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Sunday, January 30, 2011

Drinking Swimming Pool Water in an Emergency

It can be safe, but treat it first.

You may be surprised to discover how many residential swimming pools are in your neighborhood. Just for fun, open up Google Earth and zoom into your neighborhood and see how many there are around you. City dwellers probably won’t see many, but many parts of the country are dotted with pools.
According to the National Swimming Pool Foundation there are approximately 10 million Swimming Pools in the United States… about 6 million in-ground pools and 4 million above-ground pools based on percentages discovered in a pool marketing report from the year 2000.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau (2000) there are 105 million households in the United States.
So, on average, there is one swimming pool for every 10 households in America.
The average size in-ground swimming pool holds about 20,000 gallons of water.
The average size above-ground swimming pool holds about 10,000 gallons of water.
This works out to be about 160 billion gallons of water that is stored in swimming pools across America. That is 1,500 gallons of water for every household in America, theoretically enough water to sustain each household (a family of four) for 375 days.

Of course, there are some major problems with this way of thinking.
There aren’t many residential pools in the cities (not enough room), swimming pools are more concentrated in areas with hotter climate, and are more often found in areas where people can afford the luxury.
Nevertheless, as you can see, there is quite a resource of water available in many locations, enough to ‘get by’ during a disaster event that brings down the municipal water supply or a long term power outage that shuts down everything including all well-pumps.

Drinking swimming pool water can be safe, if you are smart about it and treat it properly.
Immediately after an event, and for a period of days, most all swimming pool water will be in fairly good condition. That is, the water will be fairly clean because of ongoing maintenance, treatment, and pool pump filtering, at least up until the disaster event.
Depending on the outdoor temperature, and time of year, after a few days the pool water will begin to deteriorate and begin to grow algae. This deterioration can be greatly minimized if the pool is immediately covered in some way. Some pool owners already have covers, but if you do not, a sufficient size tarp will work OK (a good prep to have).

The chlorine that is put in swimming pools to maintain sanitation from bacteria and other nasties, will break down fairly quickly when exposed to the UV rays in sunlight. Normally, a pool is kept at about 3 to 5 ppm chlorine (parts per million) and is checked often by using a swimming pool test kit.
During a situation when the pool pump will not operate (loss of electrical power), chlorine tablets floating around in their dispenser container will help to keep some level of chlorine in the pool. But without filtration and agitation, its effectiveness will be diminished. At some point the pool will begin to grow algae.
The FDA says that water is safe to drink with chlorine levels up to 4 ppm. A quick tap-water check here indicates that our municipal drinking water is 1 ppm, probably just enough to keep it safe from bacteria.
If using swimming pool water to drink, it is highly recommended to treat it prior to drinking. The best thing is to boil it for 1 minute. If the power is out, this becomes harder to do.
Even if you are going to boil the water, it will be best to filter it first with a quality drinking water filter, which will not only effectively remove bacteria and pathogens, but will make it taste better.
One of the highest quality drinking water filters I have found, is the Berkey water filter. I own one. Not saying that just because they are a sponsor of this site, but I really believe it (know it). I’ve used the Berkey for over a decade, and in fact it is used daily to filter our drinking water from tap – mainly to remove the chlorine and fluoride prior to drinking.
If the swimming pool is being used as an emergency water source during a disaster, and the water is becoming green with algae, this filter will remove it completely. I believe that a drinking water filter should be a mandatory preparedness item for anyone who is prepping.

Although I wouldn’t rely on a swimming pool as a backup source for drinking water (even if it is your neighbor that has one), it can be used as a drinking source if properly treated. After all, the human body will not survive more than several days without any source of water intake.
Note that there can be other chemicals in swimming pools besides chlorine, and I’m not necessarily advising that all swimming pools can be safe to drink from, although when you think about it, how many people and kids end up drinking the water anyway… when’s the last time you heard of someone keeling over because they drank water from their swimming pool…
So, if you have a swimming pool, and there is an unfortunate disaster taking down the municipal water supply, don’t be surprised if your neighbors start knocking on your door to ask if they can dip into your water source.

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