Saturday, October 16, 2010


"Mandrake, have you ever seen a Commie drink a glass of water?"
All the time we talk of guns and ammo, of favorite toys and bug-out vehicles, of food and foraging. There is one thing, however, much more important than all of the above which gets completely overlooked far too often. Water.
The survival “Rule of Three” notes that you can survive only three minutes without air, three days without water, and three months without food. So, obviously, if you’re breathing, you’d best find some water next.
Giardia is the most common problem affecting natural water sources. Giardia is a one-celled little protozoa critter which, in cyst form, can live in even cold water for two months. It apparently passes right on through beavers and cows, both of whom love nothing more than crapping in the water, and the affliction is often known as “Beaver Fever”. The cyst enables it to get through your digestive juices and into the intestines, where the little varmint starts to reproduce faster than fictitious Al Franken voters.
This results in stomach cramps, sulfurous belching, and, most famously, the ability to shit through a screen door at twenty paces. In addition to all this, it dangerously dehydrates you when you need to stay hydrated the most. The best course of action is to avoid getting it in the first place.
I am blessed to live where I do, but even in Big Sky country the days of just laying down on your belly and lapping out of what seems like a crystal clear stream are gone in many areas. Grazing allotments can be found all over the National Forests, and cows in some of the damnedest places. Where there be cows there be Guardia. Cows’ brains, for the most part, exhibit slightly less intelligence than a vegetable, so it must be instinct that makes them travel up to 25 miles just to take a shit in a stream. Once, I came around a corner in the trail in the wilderness to see an old cow poke squatting over the creek taking a dump in it. Food for thought. As cowboy wisdom always said, “Don’t camp downstream of the herd.”
Way up in the mountain forests in clear, fast-flowing streams as well as in just about any source above timberline where the billy goats screw the eagles, the water is good, at least in my experience. Not to mention nice and cold and refreshing, much of it coming from snow melt even in the summer. If I can find a spring where it comes out of the ground, I drink freely from it, too, and fill the canteens or Camel Back. Thus far, I’ve suffered no ill effects. Sometimes, in the wide open sagebrush country, I drink frequently from stock tanks. From the inlet pipe, of course, not from the water in the tank itself. When I spent a few summers in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness we would just paddle out in the middle of the lake and dip our water right out of it, again with no problems.
Some people speculate that long exposure to treated city drinking water has weakened the body’s natural immunity to such things as giardia. Sounds reasonable to me. Supposedly, constant use of hand sanitizer and anti-bacterial soap weakens the immune system as well. You actually have your own bacteria, which are essential to life.
Perhaps I’m a little too careful. One of our local boys has been drinking out of the main creek in the valley all his life with no ill effects, and the stream has been chock full of cattle and beavers since forever. OTOH, somewhere between a quarter and a third of people seem to be immune to giardia. I haven’t felt the need to drink out of cow pies or beaver lodges to see if I am included in that group.
There are public wells in our neck of the woods at campgrounds and other sites, old hand-pumps, which become contaminated, especially in times of high water. They are tested on a monthly basis. When the samples come up positive for coliforms or fecal, the well is closed, sterilized and then flushed. In the meantime, I’ve been drinking the hell out of the supposedly contaminated water, as has everyone else, with no problems. Additionally, quite a few farm and ranch wells produce water that doesn’t meet government safety standards, but people have been drinking the stuff for generations.
Most methods of obtaining drinking water found in the survival manuals are for truly desperate situations and provide just enough water…maybe…to survive. Case in point is the solar still, which uses the sun and green vegetation to condense water. It can indeed provide water, but in small amounts, barely enough for an individual, let alone a group of people.
Here’s another cool survival tip if you get really desperate: “The fluid content in the stomachs of animals is safe, and, despite its taste, is a nutritious substitute for water.” Mmmmm. Belly up to the bar, boys.
In this day and age, there’s no reason not to have a good water filter. Many years ago, such filters were a high dollar item used mainly by expeditions and “rich” folks. Now they are readily available at relatively inexpensive prices. I am partial to the Katadyns; I have two, one of them, the Hiker, for about fifteen years now. I also have the Mini and, although it’s worked fine the few times I’ve used it, I sometimes have trouble priming it and it just “feels” flimsy to me.
Katadyns sure do a great job, though. Once, while building fence on a hot day and with no alternative, we used a filter on a trickle of a stream that was about 40% cow shit. The water even smelled like dung even after filtering. But we drank it and never had a problem.
When it comes to large amounts of water being produced, such as for a whole camp, you will find pumping away at such filters tedious and time-consuming. For a group of people in a semi-permanent camp or retreat home, it’s very, very hard to beat the Berkey. You just pour the water in and walk away. Gravity does the rest, and the various models filter up to 26 gallons per hour. The Berkey also has the added advantage of filtering out not just bacteria, parasites, etc. but other icky stuff like herbicides, pesticides, radon 222 (whatever the hell that is), and political campaign promises. They even have a compact lightweight Travel Berkey now. Of course, it’s still not something a squad traveling light can really take on an extended patrol afoot.
Iodine has long been used as a water purification treatment. The normal iodine tablets can be found in just about any outdoors store. A cheaper alternative is to simply use the 2% tincture of iodine you get at the drug store for treating minor cuts, at a rate of 8 drops per quart of water and a fifteen minute wait. Once opened, however, iodine quickly loses its potency.
The coolest thing I know of for a handy, small, convenient, and long-lasting method of water purification is resublimed iodine crystals. A small pinch of these crystals, 4-8 grams, in a small one-ounce glass bottle, can be used practically forever. Fill the bottle with the crystals with water, hold it in your hand to warm it up, shaking occasionally, until the water is saturated. Then pour the treated water into a one-quart canteen and wait at least fifteen minutes. You can use it as an individual water purifier practically indefinitely.
The biggest problem with this method is finding USP-grade resublimed iodine crystals. In this day and age, when litigation has replaced baseball as the national pastime, companies are afraid to sell the stuff as if you eat a bunch of crystals you wind up assuming room temperature. Somehow the DEA is involved too. But where there’s a will there’s a way, and the Internet sure helps in the search. Here’s a source I found for a very awesome adaptation of this principle. This is one cool set-up.

Systems like this and purification tablets are why I carry two canteens, a one-quart and a two-quart. I keep treating the one-quart canteen and pouring it into the two-quart to keep it filled. If each person in the groups carries one of these little gems, drinking water will be plentiful for each individual, but still hardly sufficient for the camp needs of a large group.
So while the water problem can be solved fairly easily for the individual, it can still be a big pain in the ass for groups of people, especially those who can’t call in a helicopter with a pallet of bottled water. Some techniques used by armies of the past offer ideas and techniques useful in producing larger amounts of water, enough to serve the needs of the individual troopers as well as the camps.
Outfitter/guides of the equestrian variety are some of the last few people left in the country who still know how to care for fairly large groups of people out in the boondocks. One of them taught me a pretty neat trick for filtering water. He hangs a 3-gallon plastic “camp shower” on a tree and, with extra tubing, runs it down to the inlet of of the filter. Extra tubing leads from the outlet to another water container, at a level still lower than the filter. Prime the filter to get it started and walk away. Gravity takes care of the rest. When you come back in 20 or 30 minutes, you should have 3 gallons of filtered drinking water. Pretty slick, hunh? The following is taken from The Manual of Military Hygiene, found HERE, with a few comments thrown in.

Heat is the most certain and effective of purifying agents and the surest means of obtaining sterile water. Boiling destroys all pathogenic germs; it also removes the temporary hardness of water by precipitating the carbonates. It does not decompose organic matter, no destroy its odor or color, but renders it less putrescible. An objection of boiling drinking water is that its gases are driven out, leaving it flat and unpalatable. But boiling is not necessary for the practical sterilization of water. A temperature of 165-degrees F, maintained for ten minutes, is sufficient for the destruction of all ordinary pathogenic bacteria; thus less fuel and time are required; less gas is lost and the more rapidly is the water cooled down. Water purified by boiling should always be thoroughly aerated after cooling, by dipping and pouring from a height, decanting from one kettle to another or blowing air directly into it.
In the field, the campfire can generally be resorted to, in the absence of special apparatus, provided suitable kettles are available. The water should be sterilized in the evening, properly aerated and the canteens filled directly afterward so that it may be quite cold in the morning. This primitive method of sterilization, although often necessary, is seldom satisfactory.
[This is indeed a slow and time-consuming method, even for individuals. In a base camp, someone would have pretty much a full time job just boiling water with ordinary cook kits. Melting snow is even more of a pain. It takes a large volume of snow to make a small volume of water, and the process is even slower than boiling raw water as above. Particularly dry snow can even allow the bottom of the pot to scorch before enough water melts out to prevent it. As always, don’t eat the yellow snow. There’s also this pink shit on old snow that has to be avoided. Even when snow is plentiful, you’re better off boiling open water or ice instead. I’ve drunk snow melt water in the mountains from directly below snow packs for a long time with no troubles. I also carry, part of the year, an old metal USGI canteen so that if the water in it freezes I can apply heat to thaw it out. Try that with a plastic canteen, eh.]
Chloride of lime (chlorinated lime of bleaching powder) is one of the most effective agents in water purification and now extensively employed for this purpose in connection with filtration or (where the water is reasonably clear) independently of it. It consists of about equal amounts of calcium chloride and calcium hypochlorite, the proportion of available chlorine averaging about 35 per cent. When added to water, the calcium chloride remains inert; the hypochlorite, acted up by the CO2 in the water, splits into calcium carbonate and hypochlorous acid. This acid which is exceedingly unstable breaks up, it chlorine combining with the hydrogen of the water to form hydrochloric acid while its oxygen is liberated. The hydrochloric acid decomposes the carbonates of the water and becomes reduced to calcium chloride. It is to the oxygen thus liberated in an atomic or nascent state that the strong sterilizing action of hypochlorites is due. As ordinarily used their effects are: destruction of most non-spore bearing bacteria, oxidation of organic matter proportional to the amount of chemical employed, partial removal of color as well as more or less complete removal of any swampy taste and odor. On the other hand, there is a slight increase in total hardness and total solids. Unless used in excessive doses the changes in physical and chemical characteristics of the water are barely noticeable; free chlorine, as a rule, cannot be detected, and any imparted taste or odor is quickly dissipated by agitation of the water.
Of all chemical methods of water purification, that by chloride of lime is the cheapest and one of the most efficient; it is also one of the most readily adapted to the needs of troops in the field. For a small party of men, the following simple device is recommended: a teaspoonful of chloride, leveled off by rolling a pencil over it, is rubbed up in a cup of water, and a teaspoonful of this dilution is added to a two-gallon pailful of the raw water, mixing it thoroughly. This will give four or five parts of chlorine in a million parts of water and will destroy all pathogenic bacteria without leaving any taste or odor.
Potassium permanganate has long been used as a water purifier and yields fairly good results. A sufficient quantity must be added to the water to impart a faint pink tinge which should persist for half an hour. From 5 to 10 centigrams to a liter (about a grain to the quart) is required in average water to oxidize and destroy the organic matter and bacteria, but its action is very slow and somewhat uncertain. Vaillard, however, declared that in water previously clarified, 2 to 4 centigrams to a liter will destroy, in 30 to 40 minutes, all pathogenic and sporeless bacteria. After using permanganate it is will to fitler the water to get rid of the brownish precipitate of manganese oxide, although probably innocuous. The water often retains an unpleasant taste.
In the Lambert process, manganese sulphate, aluminum sulphate and an alkaline carbonate are added to the permanganate, so that the water is clarified as well as sterilized.
The first example is from the current US Army Survival Manual FM21-76.

To make a filtering system, place several centimeters or layers of filtering material such as sand, crushed rock, charcoal, or cloth in bamboo, a hollow log, or an article of clothing. Remove the odor from water by adding charcoal from your fire. Let the water stand for 45 minutes before drinking it.
The rest is from the old school Military Hygiene Manual sourced above.
In camps, filters for the clarification of water can be readily improvised if sand be available, and a certain degree of purification can likewise be obtained. But, on the other hand, it must be remembered that such filters, unless they can be washed or sterilized, may soon become infected and that clarification may be obtained at the expense of purification.
Hard, clean sand is the best material for improvised filtration. If sand be placed over pebbles and coarse gravel in a barrel, we have the usual sand filter on a small scale; through the perforated bottom the filtered water is discharged into another barrel or can. If the water is turbid, it should first be treated with alum, 2 or 3 grains to the gallon. In the absence of sand, this treatment by alum may be sufficient of itself, but with water more likely to be contaminated with sewage, it should be followed by boiling.
If a hogshead and a barrel are available, the latter, with perforated bottom, is placed inside the former upon a bed of coarse gravel or pebbles and the interspace filled with gravel and sand; [charcoal is another ingredient often used in expedient field water filters] the water is gently poured or sprinkled over the sand and, after filtration, rises up to its level in the barrel. (Fig. 62.) The upper layer of sand should be frequently scraped out and washed or replaced by fresh, clean sand.

Another expedient is to dig a pit at a distance of a few feet from the river’s edge, where the bank is sandy, and let the water percolate through the intervening sand into it; or, again, a trench may be dug connecting the river with the pit, then boxed and filled with sand.
The so-called “Venetian cistern” can also be readily improvised in certain situations. It consists (Fig. 63) of a pit with sloping walls of clay (D) lined with cement (C), and of a circular wall of clay, likewise cemented, in the center; the interval is filled with clean sand (B) and receives the raw water (A) which, after filtering through, passes into the central well (E).

FIG. 63.—Venetian cistern.
In certain arid regions where cactus plants are common, the leaves (or rather joints) of these plants, cut up and crushed, are quite useful to clarify water in the absence of alum. They contain and abundant mucilaginous juice which, like alum, causes the very fine silt suspended in the water to coalesce into larger and heavier particles which precipitate, carrying down with them a large proportion of the micro-organisms.
So there you have it. No wonder the Germans drink beer and the French drink wine instead;) These are just some ideas for getting enough water for your group, to prime your intellectual pump as it were. I have not personally tried some of the latter methods, but the information cannot hurt if a crisis does arise.
We Americans take water too much for granted, especially when you consider that a single EMP bomb detonated in orbit could bring our entire infrastructure to a crashing halt.
There go our “precious bodily fluids”. General Ripper is starting to look sane these days.

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