Adapting to Life Without Running Water: Lessons from Venezuela
by J. G. Martinez D.
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!.
About the Author
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. paypal.me/JoseM151