “If you decide to re-use storage containers, choose two-liter plastic soft drink bottles — not plastic jugs or cardboard containers that have had milk or fruit juice in them. The reason is that milk
    protein and fruit sugars cannot be adequately removed from these containers and provide an environment for bacterial growth when water is stored in them. ” When it gets down to it, even those containers are fine for a short term storage emergency like a hurricane.


    “I use a Water Preserver Concentrate that will extent the storage life to up to five years, instead of using chlorine bleach.”

    So far as I can tell, WPC IS chlorine bleach, at a remarkably high mark up over Clorox.

    Chlorine bleach is 5% sodium hypochlorite, 5% sodium hypochlorite is bleach. Same stuff, exactly, unless I am missing something, and I am reasonably sure I am not. Someone who gave the WPC at the link a one star review also mentioned that.

    The American Red Cross recommends chlorine bleach : “add two drops of non-scented liquid household chlorine bleach to each gallon of water.”

    Here is the Clorox Corp website page for disinfecting water with chlorine bleach:

    So far as I can tell, there is no reason not to use commercial chlorine bleach to disinfect water either for long term storage or for immediate use.

  11. Chuck Findlay says:

    Me Bad, I only store about 30-gallons of water. But it rains all the time here and there is a creek 1/8 mile away and I have several water filters. Water is always abound and many times there is too much of it.

    If I lived where water was in short supply I would pay it more attention.

    • Does the creek flow all year round, every year?

      • Chuck Findlay says:

        Yep, It’s been flowing since I can remember, (early 1960’s) in fact I fell through the ice on it several times when I was a kid.

  12. Water is the #1 survival item, in my mind. Thanks MD, for another good article.

    I’m also blessed to live in an area where we usually rec over 40 inches of rain/year. & last month, we had a record over 20″ just in May. Some areas were affected by the flooding, & 1-2 fatalities b/c of flooding.

  13. water or second concern post whatever, oxygen the first….have a berkey & live on well w/hand & elect pumps…. Montezuma’s revenge may well be in the offing once those sources go belly up….hope & pray not!

  14. A method to keep stored water safe is to use it. Make a water “bank”. Top off your tanks than use about 10% each month. Drink from the tank or use it on the lawn and garden. The worst disaster following a disaster is finding that your stored water is contaminated. If you use it and repleish it — well much better to discover bad water in good times…… The same can be said of canned goods. Use the inventory system of FIFO 1st in 1st out -or- in with the new out with the old… I have a 160 gallon to save my swimming pool backwash. The allows me to get two gallons of use for one gallon of the meter price. My 7K gal. will last at least a month.

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