“Never steal anything small” has always been considered good advice in some circles. A New Jersey businessman followed that rule, sort of. He has admitted taking part in a conspiracy to steal $100,000 worth of water from Jersey City’s utilities authority.
Over a five-year period, Nicholas Vene, 43, a Holmdel, New Jersey, resident, and others diverted water flowing through a Jersey City pipe away from a meter that would have tracked the usage. The diversion resulted in a false, underreported usage calculation. The fraud amounted to at least $100,000.
Now, water may not be the most valuable commodity in the world, but it could well be the most essential. Humans in reasonable health can go for long periods of time without food if forced to. At the ripe old age of 74, a frail Mahatma Gandhi was able to fast for 21 days with nothing more than an occasional sip of water to sustain him.
We can last a lot longer without food than we can when deprived of water. A healthy person might make it five or six days at the most.
Quick rising shortages
Yet water just isn’t something we think about very much in terms of criminal behavior or desperate measures; we turn on the tap, and there it is. But after a disaster hits, that’s often not the case. Without electricity to pump it from aquifers, wells and municipal systems, water shortages can arise almost immediately, quickly making it evident how critical it is.
Fortunately, there are sources of water inside and outside your home that you may not immediately think of in an emergency. A typical water heater holds from 30 to 60 gallons, for instance, and with no electricity, you won’t be using it for bathing. Make sure the power is off, or if it’s a gas heater, the main valve. Allow it to cool, then attach a hose to the drain valve and drain the water into clean containers, adding 8 drops of bleach per gallon in each one to kill any wayward bacteria. Let it stand for at least 30 minutes before using.
Even the water in your toilet tank (NOT the bowl) can be used, if you can get past the yuck factor. Don’t forget the bleach, and use the water for washing, not drinking. Another good source of clean water is the ice in your refrigerator’s ice cube maker or trays. If you’re on city water and you shut off your main valve as soon as the water goes off, you can salvage what remains in your pipes by opening a faucet at the lowest level of your home and filling as many containers as possible.
Swimming pool water
Finding water outside your home will depend on where and how you live. If you’re a gardener who collects water in rain barrels, you already have a solution. Even if you don’t, placing large containers under downspouts when it rains will buy you some time. People with swimming pools can use that water for bathing and washing, although it can’t safely be used for drinking unless it’s distilled first.
Fast-moving streams are the best sources of water in the wild, although it can still contain parasites. Boiling is the best way to kill them and sterilize the water, but it doesn’t remove impurities. For that you’ll need bleach or water purification tablets, which you can get at sporting goods stores and outfitters, and a cloth or paper towel to strain the water into a clean container.
If you’re still not convinced your water is drinkable, you can build a simple filter. The key ingredient is charcoal, and if you don’t have any on hand, you can make some by burning wood and removing it from the fire when it turns black. Crush the charcoal into a fine powder with a rock or hammer. Cut the bottom off a two-liter soda bottle, turn it upside down and put a layer of regular coffee filters above the lower opening. You can use cheesecloth or cotton if you don’t drink coffee. Put a layer of sand or soil on top of that, then a layer of charcoal, then another layer of sand. Top it off with a final layer of coffee filters or alternatives, set the bottle on a clean glass or other container, and pour water in the top. In a few minutes, you’ll have clean, drinkable water.