Collecting Water in a Crisis? Let Me Count the Ways

We've all been taught the importance of storing water for an emergency. It's kind of a no-brainer, if you think about it.

We know our main water source could be cut off following a disaster. Such as the one occurring recently in East Palestine, Ohio. That's where 38 train cars derailed, including 11 carrying hazardous materials, threatening the quality of drinking water.

And we know we need water to survive. So, the more drinking water we have stored in a safe place, the better off we'll be.

But no matter how much water we store, we could run out eventually. That's why it's crucial to know both where you can find water and how to collect it. There's one more key component to this process ‚Äď filtering that water ‚Äď and I'll get to that at the end.¬†

In the meantime, let's look at ways to find and collect the water we will need to survive if an emergency halts our normal access to water. 

Collecting rainwater

First, it's important to know in advance exactly where water sources near you are located. This could be a stream, river, pond, creek or lake. 

But if rain is your only option for collecting water, there are ways to do that. Including developing a homemade system or purchasing a ready-made one. 

The most simple DIY way is to cut one of your drain pipes and divert it to a large barrel. Make sure to have several barrels available so you don't lose out during a heavy or extended rainfall. 

An elaborate system features underground rainwater collection tanks. This is costly but does have the advantage of allowing you to collect water covertly. 

Underground water still 

Another option for collecting water is creating an underground still. First, choose a location that gets plenty of sun during daylight hours. And that is in a low-lying area. 

Next, dig about 15 inches down. The sides of the hole should not be straight up and down. Rather, aim for a bowl shape.

Place your collection container in the center and cover the entire hole with plastic sheeting. Including the container.

Place a rock over the container and use other rocks to hold down the sides of the sheeting. Condensation will gather in your container. It might be difficult to collect more than one quart per day, but that's better than nothing.

Swimming pool & hot water heater

Yes, I know what kids do in pools. But if you have a pool used by your children or grandchildren, you may need to access that water for survival.

Drain water from the pool into your barrels and other containers. Due to chemicals and other impurities that might be in the water, filtering is a must.

Another place from which to collect water is inside your home. You may have as many as 30 to 60 gallons in your hot water heater. 

Most hot water heaters have a valve from which you can access the water. But you will need a hose or pump to make the collection easier.

Wells and cacti

If you don't already have a well on your property, you might consider installing one. This water could become contaminated by whatever problem is affecting the general water supply. But perhaps not as quickly.

Some of you live in Arizona or other states containing cacti. Some types can be a source for water in an emergency. But some are poisonous.

There is an art to gaining water from a cactus. I'd recommend doing an Internet search if this is an option for you.

Whatever you do, don't just hack away at it with a machete. You may wind up wasting what precious little water it contains.

Dew, transpiration bags & toilets

Early in the morning, tie one clean rag around each of your feet and walk through an area of grass where dew has not yet evaporated. Then squeeze the water from those rags into a bowl.

Another option is a transpiration bag. Tie a clear plastic bag around a branch with plenty of green leaves. Water should collect in it throughout the day. 

I was hesitant to mention this ninth and final one because of how gross it is. But desperate times call for desperate measures. 

Personally, I wouldn't touch water in a toilet bowl unless I absolutely had to. But the six or so gallons in a toilet tank are somewhat cleaner. 

5 more you can't do 

These next five methods of collecting water are impossible for the average person. I'm only mentioning them because I find them interesting.

One is catching fog. A large vertical mesh made of screen materials can intercept the droplet stream and collect it in a storage system.

A second is cloud seeding. This technology involves dispersing small particles into clouds. This has the potential of increasing the volume of water those clouds drop. 

A third is minimizing evaporation. This can be accomplished through a catchment area in a small reservoir of a cultivated area. 

A fourth is desalinating seawater. If this were easy and inexpensive to do, no one in the world would ever be thirsty. But they are making strides in this area.

A fifth is iceberg harvesting. Theoretically, it is possible to move an iceberg, although there are countless environmental concerns about it.


  • David M Peterson - March 05, 2023

    An interesting document with some real time suggestions. Some fit with where I live on a big lake. I thank you.

  • Jacqueline - March 05, 2023

    I already do rain barrel (adding another this summer) but I think I want to try the water still….Sounds intriguing.

    Thank you

Leave a comment

*Required Fields