My One Week SHTF-Style Experiment to Cut Down Water Use

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by 1stMarineJarHead

Water (or should I say lack of water) has been in the news a lot recently, including on the OP. The Western United States is suffering a mega-drought while Brazil is experiencing the worst drought in almost a century. Droughts aren’t the only thing threatening our water supply. There was also a Florida water supply hack. 

So, I decided for one week I would do everything I could to reduce my personal water usage. Things like brushing my teeth, washing my hands, cooking, cleaning, etc. I used the following SHTF assumptions to enact a realistic event: 

  • It has NOT gone all MadMax-like. No, my senior citizen neighbors have not come over and shot the wife and me to take our things. No MZBs marauding the countryside, raping and pillaging. 
  • Likely no fuel. I will hang up the ATV keys and tend to the livestock manually. I have to hump water in two 5gal buckets out to them. Every. Day. That is about six buckets a day in total. ( FYI, a gallon of water weighs 8.33lbs. So a 5gal bucket weighs 41.65lbs. )
  • Walking the dog, hauling water to the livestock will simulate the amount of activity that will have to be done in a SHTF situation. It has got to get done, SHTF or not.

Before I give you the details of how my experiment went, here’s my personal experience with water shortages.

Courtesy of the USMC, I Have Been to Some Bloody Hot Places

In boot camp, water was the lifeblood of USMC Recruiting Depot, Paris Island (my beloved Island), South Carolina.  

When I vacationed (aka: deployed) to Afghanistan for a year, the country was experiencing a drought, more so than usual. An estimated quarter to half a million people left their homes searching for someplace with fresh water. We saw cholera outbreaks as too many people gathered around a single water source and some yahoo decided (or was ignorant) to defecate in that water source. A minor humanitarian crisis and IV hydration solutions prevented many people from dying. 

We had a few reports of villages going to war with neighboring towns over access to water. War as in AK-47s, PKM (medium machine guns), RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades). Those incidents were few and far between, but they did happen.  

Then We, On Base, Had a Minor Water Shortage

It seems some imbecile did a drone strike inside of Pakistan and did not have the courtesy of a heads up to the Pakistani government. In response, Pakistan shut down our use of their port to bring in supplies. Navy Sea Lift Command and Air Force Air Mobility Command had to scramble to re-route supplies in-country for two weeks.

Water rations were put in place. I got two 1.5L bottles of water for a sponge bath, and brush my teeth with, a day. The showers did not work. Some of the commodes and urinals did not work. The smell was, well, the smell.

How Important is Water to Humans?

We need water to maintain homeostasis. Our body needs it for almost every process, including:

  • regulating body temperature
  • aiding digestion
  • lubricating joints and spinal cord
  • removal of toxins
  • waste elimination
  • delivering oxygen throughout the body

Go three days without water, and our bodies begin to have adverse reactions. The onset of adverse reactions might be minimal, but things get interesting as days pass beyond three. No person is exempt. Some people are more susceptible than others, namely the very young or the very old. A general idea of how much water a person needs can be found here. Other factors that determine how much water one needs are: 

  • age
  • activity levels
  • overall health
  • bodily factors, such as height and weight
  • sex

On Average, How Much Water Do We Use?

We take water for granted. Turn on the faucet, and out it comes. Push the button, and the toilet flushes and refills. Pull the lever, and the shower starts. According to the EPA for the average American water consumption looks something like the chart below:In comparison to the current national average of how much I use while I can still turn the faucet on and out comes the water, my personal usage is about 23gal a day. (Assuming I shower daily, which I admit I don’t always do.)

Here are some tips for cleaning without running water.

You Turn the Faucet, and Nothing Comes Out, Then What?

Let’s say you have access to a running brook, about a half-mile away, over a hilly pasture (I have that too, watered the livestock from it before). You have to haul water, every day, from that source.

  • What amount of water could you carry?
  • How many trips would you have to take to meet your needs?
  • Would you be willing to make all those trips? On a hot day, temperatures in the 80, the 90s, or even triple digits, high humidity?  

What About Your Daily Personal Hygiene Routine?

When water suddenly becomes limited, those things we routinely do are seen in a different light. Take brushing your teeth, for example. Most people I know pre-rinse their brush, apply toothpaste, brush their teeth, and run the faucet while brushing. Some people pre-rinse, soap up, wash and then rinse again when washing their hands. 

If what water you do have is limited, would you still pre-rinse the toothbrush? What about after having a bowel movement? Would you still pre-rinse your hands, use soap, wash and then rinse again? Or forego the pre-rinsing of the hands? How about that shower (assuming you rigged up a gravity-like contraption)? Would you cut down shower time, or perhaps limit it to X amount of days per week?

Order of the Day: Sponge Bath

When I mentioned this experiment to the wife, she said, “That is a lot of you,” and opted out to participate. I cannot imagine why?

***See her “Smell-o-Factor” rating below. 

Here is my average daily water use: 

  • Drinking water: *6 glasses =2.4L
  • Toilet Sitting #1(1.1L): =4.4L
  • Toilet Sitting #2(1.6L): =3.2L
  • Teeth:=500mL
  • Hand washing:=**2L
  • Cooking:=3.75L
  • Dish washing:=3gal =11.35L
  • Sponge bath:1.5L
  • Total: 31.1L = 8.2gal + Laundry
  • Cloths/Laundry:1gal =3.7L per “load” x2 a week, 2gal =7.5L

As some of you may note, I could reduce another 4.4L of water by going outside to use the toilet. 

*Glasses of water, Monday and Tuesday during the “Heat Dome” (the upper 80s, 80% humidity), my intake was eight glasses. The rest of the week, a cold front rolled in with rain, so I was back to about four glasses a day.

**Hand washing: to some, this may seem excessive. It is an ingrained training from my medical and foodservice industry past.

Using Nature to My Advantage

As luck would have it, I experienced a Heat Dome during the week I conducted this experiment. The first two days were hot, humid, no rain. However, Tuesday night, the forecast showed rain/thunderstorms.

That afternoon I washed my clothes in a bucket with one cap full of Sea to Summit Concentrated multi-use wash. You can use it on your body (as I did both in Afghanistan and for this endeavor), wash dishes (as I did), and your clothes (as I did). On Tuesday, it did indeed rain. So, instead of using more of my water to rinse them, I hung them out for the rain to rinse the clothes. It worked! 

Note: My Amish neighbors do the same. 

Our house has two roof lines that meet, forming a valley. Rainwater is directed to the valley, and, like a downspout, we have a significant water runoff. On Friday, I put a bucket where the runoff hit the deck and used that to agitate and rinse my clothes. My clothing for the week was 2 each of the following

  • synthetic underwear
  • lightweight wool socks
  • synthetic pants
  • T-shirts.  

***According to the wife, the “Smell-o-Factor,” only after hauling water to the livestock and moving them did I smell like a gym locker. After sponge bathing, I had a mild Citronella smell.

What About Things Other Than Personal Use? 

But what of those other non-personal things? How much water do we use for that pound of hamburger? That chicken breast? A dozen eggs? Cucumbers, peppers, onions, potatoes? If there is no rain, I still have to water the plants and animals. Or risk starving.

Here is the breakdown of water I used on the livestock and gardens:

  • Livestock: 7.8gal
  • Gardens: 5gal

Note: We had three days of rain in which the livestock did not need as much water. The gardens required none, so the averages are lower. During the “Heat Dome,” the livestock required a total of 30gal and the gardens 12.5gal.

A bit of advice about the ubiquitous plastic 5gal bucket: The plastic hole where the wire handle goes in eventually will break, rendering the wire handle useless. It happened to me on Tuesday with one of the buckets. Get at a minimum 5mm accessory cord, or quarter-inch rope, about 4 feet long, and learn how to tie a Bottle Sling Knot. It is a lifesaver.

In case you missed it, here is my article: How to Tie the Gaff Topsail Halyard Bend/Hitch. I have a strange fascination with knots and ropework right up there with rutabagas and searching for the perfect meatball and air guns. 

Accept the Challenge!

In a SHTF situation, water will be even more critical. There are many ways to reduce your water usage and ways you could supplement water if needed. Learn more about water preparedness in Daisy’s book, The Prepper’s Water Survival Guide.

Are there bodies of water near you? Could you use something to haul the water to your home? What about filtration? Can you imagine only taking a daily sponge bath for an extended period?

Also, life will be a whole lot more physical (you will lose weight, get stronger, and may not have to be on particular Rx), sweaty, and smelly.

Are you truly prepared for a water emergency? Could you, here and now, give it a go yourself? Please do not take my word for it. Try it yourself for one week. Let’s talk about this in the comment section.

About 1stMarineJarHead

1stMarineJarHead is not only a former Marine, but also a former EMT-B, Wilderness EMT (courtesy of NOLS), and volunteer firefighter.

He currently resides in the great white (i.e. snowy) Northeast with his wife and dogs. He raises chickens, rabbits, goats, occasionally hogs, cows and sometimes ducks. He grows various veggies and has a weird fondness for rutabagas. He enjoys reading, writing, cooking from scratch, making charcuterie, target shooting, and is currently expanding his woodworking skills.

My One Week SHTF-Style Experiment to Cut Down Water Use

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