Urban Survival Tips – Finding Water in an Urban Environment

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While finding water in the wilderness has its difficulties, obtaining drinkable water in an urban area offers its own challenges. We have come to rely on fresh, clean drinking water being available with a simple turn of the tap. In a crisis, this may no longer be available. How do you find fresh water in an urban environment when the water tap is dry? Check out these urban survival tips to find and purify water.

Urban Survival Water: Emergency Water Sources

Even if the water is shut off, two immediate sources of clean drinking water are still available in your home.

Toilets – Tank Only

One source of clean drinking water is in the tank of the toilet. The toilet tank is the back of the toilet – the part of the commode that empties fresh water into the bowl to flush out waste.

First, check to make sure that there are no chemicals or toilet deodorizers in the actual tank. It there are, the water is not drinkable and you will need to find another source of water.

Never use water out of the toilet bowl itself. Even though your pets may consider the toilet bowl to be an additional water bowl for them, it is not a safe source for people. The water in the bowl can contain all sorts of bacteria and other pathogens and should be avoided at all costs.

Hot Water Heater

The second source of fresh water is in the hot water heater tank. Depending on the size of your hot water heater, it may hold up to 50 or more gallons of clean water. This water source is often overlooked, but it’s can keep you going for several days.

However, be careful when accessing the tank. Make sure the water is cool before proceeding.

Can You Drink Water From a Swimming Pool?

When thinking of a water source, a swimming pool may be the first thing to come to mind. However, it may not be your best choice.


Water from swimming pools can contain multiple chemicals, including algaecide and chlorine. Even a properly maintained pool can contain other contaminants such as algae and waste from birds and insects. But when you think about it, do you know of anyone who actually keeps a properly maintained pool?

While there are arguments on either side as to the usefulness of pool water as an urban survival water source, always exercise extreme caution before drinking pool water. While swallowing a little bit of water while swimming is one thing, depending on it as a major water source is another.

To stay on the safe side, always purify pool water before drinking it. You may wish to use several methods to ensure you get the cleanest water possible.

While filtering may remove some of the chemicals, a combination of filtering, boiling, and distilling may be required to purify the water and remove enough chemicals to make it drinkable.


Ponds, especially ponds in urban areas, may contain even higher levels of chemicals than swimming pools. They may absorb run-off from the surrounding area, including fertilizers and weed killers.

Another consideration is pesticides. They may have been treated to inhibit the spread of insects, such as mosquitos or other nuisances. Treat water from ponds the same as you would from any other questionable water source. Always purify it before drinking.


Scout your local area. Know the locations of any nearby lakes, rivers or streams. You may need to carry water from a distance. Even if the water seems to be clean, like the ponds mentioned above, you never know what other pollutants may be present. Always purify any water from any of these sources before drinking.

finding water when shtf

Urban Survival Water: Distillation

Simple Water Distillation

To distill water, take a container and place the water inside the container. Place a jar or bowl in the center. Turn the pot lid upside down and place on the container. Gently warm the water. As the water heats, it will condense on the pot lid and drip down into the jar or bowl. The resulting water in the bowl will be distilled and safe to drink.

This is an effective way to purify salt water and other questionable water sources.

Solar Condensation Still

If you are low on fuel, you can use a simple solar condensation still to distill water. This is a variation on an in the ground solar still, but can be used even if you don’t have a yard or you’re unable to dig into the ground.

Take a closable container, fill it halfway full of water leaving several inches of airspace. A clean plastic gallon jug will work fine.

Take a piece of tubing and attach it to the spout forming an airtight seal. Keep the tubing above the water level. Coil the hose to create a single downward facing loop, and then place the other end into a shorter container.

Set in a sunny spot for several hours. The water will distill and gradually fill the smaller container. A solar still can take a long time to work and requires fairly steady sunlight. If you need to provide water for several people, you’ll need to operate several stills at once.

simple solar still

Caution: Avoid Car Radiators

Never attempt to drink water from a car radiator. Even attempts at purifying this water may not work due to the chemical makeup of the antifreeze. Antifreeze is poisonous. Seek a safer form of water.

Keep in mind that even in an urban environment, you still have access to natural water sources. Many of the techniques used to gather and collect water in the wild are still useful in an urban environment. From gathering rainwater and dew to tapping trees or using transpiration bags, keeping an open mind to all of your options will help you to gather water even in the suburbs.

Don’t rely on access to tap water during an emergency or crisis. Create your own supply of emergency water. Estimate at least a gallon a day per person for at least a full week’s supply. If ever in doubt as to the quality of any water source, err on the side of caution and be prepared to purify any additional water supplies as needed.

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