black and white photo of hands touching water

Unlikely Water Sources: Tips to Find Hidden Reservoirs

The unthinkable has come to pass: The Earth is hit with an immense EMP. Was it natural, or was it manmade? Who knows … and, really, it doesn’t matter. Anything electrical is offline, including both municipal and private water pumps. With most people dependent on mechanical systems, this could mean disaster.

So, what do you do? We all need water to live. Granted, most cities and towns have backup generators, and so do some homeowners with private wells, but that will only keep the flow going for so long. Eventually, the generators will stop working, because they will run out of fuel. There will be a run on bottled water at every store that sells it, but that, too, will run out. That means all of us will have to start thinking outside the box and find alternative sources.

Natural rivers, streams and lakes make obvious choices for water. But make sure to boil, filter and/or treat it before drinking it.

Thankfully, there are available alternative sources. They are all around us in some of the most unlikely places. We just need to think logically. Some of these sources are pretty obvious; others, not so much. Most of these potential sources are available to both urban and rural dwellers. Keep in mind that you will need to filter and treat it from many of these sources before using it for consumption.

Let’s take a look at a few. I’m sure you can come up with more.

Hot Water Tank: Most people have a hot water tank in their home or apartment building. This is where heated water is stored so you can take showers, wash dishes, etc. My tank holds about 40 gallons of water. This one source can provide for my family for days. The beauty is that it doesn’t need to be collected and stored—it is right there.

Toilet Tank: The tank on the back of your toilet—not to be confused with the toilet bowl—holds up to 2 gallons of clean water. This is the very same water that comes out of your kitchen faucet. Drain this directly from the tank and store it in storage containers for later use.

Water inside a toilet tank.
It might not look great, but toilet tank water is drinkable.

Pipes: There is always excess water in the piping. If you have a forced hot water heating system, those pipes are always full. There is a drain valve right near your furnace. Go ahead and drain this. The same can be said for standard pipes. To drain from those pipes, locate the lowest point in your home (in my case, this is the basement; and that is where our washing machine is hooked up). Remove the washing machine hoses, and turn on the faucet. Water runs downhill, so most of the still in the lines will run to this point. Collect as much as you can. You can also try outdoor spigots, because they are usually lower than most interior faucets.

De-humidifier Reservoir: De-humidifiers pull moist air in and run it over cooling coils. The moisture in the air, which is a gas, runs across the coils, where the gas becomes a liquid: water. That then drains into a catch reservoir. On some very humid summer days, I will dump a few gallons of water collected in this manner into my garden. However, in an emergency scenario, put it into storage containers for later use instead of dumping it.

A dehumidifier pulls moisture out of the air and deposits it into a holding tank. This is a great source of drinking water

Air Conditioning Unit: Air conditioners work very similarly to de-humidifiers. They take warm air and run it over cooling coils. The cooled air is then pumped into your home. Droplets form on the coils and eventually run out the back of the air conditioning unit. Some of this gets trapped within the unit, and although it might not be much, every little bit helps. You can also construct a collection tray and route the condensate to a container for future use.

Freezer: Your power is off, and things start defrosting in your freezer. Any ice cubes you have are a ready source of water. As your freezer defrosts, water runs into a tray at the bottom. Under normal situations, the freezer will evaporate the water, but when the freezer is off, that just collects in the tray. If you have an automatic icemaker in your refrigerator, there is bound to be water in the line that feeds it. Use it.

melting ice in freezer
If you have an older freezer that’s not “frostless,” collect the melting ice and add it to your containers.

Pools: A full, 12-foot-diameter swimming pool that’s 4 feet deep contains almost 3,400 gallons of water. (How about municipal pools? I have no idea, but I know it is a lot.) Take every available container you own to these pools and fill them up. This source will eventually run dry, as will all the others I have mentioned, but if you plan for it, you can be the first one there to take advantage of this source.

Swimming pool
Public swimming pools are good sources. They will empty quickly, so get to them early. Swimming pool water contains chemicals, so let it sit for a while. Then, boil and filter it before using.

Man-Made Ponds: It seems that every industrial park and business complex these days has a man-made pond of some sort. It might not be the best around, but it is still water. In a disaster situation, you can’t be too picky. However, remember that this can contain pesticides and fertilizers, so you might need to use it for purposes other than consumption.

Canned Food: Look at the labels on canned food, especially canned fruit and vegetables. In most cases, they are packed in water; in the case of canned fruit, they are often packed in fruit juices. Not only do you have a water source, you have something to eat, as well.

Canned vegetables, fruit, some types of tuna and many other foods are often packed in water.

Rain: Don’t overlook the obvious Everyone can collect rain. If it starts raining, get every available container out there. You can even set up rain barrels to collect the runoff from your roof and tarps, and plastic sheeting can be arranged to collect water over a balcony or yard. However, any rainwater that is collected will need to be filtered and treated before drinking.

Fresh Fruit: Fresh fruit is a great source of water. If you don’t have access to fruit on your land, get to the grocery store. While you are stocking up on bottled water, stock up on fruit, as well. Use the fruit first, because water will keep, but the fruit won’t. Melons, peaches and pears are the best, because they have a high moisture content. Don’t overlook cucumbers, either.

Coconuts: Coconuts are a great source of water. Most people don’t have them growing around their property … unless they live in Florida or Hawaii. So, if you don’t have access to them naturally, get them at the grocery store.

Solar Still: A survival lesson I learned while in the Army was how to set up a solar still. No matter where you are, you can get some water this way. Dig a hole 12 inches to 2 feet deep and 2 feet or more around. Place wet vegetation, such as seaweed, fresh cut grass, etc., in the hole (urine will work—as a last resort). Place an empty can or cup in the hole. Cover the hole with plastic (clear plastic works best), and secure the edges of the plastic with dirt and rocks. Place a small, round rock in the center of the plastic, right above the cup. The rock needs to be heavy enough to push the plastic down, but not touching the cup. Now, let the sun do the work. The moisture in the hole will evaporate with the heating of the sun. As the vapor rises, the plastic will trap it. When the temperature drops at night, the vapor will turn back into liquid and run to the depression made by the rock and then drip into the cup.

Wild Water: Ponds, lakes, streams and rivers are great sources of water. Unless there is a drought, these sources will continuously give water.

Although they are a source of water, streams such as this are questionable. Be sure to treat it before using it.

Seeps: I learned about seeps while I lived in Arizona. Even where there is no visible water, there is still some around. Look for vegetation such as cottonwood or willow trees—both are water-hungry plants. Even dry riverbeds will yield water, although most of it is underground. Find shady areas under rocky overhangs. Look for discolored soil, which is a sign of underground water fairly close to the surface. Listen carefully for the sound of dripping near canyons, because this will indicate seeping water. How hard you will have to work for that water is anyone’s guess, but it is worth a shot.

What to do with Collected Water

No water is safe, no matter where you collect it. This is especially true when it is collected from wild sources or swimming pools. Water will stagnate very quickly, especially in the hot sun. Many of these sources contain things that could make you very sick. For that reason, all collected water needs to be boiled, filtered or chemically treated. Pool water usually has very dangerous levels of chlorine, so let the water sit for a while before treating it and then drinking it. Once treated, store it in containers approved for that purpose.

Water purification tablets.
Water purification tablets are inexpensive and indispensable.

If a disaster-type scenario happens, it will change everything: No more long showers. No more going to the kitchen faucet to get a glass of water.

We will be transported back 100 years. How we deal with this situation will dictate if we survive or not. I hope that it never happens, but you must be prepared in case it ever does.

Water Containers

All containers are not the same. Some containers are not made for storing water because of the material they are made from. Clear-plastic gallon jugs are fine for collection, but they aren’t the best for storage, because they allow light to penetrate the bottle and thus speed up the stagnation process.

plastic water containers

In my home, I use storage containers made by Reliance of Canada. They are BPA free (the harmful chemical found in some other plastic containers) and are made from foodgrade, high-impact polyethylene.


Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the February 2017 print issue of American Survival Guide.