How to Prepare for Water Shortages While There's Still Time

Walking through the desert

Let's face it, we're going to run out of water. Scientists from practically every field have been predicting it for years. Global demand for water will outgrow our supply by 40 percent before the end of the decade. By 2050 or sooner, 5 billion people will face water shortages. That's going to include us.

It's already happening in some places.

My family got a little taste of the future last year when our water line broke. We went without running water for a week. Fortunately, we had enough stored water to get us through. It still wasn't easy.

Most Americans never think about where their water comes from. They use 2-3 times as much as the rest of the world, mostly on things like laundry and lawn care. They just assume it'll always be there.

What if it's not?

I've spent the last year trying to figure out what my family would do if we wound up in a disaster or long-term crisis where we didn't have access to drinking water. Here's what I've come up with:

You can harvest rain

Homesteaders can manage to get by fine by harvesting rain in barrels and cisterns, even in places like Arizona and Nevada.

It's not super easy to set up.

First, only certain types of roofing produce safe drinking water, like metal and slate. Asphalt shingles probably won't work. (I asked a rain harvesting expert.) You'll probably have to get a permit. You'll have to install a filtering system, and you'll have to change those filters on a regular basis. If you want running water, you'll need a pump and a connection to your plumbing system. It's all doable, but it takes time. It also takes money.

Some homesteaders build rain catchment systems on small cabins and tiny homes, with solar and hand pumps. You could build something like that. If you're just trying to stay alive and maintain basic hygiene, you don't exactly need running water. It's an option.

You can store water

Almost every prepper stores water. You can find all types of storage devices, but aqua-tainers are the most reliable. It's worth thinking about whether you want a bunch of water bottles, a couple of big storage barrels, or something somewhat portable. You might not love the idea of keeping hundreds of gallons of water in your house, ready to leak and spill.

Some companies will install what's called an in-line water tank. They're connected to your plumbing, so you're always cycling through. The best systems come with an opinion to disconnect once they're full. That way if there's some kind of disaster, contaminated water doesn't get into your tanks.

There's some downsides:

Obviously, stored water runs out. So it's only so useful in a long-term situation. Second, in-line water tanks cost a lot. We follow the basic guideline to keep 1-2 weeks of stored water.

That's it.

You can dig a well

Plenty of homesteaders will show you how to drill a shallow well. It's basically just a hole in the ground with a PVC pipe and a pump. You can always give it a shot. Maybe you'll get lucky. There's no guarantee you'll hit water, but the homesteaders all seem to do okay. Just like with rainwater, you'll need to filter it somehow, at least with a Lifestraw or a Berkey.

If you want a well hooked up to your plumbing, you'll need a permit. If you just want to dig holes in your backyard at the end of the world, I don't think anyone's going to stop you. Watch the videos first.

You can get a water generator

Several big companies have been rolling out atmospheric water generators over the last few years. They use the same basic technology as dehumidifiers to pull water vapor from the air and filter it for drinking. Some preppers talk about just filtering water from dehumidifiers. That's not exactly safe. Dehumidifiers leach all kinds of contaminants, and water filter companies don't guarantee they can catch them all. You're taking a big risk. Water generators coat their parts in food-grade materials, so there's no leaching.

Again, there's downsides.

Most atmospheric water generators you can buy require power to operate. Some use about as much as an air conditioner or a fridge. Many of them are compatible with solar energy systems. You can dig into the science behind these devices and make your own that uses much less electricity, but it's also probably going to generate less water.

You can make a solar still, etc.

Water evaporates from the ground all the time. You just have to catch it. That's the basic idea behind solar stills. Survivalists mostly use them to purify water, but they can also trap water vapor. That's also the basic idea behind transpiration, a process where you tie a bag around a bush or branch and catch the moisture evaporating off it. There's several different setups.

These methods can take a while to produce a few ounces of water, but that's a lot better than dying of thirst in four days. Plus, you can purify dirty water using this method. Evaporation leaves behind most germs and toxins, leaving you a few ounces of clean drinking water.

You can collect dew and fog

Legend has it that Bedouins use the cool underside of stones to collect morning dew. Darkling beetles survive in the Namib desert by using their own bodies to gather dew and fog and then drink it.

In South America, farmers have been building fog harvesters since the 1980s. The idea has spread to Morrocco. A large installation can gather thousands of liters of water every day, perfectly fine for drinking. A company called FogQuest has been scaling up the technology for villages across the region.

There's one big problem

Lots of researchers and nonprofits are working on ideas to address water scarcity. We can pull it out of the air. We can pull it out of the ocean and use the sun to distill it. Like always, the biggest problem lies in mindsets and behaviors. Corporations and CEOs want to define water as a commodity, not a human right. They want to profit off it. The average westerner wants to waste it. They don't understand what a precious resource it is.

They will.

You don't have to die of thirst

We wouldn't be in this mess if we respected water in the first place. That said, there's plenty of ways to get drinkable water, even in worst-case scenarios. Building fog catchers and rain harvesters would be a lot smarter than trying to truck or barge millions of gallons of water to the latest disaster site. You just have to think like a Bedouin.

Or a darkling beetle.

If you appreciate my work, consider becoming a paid subscriber (below) or buying me a coffee. Thank you to all the readers who support this site. It makes a big difference.

Great! You’ve successfully signed up.

Welcome back! You've successfully signed in.

You've successfully subscribed to OK Doomer.

Success! Check your email for magic link to sign-in.

Success! Your billing info has been updated.

Your billing was not updated.