Where to Find Water in the City


One of the conveniences of modern life is running water. The fact that we don’t have to worry about hauling water from the well has changed life considerably from that of our ancestors. More than anything, it allows us to bathe much more regularly, not worry about how much water it takes to wash our clothes and dishes, and it allows us to have green lawns.

The average American family of four uses over 300 gallons of water per day, according to the EPA. Of that, over 70% is used indoors. That would be a lot of water if we had to pump it by hand or haul it from the well. It would be virtually impossible to accomplish manually. Fortunately, in a survival situation, we don’t really need all that water.

If we look at how we use that water, we can see a lot of room to save water in a survival situation where the city water is down.

  • 24% of it is used for flushing the toilet
  • 20% is used for baths and showers
  • 19% is used in the kitchen and bathroom sinks
  • 17% is used by the clothes washer
  • 12% is lost due to leaks
  • 8% is used for other uses

Most of that can be eliminated if we are in a survival situation and trying to ration water carefully. Most survival instructors will tell you that you need one gallon of clean water per person, per day to survive. But that’s just for drinking and cooking; it doesn’t cover everything we need; not even in a strict water rationing scheme.

Getting by with Minimal Water

The idea of rationing water is something that we will all need to get used to, if our city water supply goes down for any reason. For one thing, we don’t need to use clean drinking water for everything. We can reduce our clean water consumption considerably, if we only use it for drinking, cooking and final rinsing of our dishes.

The other way we can conserve water is by reusing it in what is known as “grey water recycling.” Grey water is the water that goes down the drain in our homes, from everywhere but the toilet. Since it is not biologically dangerous, it can be used for washing and gardening. Water from bathing can also be used to wash clothes. Water from the kitchen sink can be piped out to water the garden. These types of strategies can reduce our water consumption considerably, even though they would cause some modifications to our lifestyle.

Looking at that list of usage above, it’s easy to see several areas where a lot of water usage can be eliminated in a survival situation. For example, without running water, we won’t be flushing the toilet. Instead, we’ll either have to build an outhouse or use a five-gallon bucket toilet.

Bathing is possible with less than a gallon of water per person, per day. I’ve spent a considerable amount of time in countries where people bathed out of a bucket. A gallon or two of water is put in the bucket and a small plastic container, like a CoolWhip container, is used to scoop out the water and pour it over one’s body. You get wet, soap up and lather your hair and then rinse off, all with that small amount of water. I can do it with a half gallon of water, but women need more due to their longer hair.

Finding Water in Your Neighborhood

Should the city water go out, you’re still going to need water. Even if you are as careful as possible to restrict your water usage, you’ll probably go through five gallons of water per person, per day between drinking, cooking, washing and watering your vegetable garden. That’s not much by western standards, but it will seem like a lot when you have to haul it home.

The big question is where do you find that water?

  • The hot water heater in your home will hold 40 gallons or so. Just be sure to turn it off, so you don’t start a fire, then you can drain out the water through the drain valve
  • The piping in your home will have a few gallons more; you can access it by disconnecting the water feed line from a toilet on the ground floor or in the basement
  • The water in the tank of your toilet is safe, although that in the bowl should not be drunk under any circumstance
  • If you have a fountain, landscaping pond or swimming pool, you’ll have water there
  • Check a topographical map for rivers, streams, ponds, lakes and canals in your area. Those will be your best sources, as they will be renewable
  • Local swimming pools will have thousands of gallons
  • Commercial buildings will have water in the pipes, just like your home. You’ll need a silcock key to open those commercial hose bibs though
  • Fountains at commercial or government buildings often have hundreds of gallons, although it might be hard to find access to that water if it is in an underground tank

All of this water, except that which is in your pipes and hot water heater, should be purified before use. You can’t count on any of it being safe to drink, as that could be hazardous to your health.

It would be a good idea to create a map of all the local water sources you can find, showing where they are and if appropriate, how much water is there. Remember, others will be trying to get that water too. Make sure you have some means of hauling that water home as well, which doesn’t require gasoline. A garden wagon, wheelbarrow or hand truck will work, using five-gallon buckets to put the water in.

Harvesting Water at Home

Of course, your best option is to have some reliable source of water at home; some way that you can harvest it from nature. If you happen to be fortunate enough to have a stream on your property or have your home beside a lake, you are fortunate indeed, but most of us don’t have that option. Still, there are two good options for harvesting water from nature at your home.

Wells are the more common method. In most cases, drilling a well requires hiring a well drilling company, which is an expensive proposition. But in many parts of the country, there is groundwater within 20 feet of the surface, even though it isn’t the best ground water. This water can be accessed by putting in a driven well, using a well point; a process you can do yourself.

The driven well is smaller in diameter than a drilled well and the pump is on the surface. That limits its depth to the aforementioned 20 feet. For it to work, you have to find layer of sand within those 20 feet, as that is the easiest area to extract water from. While the water quality won’t be as good as water from a deeper well, it can be purified and used.

A second, less expensive option is to use rainwater capture, if you live in an area where there is a lot of rain. If your home already has gutters and downspouts in place, all you need to do is to cut off the downspouts and run them into rain barrels. Place the barrels on a stand and put a spigot near the bottom, so that you can easily access the water.