Adapting to Life Without Running Water: Lessons from Venezuela

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Without plenty of water, we can’t have a decent life quality. Most of us take for granted (especially city people) that water tap will be there forever. Just turn the handle, and you will have as much water as you want.

But do you need that much water? Are you really going to need a dishwashing machine all the days of your life?  I could afford a lovely, nice and shiny dishwasher, back there in the happy days. But being environmentally conscientious, and trying to invest the hard earned money wisely, I decided to buy and install a water tank instead and was one of the better choices I have made. Oh, and we instate the rule at home that everyone washes his/her dish immediately after eating. No exceptions (unless some guest was present, but this was infrequent). It is much easier to clean fat and rinse fresh residues than to do it the day after. Everyone knows this. And after the habit is prevalent, it is done.

Believe me when I tell you that running water you take for granted may not always be there.

Lack of water became a huge problem in Venezuela

One of the issues that impacted most deeply in our daily lives, as much as the power grid failures, was the lack of water. With temperatures the entire year over 30 degrees (86 degrees Fahrenheit), you see what I mean. The only way to bear the heat is showering often. I can withstand a lot of heat, having been born and bred down here…but sometimes it was just too much, and I would go to soak myself with the hose, shorts and t-shirt included, in my backyard, while working in my SUV, bike, front garden or some other project.

The heat and lack of water make for a deadly combination. I remember reading news about a teenager dying of dehydration in an enormous traffic congestion some years ago (one of those hurricanes alert that made everyone evacuate the entire area) and that was painful. It was something she could have survived. After that, I would not leave home on a long road trip without one or two gallons of drinkable water and an ice chest. Heat and not drinking enough water can easily mess you up if you are not careful.

This said, and having a small kid at home, our priority was to make sure we would have some way to cook (induction kitchen and a dual fuel camping stove) additionally to the propane kitchen. Propane these days is almost impossible to find without having the connections and cash in hand: the mafia has seized whatever basic need of the people has been possible, to charge incredible amounts of money. In an oil producing country, where thousands of millions of cubic feet of all kind of combustible gas is burned in the production facilities, this is highly indignant. But let’s keep elaborating about the water topic.

Traditional water filtration in Venezuela

Traditionally, in Venezuela (and other tropical countries) the water filtering was with a stone device called “Tinajero”. A large furniture, like a strong support made of wood, where a clay vessel on the floor, between the legs of the thing, would receive the water filtered from a stone recipient on top of the furniture, drop by drop. Usually, the stone pot would have a fern on it, with the roots in the water.

Please don’t ask me why the fern. I have always wondered this myself. LOL.

I heard that this would get the water much colder, but this has no scientific basis to me and I would not bet money on that. Perhaps someone put their fern there because of lack of a clay pot, and the result was that it looked nice enough, and it became sort of a custom.

I am sure that one day, one of those millennials will re-engineer the entire apparatus, and will try to sell it as the last invention, with a fancy name like…”Fern-filter” or something similar.

I have news for those hipsters trying to make money with this: it was already invented a couple of centuries ago. I should design one of these things myself, indeed…

This was used in other countries like Colombia, and it was a regular means of filtering water for decades, if not centuries. One of the inconveniences was that mosquito larvae and other undesirable parasites or bacteria could start to grow in the water; therefore, further boiling was needed. With modern techniques, though, like a UV purifier into the filtered water pot, it would be a very low tech (and cheap) way to filter drinking water. The filtering was very high quality, indeed; and the stone would provide some minerals too, making the water taste good despite being boiled. In some colonial-style houses, these tinajeros can be found, but of course, their purpose is no longer functional but decorative. However, when your fancy filter/purifier, nickel-plated, activated-coal-powered is fed by grid water…perhaps some poor people around there have one of these things in their living room, unused, and without understanding exactly how they work. Meanwhile, they’re looking for a way to buy bottled water because they do not know how to use it. It is not exactly rocket science, and, if you are in desperate need of filtered drinking water, this is better than no filter at all.

A small drop of chlorine (bleach?) without scent or a water purifier pill will take care of all the harmful bacteria, and that´s it. But as these are no longer available, boiling is the only option. Of course, you have to be aware that, after all the water has been filtered, the precious water on the lower clay pot has to be poured into a clean container for later consumption. Otherwise, nasty bugs would grow in that water.

Diseases generated by drinking contaminated water was very common in the times where these things were used, but it was mostly because of the lack of boiling. The filtering process was not fast: water had to go through several centimeters of stone, but that was not bad at all, as the water resulting was pretty clean of particles, and with some beneficial minerals dissolved.

Don’t get too fancy with your gear.

You don´t need a nice, shiny online, Bluetooth capable, ridiculously expensive filter. I am staying away from electrical devices for most of our needs. Just install a large tank, as large as you can afford it, pre-treat the water in it, and find some means to filter by gravity with stone filters. You will have to do your own research, depending on your particular needs that could be very different from what we have in the tropics.

Winters here won’t freeze my tanks but rainwater could leak inside and contaminate it, for instance, so I had to improvise with a sealant lid in my elevated tank. Mold was growing in the inner of the cap because of the sun being so strong that it would be enough light (that is why many of them are blue, to absorb as much light as possible). We painted ours with a black UV resistant paint, and now it is much warmer (great for a good relaxing shower).

However, I can tell you this, with all responsibility. No grid power means no water for most of us. And there are some areas that, under this collapse, don´t have grid power for days in a row. That leaves us without water and power for a couple of days, maybe more. One day with power, and two or even three days without. And when there is a collapse of the system, this means that it will be the norm instead of the exception.

Resizing the lifestyle and going back to the country to produce food, seems to be now a much attractive idea in Venezuela. However, predator class won´t allow this. Hungry people will band together and loot, steal and destroy whatever cannot be taken or eaten. The size of the herds that once were close to the level of Argentina or Brazil in quality, are decimated nowadays.

Too much water is as bad as too little.

There have been huge floods these last few weeks. The water excess is as bad as the drought, and we, as preppers must be pretty aware of this. The floods contaminate the drinkable sources with all kinds of nasty waste.

For those who can afford it (it is not that expensive, neither) living in places where floods are likely to be a threat, I would suggest fill in with treated water 4 or 5 one gallon jugs, close them tight, get them inside a 200 liters barrel, the cheapo kind, and seal the lid with PVC sealant or some other product. Then, secure it with a rope, if it is in a place where flooding can reach it. This way, the barrel will float, but the drinkable water will be safe. Trust me, people will need potable water after a flood.

Those modern high tech camping filters that extract mud, debris, trapping bacteria and such, and a portable stove, are more valuable than gold or platinum bars in those times. People in the Apure, Bolivar, and Amazonas states to the South of Venezuela, where the Orinoco River reached historical maximum flood levels, should know about this.

The ideal water set-up

My ideal setup is a moderate size, well located, cement facility. Plain gray, with a tall fence and far from the predator’s eyes. An angled roofing, with a channel running into a large rainwater reservoir. I like those that are just a hole in the ground covered with some layers of that special fabric, and a little research will allow you to use that product I mentioned in some of my other articles that avoid excessive evaporation and forms a monolayer in the water surface.

I am no expert on this, but have some chemistry knowledge, enough to suggest that the outtake piping should be in the bottom, to avoid sucking in the product that is engineered to remain in the surface of the water. Think of it like a sunscreen: a very thin layer, but it is enough to avoid the harmful radiations from getting to the skin.  A good idea is to retrofit a pump to an old bicycle, so you can pedal for a while and get some water out of the reservoir, to your settling tank. Chances are that there will be some sediments, and these should be removed of course. This settling tank should have a valve as close to the bottom as possible, directly to your garden or orchid irrigation feeding system, as this sediment can be useful.

No matter your age, pedaling will multiply your force, by using stronger muscles, instead of a regular well pump that needs to use the arms strength. Most of the not so young people can pedal, and it is a great exercise even for the few minutes needed to fill a tank. And it is more fun, too.

What are your water management solutions?

I hope you have now some additional tools and ideas for your personal needs on water management, based on our personal experience.

Please feel free to comment and a very special thanks for those who have been able to send your much-needed assistance! God bless you, fellows, and stay safe!.

Picture of J.G. Martinez D

J.G. Martinez D

About Jose Jose is an upper middle class professional. He is a former worker of the oil state company with a Bachelor’s degree from one of the best national Universities. He has a small 4 members family, plus two cats and a dog. An old but in good shape SUV, a good 150 square meters house in a nice neighborhood, in a small but (formerly) prosperous city with two middle size malls. Jose is a prepper and shares his eyewitness accounts and survival stories from the collapse of his beloved Venezuela. Thanks to your help Jose has gotten his family out of Venezuela. They are currently setting up a new life in another country. Follow Jose on YouTube and gain access to his exclusive content on Patreon. Donations:

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    • There are all sorts of ways to get water that aren’t related to water catchment, but before we rule it out, in a difficult situation, could you place catchment on the roof of the building? Or on balconies/patios?

      Aside from this, you may need to leave your home to acquire water. Start now figuring out where the nearby bodies of water are and how you will get the water you collect home. (It’s very heavy to carry, so think about a cart or a wagon.) Then, it’s essential that you have a good filtration system to make that water safe to drink.

      As much as I hate the phrase, “think outside the box.” Consider what’s available and how you can make use of it.

    • Dear Donald,

      Absolutely NOT. First, check how much of your condo you really use to store useless items. Dispose of those items you may not need. Second, there are special water containers for long term, and specially suited for small apartments. You just have to go to the proper place. Third, find one according to your needs. Installation should not be too difficult, as long as you have some access to the main income valve, that one that your plumber closes for doing some work. In some of the worst of the drought, we stored old soda bottles filled with drinking water underneath the kid’s beds, well closed to avoid dripping. Our home is not that big, and all of the space was already disposed of.

      You just have to use your creativity.
      For some additional ideas, keep reading. I am sure you will find in the future some that could be useful for your particular situation.
      Stay safe!

  • If you have heat, ie a small fire, then you can easily distill any water you need IF any water is available. As long as it does not contain known poisons / contaminants then you should be able to boil it off to clean it. If it’s fairly clean anyways, then boiling may be all you need to sterilize it.
    If the water is clean except for heebie jeebies living in it possibly then a capfull of bleach in a gallon or so will work to sterilize it as well if you don’t have heat.

    If you have electricity, then any dehumidifier will work to collect water. Simply turn the thing on and collect the runoff. If you are lucky enough to have air conditioning in your dwelling, the water run off from that can help in a pinch too. Don’t consider this water to be clean as it is, granted it was the water that was in the air which you’d breathe in anyways but you don’t know what was on the coils, or molds growing etc so sterilizing this is pretty much a must as well.

    Plastic sheets laid out on the ground with a bucket in the center can collect dew at night or rain during storms. Flat sheets of metal may work as well, like your car collects dew in the morning.

    Let me throw something odd out there. You can just as easily dehydrate yourself sitting in the air conditioning as you can blistering in the heat. You won’t realize the AC dehydration because you are comfortable, but it WILL get you the same and will cause you health issues too. Keeping yourself hydrated is a MUST. I did this to myself when I was sick. I would lay in bed with the AC blowing on me because it felt comfortable. I was not eating right and not really drinking water either. I just wanted to lay there in my haze and be miserable. Air from Air Conditioning is dry by nature, so a cool DRY breeze blowing across your aspirating body. Yep you will dry out just as badly as sweating it out in the sun. ALWAYS mind your water situation. Just because you are comfortable does NOT mean your bodily water condition is right.

    I’ll shut up now.

  • Mr. Martinez,
    Your article has helped me to discuss the topic of water storage on a higher intellectual level than before. People I know are pretty much convinced that water will still be available in the event of a grid failure. We have frequent power OUTAGES here, mainly from storm damage and rarely is it out for more than 24 hrs. “But, the water doesn’t go out”, they say. I then have to tell them the differences between a power outage and a grid failure. I especially emphasize the water won’t flow with a grid down scenario, because the electrically powered PUMP STATIONS will be down, too. The response is usually a blank stare, or some smart*** remark about my mother. Then, as my city is basically built on a major river, they talk about getting water from there. What they dont understand, is that river was formed to what it is now by a series of dams. HYDROELECTRIC dams. Built by a government agency to provide, along with interstate commerce, ELECTRICITY! Even if they have some type of failsafe system to keep them running, I’m quite sure there will be some type of federal authority stationed along side it, to keep civilians in check from “stealing” the water.
    That is when I bring up the crisis in Venezuela, among a few other countries. It seems that when they hear about countries in political turmoil, all they think about is rogue dictators who control all of the military and money. They don’t seem to understand the dire trickle down(no pun intended)effect of this, and the short(and long)term repercussions of all of this. People turning on each other, over something as simple and taken for granted as a cup of water. Thanks to you and your article, I think some are starting to get the idea that’s it’s not so simple any more. It has impacted me also. I’m in the process of adding to my water stores, and considering other purification methods. May the God of your understanding bless, guide, and direct you and your family. Peace.

    • Actually even in a grid down situation most towns and cities in the US will have water for a bit. This requires you to know the gravity of the situation. Pun intended. It’s all about those large water towers and water tanks set up on hill tops. They are your cities gravity fed emergency water supply. A large amount of high rise buildings also have tanks on the roof or near the top of the buildings. This is a limited supply, so if the SHTF fill of those bathtubs asap

    • Dear Danny,
      Thanks for your kind words!
      Don’t waste your time trying to make someone else understand our perspective.

      Those really interested (you will see with your own eyes that we are the 5% of the general population) in preserving the basic well-being for their families and themselves will approach you politely, and with lots of questions. Those will be the survivors.

      One of my former co-workers is still trying to sell his fancy tools (including a electric screwdriver!!!), a very luxury fridge and many other similar items just to buy the bus tickets and leave the country. They have already sold their car for a fraction of the original price because the gearbox was blown out. Go figure. I told him, when Uncle Hugo died, that perhaps I would have to go with my plan B, and use my reserves to find another job overseas and take my family out (there was not even food rationing yet! but I was afraid of a civil war unchained by those thugs killing each other looking for the chair) and he just laughed at me “Nothing is going to happen. You should stop to watch that many zombie movies”.

      I can’t laugh, but I regret now by not trying harder to make them see the threat as bad as I could foresee.

      Stay safe, and God bless you too and your beloveds.


  • IS there anyone on planet earth who understands how metals became so valueable??…GOLD was used to make suntan lotion,silver was used to keep water pure,a Hand full of SILVER coins would keep the water pure till it was used..think about it

  • Modern dish-washers use LESS water – and soap – than you need to wash the same amount of dishes by hand – even when the residue is dried and hard.
    But of course only works when you have electricity.

    • That’s good to know!. I honestly come from those years back when those devices were inefficient and incredibly expensive. However, these were intended to help to optimize time for those of us with a very busy life (specially women), and do something else while they worked. In the long run…our mother procreated wonderful organisms that learned to do their dish at age 8-9, so we could slowly learn chores that would be useful later in life. But to each own his own :).

      Truly, the money some people invest in these kind of apparatus (if you are young and healthy, why to spend money in something that sooner or later will need to be repaired or replaced?), perhaps would be much better used in something else, like a good filter perhaps. I have seen some models lately, with activated coal and with silver coats in the stones they use to provide some additional minerals and they are great. Even ornamental, too.

      If you ever calculate your power need, if you own lots of these kind of devices, you will need an additional home just for your nickel/iron batteries…that is my opinion.

  • The best dishwasher in the house (that saves lots of water) is the dog. She will lick the plates and pots clean so there is no debris to wash off.

  • There is another DIY water purification strategy worth mentioning. Along the US/Mexico border there are regions where the local water supply is very salty, and as is, undrinkable. For years the locals have been taught how to DIY build passive solar distillers from things like discarded sliding glass doors, PVC tubing, and pieces of wood to make a pool-table like structure that uses the glass door as a slanted top. Sharon Buydens was the head honcho for an El Paso solar energy organization to provide solutions and instruction for families for whom local politicians would not cooperate to help clean up local water. In 2015 she put her teaching into a book (for DIY people) that is available in BOTH Kindle and paperback formats on Amazon. This is the title:

    DIY: How to Build a Solar Water Distiller: Do It Yourself – Make a Solar Still to Purify H20 Without Electricity or Water Pressure, by Sharon Buydens, Sep 4, 2015

    There are a few similar examples on but her experience and excellent detail in her book are a lot better.

    Besides having a non-electric way (with zero on-going operating costs — except for occasional cleaning needs) to remove the salt from water supplies, that passive solar system will clean virtually every other kind of contamination … whether chemical, pharmaceutical, industrial, or even radiation. While the large pool-table size design is not very portable, there have been smaller versions made (with examples on YouTube) that would be easier to transport by vehicle if needed.

    I think there are few places in the world where such a passive solar distiller would not be a reasonable and viable option.


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