Alternative Strategies for a Disrupted Water Supply

What to Do When the Water Stops Running

Most all of us have gotten up one morning or another, turned on the faucet, and gotten a big, fat nothing coming out. It is annoying, but not usually a big deal because the water comes back on at some point, generally sooner rather than later. During times of extreme heat or extreme cold, many of us have had a nearby water main break, leaving us without water for eight hours or longer. But what if one day the water supply is interrupted for days, weeks, or even months? How would most of us manage without a steady supply of running water?

Everyone should keep enough bottled water on hand to meet drinking water needs for each person in their household if an emergency arises. But how much is enough? The minimum recommendations say that we should store at least one gallon of water per person and to keep a three day supply on hand at all times. If the climate is hot, water needs may be double that recommendation. This is just water for drinking – not for washing, flushing the toilet, watering the garden, or any livestock we may have.


Water tank and solar panels

Planning for Water for Your Livestock

Those folks who provide their own food by gardening intensively and raising livestock not only need to supply water for their families, they also need to plan on how to keep their plants and animals watered in the event of a disaster that disrupts the water supply for an extended amount of time. During the first day or two without running water, water can be found in places such as toilet tanks, water heaters, and swimming pools. But once these supplies are depleted, locating water will be an ongoing effort. In my area, if we are not in a drought, there may be a few places nearby where I can go to get water. But I cannot depend on those sources being available if and when I need them. And if these water sources are available, I certainly won’t be the only person needing the water who will be using them. I really do not want to have to fight another person to get water for myself and my household. I would much rather employ other means to get the water we will require.

Unless we plan ahead and get prepared beforehand, having enough water to take care of gardens and livestock in a lengthy water emergency is going to be very, very difficult. In some locations, it might actually be impossible.

With this in mind, here are some ideas you can get started on right away so that you will be prepared if problems do arise. And if the problem never happens, you will be using less water, conserving both resources and funds. The older my husband and I get, the more we have come to appreciate lowering our expenses as one of our tactics to live comfortably after retirement – and some of these ideas can help you lower your expenses too.

A Well with a Solar Powered Pump

Many folks living in rural areas are on well water, which is great because it is usually a reliable source of water – unless there is no electricity to operate the pump. In my research, I discovered that there are solar-powered well pumps which have been in use for around thirty years. Apparently, the availability of solar pumps is not common knowledge, even among people who have wells. I had a conversation with a well owner who told me that her family has a generator to run their well in case of a power outage. She was not aware that solar pumps even existed. If you are on a well, you may want to look into a solar powered pump now so that you have a measure of comfort in being able to access your water during an electric or water emergency. Owners of wells with solar pumps will be in a much better position than the rest of the population in a grid down situation because they will be able to provide water for their families, gardens, and animals. You may want to explore the option of digging a well and outfitting it with a solar pump as your first line of defense against a water emergency. This is the most costly option of all the strategies I found, but it’s also the option that offers the most reliable supply of water.

If you don’t have a well, then I recommend using the following four strategies listed below, either separately or together, to ensure that your plants and animals make it through a water interruption with the least amount of stress for them and you.

Simple Strategies to Keep the Water Flowing When Supply is Disrupted

An ancient way of collecting water is to construct a condensation trap. In ancient times, people dug a pit into which they placed some type of receptacle to catch water. They used branches angled down towards the receptacle to direct the dew and frost that gathered on the branches overnight into the catchment container. With the advent of plastic sheeting, we can now use plastic instead of branches for this purpose, which has the advantage of not allowing water to be misdirected as can happen with branches. This method of collecting water might help water some animals or a small garden but unless you have quite a few condensation traps set up, you are not going to get enough water. Detailed instructions for creating condensation traps are widely available on the internet.

Rainwater Collection

Rainwater collection is something everyone can do, whether they have a nice set up with gutters feeding into a storage tank or not. If you don’t have tanks or a rain barrel, you can collect water in various receptacles such as clean trash cans with lids or a swimming pool with a cover. Keeping the collected water in a covered container prevents mosquitoes from using your water as a breeding ground, and prevents evaporation of your precious water supply. If you don’t have gutters on your home, you can still make use of channels in your roof that divert water into a stream off the rooftop and arrange containers underneath that area to catch the rainwater. My roofer added two diverters that direct water quite nicely off the front of my roof, which makes it possible to catch the water in large basins and buckets during a rainfall.

Use Swales for Water Retention

In addition to collecting rainwater in whatever way you are able to catch it, you may also wish to consider creating swales to catch and keep rainwater in your garden. Swales are water-harvesting ditches, but unlike drainage ditches that cut across the contour of the land to speed water along, swales are built “on contour” to slow water down and sink it into the earth. Swales built on contour collect water and help to recharge groundwater tables, and they help to control erosion as well. You don’t need any special equipment to build a swale – all you need is a shovel, a pick, some stakes, and some muscle. There are many instructional videos on the internet that demonstrate how to layout and dig swales. Large swales have become very popular in many communities to direct and retain the flow of water. In a water emergency, neighborhood swales might be a place where you could obtain water for your garden and animals. Of course, this is something that you would need to build ahead of time, before the water supply is actually disrupted.

Dryland Farming

And finally, learning the principles of dryland farming will help every gardener use the least amount of water necessary and keep the moisture in the soil longer, which means less water will be needed. Using the least amount of water possible is very useful in a watering emergency. Tim Miller of Millberg Farms in Kyle, Texas is well-known in central Texas for his dryland farming. An article on Texas Young Farmers website shares many of Tim’s techniques, such as mulching heavily and making liberal use of rotting wood chips in his garden beds, along with rainwater collection. Another component of dryland farming is making use of drought-resistant, region-specific crops so that your garden or farm needs less water.

The good news is that there is a lot that we can do to survive a lengthy water supply disruption. The bad news is that advance preparations are pretty much required to take advantage of these techniques. There really is not a way to just “wing it” when it comes to keeping animals and gardens watered during a water outage. Getting prepared doesn’t necessarily mean a huge cash outlay but it will require planning, time, and effort to dig swales, set up condensation traps, catch rainwater, and create a drought-resistant dryland garden. In the area of the country where I live, we are in an El Nino, which means more rain. I would be foolish not to collect this rain while it is plentiful. If that is all I do to prepare, it will be a huge help in surviving a water interruption. If I do all this preparation and do not need it, I certainly will not regret it. My water bill will be reduced at the very least and at the most, my family and I will be able to sustain ourselves if the worst occurs.



• Making a Condensation Trap – http://www.ehow.com/how_11367791_make-condensation-trap.html
• Water Wells – http://www.totallyhomeimprovement.com/exterior/installing-home-water-well
• Solar Powered Well Pumps – http://www.ruralpowersystems.com/blog/10-reasons-to-install-a-solar-powered-well-pump-system-today/
• Texas Young Farmers/Tim Miller Dryland Farming – http://www.texasyoungfarmers.org/tim-miller-teaches-dry-gardening-all-around-excellence/
• Dryland Farming – http://www.thefreedictionary.com/dry+farming

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This post was written by Anthony Tamayo


  • Holly, there is actually something better than a solar powered pump and that is a Simple Pump. It will pressurize a well pump with a manual handle and will therefore work if there’s no electricity either. It’s so easy to use a woman can do it with no problem. Go to SimplePump (dot) com to read all about it.

    I plan on getting one for the well I just had dug for a house I’m building. I’ll have to wait until I can get the money up to do it for now. These pumps can go down beside a regular well pump and can be a DIY project. I asked about a discount (it never hurts to ask) and found out if you have two orders going to one address, you get a 10% discount and five orders to one address can get you 15% off. So if you can make it a neighborhood project, you can save yourself a lot of money. They run about $1,600 or so.

    Regular well drillers can install the pumps for you if you prefer. This was always one of my main concerns with being on a well – having no water if the electricity goes off for any length of time. We went through this in February of this year when a major storm went through our area snapping trees left and right. It looked like a tornado had gone through here and we were without water for 65 hours! Not fun.

    Our neighbors had a whole house generator and graciously invited us to come stay with them, only to realize that the well pump was not hooked up to it. They rectified that as soon as the power was restored, but that’s something everyone needs to check out beforehand. Get this set up NOW.

  • Yvonne Hansen says:

    I have the containers – city rebate type, 2 food grade, 1 pond type, 5 plastic 50 gal. trash type, 1 garden store purchase – and collect and store about 700 gals. of rainwater. What do I need to do to make this water drinkable?
    Marjorie, Watching you recently on Central Texas Garden w/ Tom Spencer was totally informative, and rewarding. Not to mention hearing the interviews on CoasttocoastAM from time to time where you have shared your learnings from tribes and groups as you travel far and wide. I have your original CD from way back when. Regards, Yvonne Hansen

  • jannadawn56 says:

    The link above for the “condensation trap” is incorrect. It goes to a site called “our past times”. A very different type of site, though.

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