Water Storage: An Example of Resiliency Building

On Tuesday, January 12, 2010, the headline "Magnitude 7.0 earthquake shakes Haiti" hit the news. The images of the devastation from this single event (and the aftershocks) were sobering, in the least, and the reccurring theme that impacted me most was the masses of Haitians who were desperate for water.

The basic ingredient of life was being sought after and fought over. Access to clean potable water was now a matter of life and death for so many. 

One particular Sunday paper headline and photo shook me for days. I kept this article taped up in my basement as a reminder of why it’s so important to have emergency water available. With it in mind, I decided to design a self-contained system that would allow me to provide water to my family for a minimum of 5 days and many more in a pinch. 

I estimated that my family of four used about 80 gallons of water per day during normal everyday usage. This seemed high when I calculated it, but my actual measurements show that about 75 gallons per day is "normal" for my family.

It is a startling amount of water, especially when you consider that the minimum to survive is about 2 gallons per person per day for hydration and basic sanitation (dependent on many factors). We do have low-flow everything and high-efficiency washers, but it all adds up. So 80 gallons per day is our baseline of needs. 

I decided that a system that tapped into the existing plumbing would be ideal, as it would allow for easy, quick sanitation and a sense of security during an extended power outage. For simplicity and cost, a plastic FDA-approved tank would be used.

For the capacity that I wanted, one single unit wouldn't fit through my basement door, and I had to go with two smaller tanks. Two tanks would also provide redundancy if any trouble occurred with one. I settled on two 200-gallon tanks from tankdepot.com.

Component 1:

two 200-gallon FDA-approved vertical storage tanks

Subtotal:          $339.98
Shipping:         $143.28

Total:               $483.26

When the tanks arrived, I cleaned them out and promptly filled them. The project was put on hold for a few months while other things demanded my attention and dollars (firewood and a decent, used commuter car). While this pause was suboptimal, I rested easy knowing that at least I now had sufficient potable water in my basement.

I endlessly researched the various "surface pumps" that would pump the water out of the holding tanks and into my regular plumbing pressure tank. I considered Dankoff pumps, but their $700 price tag, when you add the required accessories, made me balk. These pumps are very high-end, but interestingly are very susceptible to damage from dry pumping and particulates.

I decided that the Shurflo series pumps were durable, easily repairable, and reasonably priced. I opted for their "Premium 12V" model, which includes their high volume pump and a motor heat sink for allowable continuous use. If doing this project again, I would not spend the extra for the heat sink, as the pump never runs for more than 5 minutes at a time when coupled with a pressure tank.

I also bought a strainer that prevents large debris from getting into the pump.

Component 2:

Shurflo Premium 12V DC surface pump and strainer

Subtotal           $180.06
Shipping          $16.73

Total                $196.79

The day the pump arrived via "happy brown truck," I set to work upon getting home. I had done some of the plumbing in advance so that I could do the final work and pressurize the system that night. After working for a couple of hours, I got the system assembled and was able to take a shower without "grid power" (I used my small PV system and inverter to run our on-demand propane heater).

Component 3:

Various 3/4 brass components and nylon hose

Total:  $95

Component 1: $483.26
Component 2: $196.79
Component 3: $95.00

Total System Cost:   $775


The System in Action
Nuts and Bolts:

The pump is at the heart of the system. Its black and red wires are connected to 10-2 wire that runs over to a small PV system, providing it with 12V DC. The hose out of the left of the pump is the pressure side and feeds the house plumbing system. The hose out of the right of the pump is the source side and pulls water from either or both storage tanks depending on the position of each tank's valve.

Currently my approach is to keep one tank full at all times and cycle between the two to ensure fresh water in each tank.

The hose coming out of the left tank and going to the brass manifold under the blue tank is for filling the storage tanks from the well pump. The red, round-handled valve, obscured by a hose, is only opened when the tanks need to be filled.

For normal grid power use, the tanks are closed (as in this picture), the pump is not electrified, and the well pump does its job to pump the water into the pressure tank. In the event of a power outage, or when I just want to exercise the system and cycle the water, I turn off the well pump, open a tank output valve, and turn on the 12V pump. The 12V pump has a built-in check valve (preventing pressure from going back into the holding tanks). The 12V pump also has a built in adjustable pressure switch, which turns the pump on when the pressure drops below the set point.

For the first two days of use, I ran exclusively off tanks in "off grid" mode. There were a couple of glitches when I left a valve in the wrong position, or where before running the 10-2 wire, I had to move the battery back and forth between the PV system and the pump. Except for the grumbling from the basement when the pump ran, there was no other indication that we were using water from storage instead of from the well pump.

Building this water resiliency into my family's lives took a great deal of thought, time, and resources to be fully operational and ready to go, but it has given me much peace of mind to know that we will be covered in times of emergency or extended power outages. The wake-up call of the Haitian disaster really helped focus my efforts, and building this system in stages made the end goal that much more solid and effective. 

I hope this summary of my experience gives you inspiration to build your own water storage setup and give your family the resources they need to weather any storms that come their way. 

~ Joey Casas 

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://peakprosperity.com/water-storage-an-example-of-resiliency-building-2/

I have been kicking this project around for awhile, but wasn’t sure how exactly I was going to do it.  I operate off of city water, and so I don’t have a pressure tank.  I have been trying to figure out how to get a storage system working on a two story house with no city pressure.  Now I know:  I will buy a single 295 gallon tank, a pressure tank, and a pump.  Voila!  Thank you so much for this practical information!

If I had a well I would install a small solar powered pump in the well to fill the storage tanks. Many ranchers use them to provide water for their cattle here in the southwest. They are quite reasonable considering the ability to have water over an extended period of time.


I estimated that my family of four used about 80 gallons of water per day during normal everyday usage. This seemed high when I calculated it, but my actual measurements show that about 75 gallons per day is "normal" for my family.
80 gpd isn't bad.  I've done water system evaluations in many communities in New England and found the average single family homes uses 120 to 150 gallons per day (gpd) average.  Metered usage varies a lot higher or lower for individual homes around this average of course.  In some communities where irrigation of lawns and gardens in summer is prevalent, I've seen average usage run 250 gpd per home.  



I confess to having adopted the ZPG theme in the 70s and read Malthusian literature over the years.  I intentionally stopped at two children.

Two books that bear on what follows are the Club of Rome sponsored "Limits to Growth" and "Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed."

If you haven’t read Collapse, the book reviewed instances of over population on islands as an example of what may happen globally if population is not controlled.  Haiti was mentioned, but earlier problems with Pacific Islands were covered in more detail.

Years ago, I flew over Haiti, returning from Bonaire and remember being blown away by the deforestation I observed.  When the earthquake hit Haiti and the news was spreading, I did the quick math to place Haiti in perspective of the Collapse book.  Easter Island suffered deforestation and population collapse when the population density reached about 180 people per square kilometer.  The US, by comparison, has a current density of around 32 people per square kilometer.

Haiti has a population density of 360 people per square kilometer.  If it weren’t for foreign aid and NGO support from the US, Haiti would have collapsed years ago.  It is an outlier when compared to Western civilizations.  The population density is far beyond sustainable limits.

What blows me away is that we, as a society, don’t talk about over population.  We talk about the impacts of over population, but not the primary cause.  The concept of ecological footprint has two components, population and lifestyle.  It goes something like this.  We can have a good sustainable lifestyle with somewhere between 2 to 4 billion people on Earth, depending on who you believe, or we can have a hard starvation sustainable lifestyle with 7 to 9 billion people again depending on who you listen to.


I’ve been planning to add water storage capacity, but outside.  My plan was to capture rain water from my roof and have it available to water my garden.  I’m about to retire so perhaps I’ll have time to move forward on that project.  Granted, I don’t expect retirement to be leisure and travel, but my primary career is coming to an end.


Good article.  It reminded me of an interesting report I heard about a while back and thought I’d share it here.
 Texas man makes H2O out of air

Terry LeBleu invented water generating machine


Congratulations on what looks like a deluxe system!
For those of us without "day jobs," there are much cheaper alternatives.

You can find a farmer who has "blue barrels" available. I pay $20 for 200 litres, $10 for 120 litres, and just $2 each for  nice 60 litre tanks that one person can lift. These had things like "teat dip" in them, which is basically a solution of detergent and iodine. Although they are not "FDA approved," I find a couple good thorough rinses makes them acceptable to me. "Teat dip" is probably pretty inocuous – beware of tanks that have had other chemicals in them.

The Shureflow pumps are nice – and expensive! Unfortunately, they are also mostly plastic, and I’ve had difficulties with ports stripping. Harbor Freight sells a 12 volt pump that is all metal, with stainless steel working parts, for about $30. Put that on a ~$20 pressure switch from Home Depot, and you have a Shureflow equivalent, only much sturdier. I’d immediately put on Anderson PowerPole connectors in the standard Amateur Radio Emergency Corps configuration, so you can quickly plug it into a variety of power sources.

Why use brass components with a plastic pump? You can get plastic fittings for 1/5th the cost of brass! On the other hand, if you’re going with a stainless pump, brass is the way to go for all the reasons you don’t want a plastic pump.

The nylon hose is good stuff, but you can use black poly tubing for 1/4 the cost, at no reduction in lifetime and only a slight reduction in flexibility. The best thing about the nylon is its transparency – you can see if you have a problem like air bubbles, indicating a loose fitting.

An additional expense (~$12) I’d recommend is putting unions on the pump. If you have to change the pump (or need to "borrow" it for another project), the nylon hose will most likely need to be slit to get it off the barbs, if your clamps were tight enough. With unions, it’s a very simple matter to change out the pump, without having to re-do the rest of your plumbing.

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I'd also add the following:
I suggest that RV supply catalogues and or RV sales are a great place to get 12VDC items.
I would consider using "Quest" fitting as they are self sealing and can be taken appart and reassembled by hand.  I use them on my Rev. Osm. (RO) water system and they are almost bullet proof, I have replaced a few tiny o-rings but those are easy to get and replace.
If you have bleach and a spa or hot tub that also can be used a great water supply container.
Another project that is very similar is to capture your "grey" water (sink and shower) and or your salty RO "waste" water, filter it and then use it to flush your toilet(s) instead of allowing it to run down the waste line…
As with any project, when in doubt, ask a professional plummer for a second opinion.