Chapter 5 A - Water PDF  | Print |  E-mail



Dawna Sawatzky, MSPH, RN

There are many things in life that we enjoy, but could live without if need be. Water is not one of those. We need water to live. How much water we need depends to a certain extent upon what is happening to us at the time. On average, a healthy adult requires about 2 liters (quarts) per day. If we are lost in the desert on a hot, summer day without shade, our water requirements will be much different than if we are sitting in an air-conditioned office. In this section we will look at some of the ways one’s need for water may be met.

Water is the largest single component in our bodies. The internal workings of every cell occur in a liquid environment, and a river of liquid blood maintains each one, delivering its energy and raw materials and removing its waste. Given this dependence upon a liquid environment, optimal function of every cell and organ demands that we keep them well hydrated. A few examples will serve to demonstrate the significance of this fact. Recent scientific reports tell us that drinking plenty of water is just as effective in relieving a cough as are most cough medicines. Adequate body water content is as important for the prevention of constipation as is a high fiber diet. Good hydration improves joint function and reduces the development of arthritis. We could continue looking at similar examples, the reader will find many more in the recommendations for preventing and treating many of the symptoms dealt with in this book.

Water is one of the natural remedies God has provided to give us optimum health and long life. As a drink, water is useful for preventing and treating many illnesses. As externally applied therapy, water is an excellent healing agent (Section VII, chapter 7).

Also in this chapter you will find a quite comprehensive discussion describing ways to obtain and make water safe to drink, thanks to the diligent research of Dawna Sawatzky.

Chapter contents

A) Dehydration

B) Making hydration fluids

C) Safe drinking water

D) How to make your water clean and safe

E) Steps in water purification

F) Softening water

A) Dehydration (See Section VII, chapter 4)

B) Making hydration fluids (See Section VII, chapter 4, G)

C) Safe Drinking Water

Note: For those hiking in the wilderness or beginning other planned activities, there are on the market many kinds of water filters and purifiers that work very well. The following discussion is designed more for those emergency situations where no planning has taken place or in those living situations where the available water is not safe to drink.

Fresh air, good food and pure water are all essential for life. People can live with dirty air, poor quality food, and unclean water, but they will be unhealthy and get sick often. It is important to have the purest air and water and most nutritious food possible to help the body fight illness and disease.

About 6 billion people live in our world and 1 billion of them do not have safe, clean, pure drinking water. That means 1 of every 6 people has water to drink that can make them sick. More than 700 types of poisonous chemicals have been identified in our water. Poisonous chemicals in the water can cause cancer, brain damage, birth defects, blindness, and harm many parts of the body. Chemicals get into the water from factories; car, bus, and motorcycle fuels and oils; pesticides that kill insects; and even from the wastes of herds of cows and pigs.

Beside poisons are many germs that can make people sick. Some of the germs cause only mild illness with fever or upset stomach, but others can cause severe stomach pain, diarrhea, and vomiting. Some can make a person so sick they will die from the diseases they cause. Children suffer most from dirty water.

The germs in the water are often from the feces (poop, stool) of other people who are sick. Germs travel through the person’s body and out in the feces when they have a bowel movement. The germs travel on the person’s dirty hands or when soil is carried into the water by rain. The germs can also be on the plants used for food. Health workers say that over 2 million people die each year from germs that cause severe diarrhea. It is hard to imagine such a large number, but it is easy to understand if you or someone you know is one that gets deathly sick.

When water is cleaned and treated to kill germs, most of the harmful chemicals are also removed.

1. Water is more likely to be contaminated (dirty) when

There are too many people living close together in refugee camps, overcrowded cities, and war situations.

Disasters occur due to floods, hurricanes, and earthquakes.

Governments don’t provide clean, pure water for their people.

Illegal connections are made into water systems.

The pipes that carry clean water are cracked and broken.

Water sources are close to factories and dirty rivers.

There are no toilets or the toilets are too close to the water source.

The water is clean but it isn’t stored in a clean, protected container.

2. Microbes that can cause disease

The word contamination is used when water has dirt, bugs, chemicals, or germs in it. The dirt, bugs, chemicals, or germs are called contaminates. Sometimes contaminates such as bugs and soil can be seen in the water, but germs and chemicals are too tiny to see. Germs are so tiny, we can’t see them, even with glasses. Germs can only be seen with a microscope that makes them look bigger. Because they are seen with the microscope they are called microorganisms or microbes for short. Even though all microbes are very, very tiny, some are smaller than others. The size of the microbe is important for knowing which method should be used to clean dirty, contaminated water. Tiny microbes require special filters to remove them from the water.

Viruses are the smallest microbes (20–100 nanometers in size). They are the hardest to filter out of water. Viruses can cause: hepatitis and gastrointestinal (stomach and gut) diseases with severe diarrhea or vomiting.

Bacteria are also tiny (1–3 micrometers) and hard to remove by filtering. Bacteria can cause cholera, salmonellosis, shigellosis, e.coli, campylobacteriosis, typhoid fever, and many others.

Protozoan parasites (3–30 micrometers) are big enough to settle down to the bottom of undisturbed, dirty water. Protozoans can cause giardiasis, cryptsporidium and cyclosporiasis, guinea worm disease, and amebiasis.

Worms (helminths) are actually tiny animals. They are the easiest to remove because they are the biggest. There are round worms, pin worms, tape worms, and many others.

These microbes are dangerous; they can make people sick and even cause them to die. Some of the physical problems caused by these microbes are: gut discomfort, severe cramps, fatigue, weight loss, diarrhea, watery diarrhea, gas pains, vomiting, muscle cramps, blood-poisoning, blood in the feces, headache, constipation, appetite loss, nausea and vomiting. Some can be treated with medicine, but it is much better to keep the microbes from entering the body in the first place.

People who get sick from drinking contaminated water may quickly become dehydrated (dried out). Drinking water usually helps mild dehydration, but if diarrhea continues the person may need to use oral rehydration fluid (See Section VII, chapter 4, F, G).

3. Why water may contain disease producing microbes (pathogens)

No clean water available

Fecal waste not properly buried

Broken wells, bore holes, and water and sewage pipes

Poor storage and handling of clean water

Lack of hand washing after using the toilet

Lack of hand washing before cooking or eating food

Sharing drinking cups

Eating contaminated food

Using human waste for fertilizer when raising crops

Water stored at home can easily become contaminated even if it was clean to begin with. It becomes more easily contaminated when using open containers for storage. Sometimes people cough or sneeze over the water and their spit falls into it. People may put dirty dippers or hands into the water. If the water isn’t protected, vectors (flies, cockroaches, other bugs, and rodents) may fall into it. Using unwashed vessels to store the water may make it dirty. Allowing people to drink directly from the storage container also contaminates the water.

4. Municipal water

City water supplies are usually safe, especially in Western countries.

Clean water can become contaminated if the pipes are not in good condition or people hook into the water pipes incorrectly.

Safe water may become contaminated if stored in dirty or open containers.

5. Bottled and filtered water

Bottled water often tastes better than municipal tap water because some of the minerals and purifying chemicals have been removed, but it may not be safer than municipal water.

Bottled water may not be controlled by the government and may be contaminated with bacteria. In the USA, as well as 3rd world countries, microbe contamination does occur.

Water filters vary greatly in what they remove from the water. Most filter out chemical contaminants, but not the smaller sized microbes.

Water purifiers remove all chemicals and microbes.

6. Common beliefs about water purifying (killing or removing all microbes)

There are many false ideas as to how water can be purified. People don’t understand all the facts. For example, putting a silver spoon in the water is believed to make it pure, but it doesn’t. Charcoal or activated carbon works well to remove bad taste and odor, but it does not destroy microbes, in fact microbes can grow on it. Sometimes special silver is added to the carbon that helps to destroy the microbes, but it is not recommended as a safe method.

The methods (how to do it) listed below have been proven to reduce microbes in water and to help avoid the illnesses they cause.

D) How to make your water clean and safe

Clean, safe water can reduce the chance of suffering from microbe caused diseases by up to 90%. That means that the chance of getting sick is very low when drinking pure water compared to drinking contaminated water. (Clean water is not all that matters; dirty homes, unsafe care of waste when going to the bathroom, contact with animals, and dirty hands can all carry microbes and cause you to get sick when they enter your body.) Clean water is important to prevent disease.

There are 3 steps in water treatment and storage that can help to make it cleaner and safer. These steps are:

Clarifying—To make the water clear by removing the dirt, plant materials, chemicals, and insects.

Purifying—To kill the microbes.

Storage—To store the pure water so it won’t get contaminated with microbes again.

E) Steps in water purification

Water contaminated with chemicals and dirt, or bacteria, viruses and parasites must be purified to prevent it from spreading disease.

The method you choose will depend on what you have available and what it will cost.

How much effort you put into obtaining pure water will depend upon how badly you want to stay healthy and free of disease. Only you can determine the value of good health, and the cost you are willing to put forth to obtain it for yourself and your family.

Purification of water will reduce the chance of getting disease. Proper removal of waste, a clean home, and a clean body are also important in preventing disease.

1. Step #1, make the water clean and clear (clarifying)

Anything that is floating in the water may have microbes on it. Floating dust, dirt, and insects reduce the purifying power of chlorine and other chemicals that kill microbes. Dirty water is harder to make safe by sunlight if it has anything floating in it. So the first step in making it safe is done by settling and filtering.

a. Settling

This method reduces cloudiness, and worm eggs will settle down to the bottom.

Store the water in a covered clean kettle, bucket, or large jar for 1 to 3 days until all the dirt settles to the bottom. Don’t bump it, shake it or move it. Let all the dirt settle to the bottom of the container. If there are worm eggs in the water they will fall to the bottom, so will some microbes and chemicals. If you know there are chemicals in the water let it settle for up to 5 days.

When the dirt has settled, gently dip out the water into a clean container. Try to not disturb the dirt on the bottom. If there are chemicals in the water leave about 1/3 of the water in the bottom. If there is oil on the water try to dip it off first, and throw it out, then dip off the water you want to save.

Clean the container used to settle the water by rinsing it with clean water and scrubbing it if necessary so it is ready for the next batch of water. If dirt, oil, or chemicals are left in it, the next batch of water will be harder to clean.

There are ways to help the settling process. People use such things as “salt,” lime, “aluminous earth,” pulverized barley, polenta, alum, potash, crushed almonds, or even beans and seeds to purify water. Using them takes special knowledge and training, but they work well and help to remove the microbes.

b. Filtering

This step removes more microbes, chemicals, dirt, plant,s and bugs from the water.

There are many different types of filters. You will need to shop around and find out what is available where you are and how much it will cost. Filters can be made of fabric, charcoal, clay, ceramic, sand, and a variety of materials. Some are very small and others are so large they are kept outside. If you can’t find a filter or they cost too much, then use enough layers of cloth to clean the water. If clean sand is available, it too is a good filter. Charcoal may be made from wood, coconut husks, bamboo, etc. if unavailable to purchase (Section VII, chapter 8, E).

Pour the water through the filter until it is clear. You may have to do it several times. Ideally it should be clean and clear before going on to the next step.

Now you are ready for purifying, the step that kill the microbes.

Note: Samaritan’s Purse has developed methodology for making an effective water filter using sand in a cement container that can be made on site. Using this method, water is passed through a column of sand. When this occurs, a layer of biology develops at the surface in response to the organic content of the water. This “biofilm” consists of threadlike algae and many other organisms including plankton, protozoa, and bacteria. Together, these organisms comprise an intensely active food chain, which traps and breaks down organic matter, including disease-causing organisms in the water. The biological layer also strains out particles causing cloudiness and much of the organic matter responsible for color, taste, and odor. For more information, contact <>

Note: LifeStraw, a simple, disposable water purification system for individual use, purifies up to 700 liters of water, and is effective for infectious agents as small as 15 microns at an estimated cost of $2.00. It offers pure drinking water to potentially millions of people at a reasonable cost.

2. Step #2, Kill the microbes (disinfect)

The second step is to disinfect the water, which means killing the microbes. There are many ways to kill them. The most effective ways are boiling, pasteurization, exposing to sunlight, or ultraviolet lamps, and with chemicals such as chlorine and iodine. Silver, copper, ion exchange, and absorption, or precipitation treatments can’t be trusted to do a safe job.

a. Boiling

This method kills all microbes, even if the water is not clear. About 1 kilogram of wood is needed to boil 1 liter of water. This method may be too expensive for some, because of the fuel it uses.


Heat the water until it reaches a rolling boil then keep it boiling for one full minute, this will be 2120 F (100 C). This method gives the best protection and kills all microbes. Add one minute for every thousand feet (308 m) above sea level. Some people might not like the taste of boiled water. (Bad odors and tastes may be removed by adding charcoal from the fire to the water.)


This method might fail if the water doesn’t get hot enough for long enough.

b. Pasteurization

Pasteurization is a way to make water safe to drink when boiling is difficult or impossible to do.

Pasteurized water tastes better than boiled water, and since it does not get as hot, there is less chance of it burning someone. It also requires less fuel than boiling, however this method may still cost too much for some because of the fuel it uses.

Pasteurization kills dangerous microbes or makes them inactive (alive but not dangerous); however it does not sterilize (make water free of all microbes), and should not be used for medical purposes. Pasteurization does not remove chemicals such as pesticides. They must be removed by filtering.

A thermometer is necessary for effective pasteurization. They can be expensive or may not be available. However, there are several simple, low cost temperature indicators. One of the simplest and most effective is a reusable water pasteurization indicator (WAPI). The WAPI is a clear plastic tube with wax in it that melts at about 150o F. (70o C). It has a piece of nylon (e.g., fish) line attached on each end that hangs outside the bottle and holds the indicator up. The WAPI is placed in the water to be heated with the wax at the top of the tube. When the wax reaches 70o C, it melts and falls to the bottom of the tube, showing that the water is finished purifying.

c. Heating for pasteurization

Heat the water to 55o C (131o F) for 30 minutes, or 60o C (140o F) for 10 minutes, or 65o C (149o F) for 1 minute. (Milk is pasteurized at 71.7o C [151o F] for only 15 seconds). If no thermometer is available, heat until many bubbles keep coming up from the bottom.

If you use the WAPI when using fuel to pasteurize water, and then turn the heat off when the wax melts, you could probably save 50% of your water heating fuel by using the WAPI.

d. Solar pasteurization

It is also possible to pasteurize water in a container in a solar cooker or solar box. Solar cookers are boxes covered with a reflective material like tin foil. The sun shines on them, and they reflect the sun onto the container with the water in it. Sometimes they are made of metal and may come in many different shapes.

Sun, weather, latitude, and the type of solar box all effect the ability of solar boxes to pasteurize water. As a general guideline, 1 gallon or 4 quarts (4 liters) of water in a container can be pasteurized in about 3 hours on a day with strong sunlight and the sun high in the sky in the middle of the day.

Solar cookers can also capture enough heat for food to cook in them and to heat water for bathing.


This method might fail if the water doesn’t get hot enough for long enough. Also, the water should be used within a few days.

Examples of a simple foil covered cardboard box and metal plated box solar cookers.

e. Sunlight

Both the heat of the sun and the ultraviolet (UV) rays of the sun kill microbes. Clean water is put into a clear container and placed in the sun. On a sunny day, water is pure and finished in a few hours of heating. Using a reflective “solar cooker” helps to speed up the purifying. This method works best if the container doesn’t have more than 10 quarts (10 liters) of water in it.

Method 1

Use clear, plastic (PRT not PVC) bottles painted black on one side. If special water treating bottles are not available then use large, plastic, soda pop bottles which are clear, not scratched, and have their labels removed. Plastic bottles are preferred over glass for safety reasons and because glass filters out the UV light, thus negating its effect.

Add the cleaned, clear water. Stir rapidly to get air into the water. The more air you can mix into the water the better it is because air helps to purify the water. Find a place where the sun will shine on the bottles. It is best during the middle of the day. Lay the bottles down flat on their black painted sides or lay them on a dark, shiny surface, such as black plastic.

Leave the bottles in full sunlight for 5 hours or for two days when the sky is cloudy. UV rays are most prevalent mid-daytime (UV light penetrates light clouds) Note: Plastic bottles or bags are available almost anywhere in the world. Even if full sunlight is not available to heat the water, UV rays are effective in providing a relatively safe source of water in an emergency situation.

Method 2

This is the same as Method I with the plastic bottles, only you use a dark container. The sun will heat it, but the ultraviolet rays will not help to purify it because they can’t shine into the container like they shine into the plastic bottle. A water temperature of 140o F (60o C) needs to be reached and held for 10 minutes. It is necessary to use a temperature gauge to know if the proper temperature has been reached to purify the water. The WAPI is made for this purpose.

The water from both methods should be used within a day or two because some of the bacteria will not be killed, but have only been made inactive and may become active again in after a couple of days.


This method might fail if there is not enough warm direct sunlight or the treated water is allowed to sit and not be used for many days.

f. Ultraviolet (UV) lamps

These are expensive and require electricity, but they work well. When used correctly, all microbes are inactivated. The low-pressure lamps and systems are good for home use. They must have a reliable source of electricity. Costs for using are from $US10–100 per year.

g. Aeration (adding air to water)

Aeration of water has been practiced since ancient times and was believed to improve water quality by “sweetening” and “softening” it. It was later discovered that aeration adds oxygen to the water, and helps to remove iron, manganese and sulfur, bad taste, and odor from the water. In addition, aeration acts with sunlight and heat to stop microbe action. This does not occur in a matter of minutes, but requires several hours to effect the microbes.

h. Chemical methods

Chemical disinfection is a common treatment to inactivate or destroy microbes in drinking water.

Chlorine and iodine are the usual chemical agents used. They are available as liquid, tablets, and crystals. They are safe, easy to use, and effective in killing bacteria, parasites (except cryptosporidium), and viruses.

Iodine is best for killing amoebae parasites. Follow the directions on the iodine package.


Adding chlorine to water, and storing it in a “safe” storage-container, made especially to store water, reduces the chance of getting diarrhea by up to 90% because it kills the microbes that cause the disease, including cholera.

Free chlorine

This is the cheapest and most widely used drinking water disinfectant. It is simple to use and is proven to work well. Since it stays in the water for several days, it helps to keep the water free of microbes. The only problem with chlorine is the taste and odor it causes. Some people do not like it.


Household chlorine bleach is a cheap and an effective chemical disinfectant for short-term treatment in an emergency. Use two drops of 4–6% sodium hypochlorite solution (household chlorine bleach, 6.3 mg/l).) per quart (liter) of water or 8 drops per gallon (10 drops for imperial gallon). This will kill microbes.

Mix water and bleach together in a clean container and leave it uncovered for 30 minutes.

If there isn’t a very slight chlorine odor, repeat and wait another 15 minutes before using.

The bad taste can be reduced by letting the water sit for several hours or by stirring in air. Be careful if stirring to avoid getting microbes in the water.


This method might fail if there is not enough chlorine added or if the treated water doesn’t sit for 20 minutes before using it, or if the water has not been cleared by settling or filtering.


Iodine can be either dissolved in water or be in the form of an iodinated exchange resin. It has been used for water treatment outdoors by campers, and hikers, field military personnel, and during natural disasters and wars. It kills the microbes, but is rather expensive to use.


This method might fail if there is not enough iodine added, if the water doesn’t sit for 20 minutes before using, or if the water is still cloudy and not clear.

Lime Juice


Mix one part of lime juice with 50 parts of water (1 T. in 3 c.). Mix well and let the water sit for 2 hours. The juice lowers the pH of the water to below 4.5 and inactivates the cholera germ. Lime juice also kills the cholera microbes on cabbage and lettuce and in non-acid foods and beverages. It is effective, but is expensive.

i. Combined methods of clarifying and purifying

Procter & Gamble Company sells a product that is added to a 10 quart (10 liter) bottle. It contains chlorine and settles out the contaminants. It includes a cloth filter to use after treatment to pour the water through into another container (Cost 0.01 cent a liter).

j. Using combined methods

Solar disinfection in clear plastic, then adding chlorine, and storing in safe containers reduces disease. Note: Mixing of two treatment methods is an excellent way to ensure safe water.

3. Step #3, storage

Purified water must be protected from contamination of bugs, dippers, hands, dirt, and fecal contamination when stored. The risk of contamination is least if treated water is stored in the same container it was treated in. The best water storage containers for home treatment and storage options:

Hold between 10–25 quarts (liters) and are square or round with one or more handles to make it easy to carry and flat bottoms for storage.

Are made of lightweight sun-safe plastic (such as high-density polyethylene or polypropylene) for durability and to prevent breakage.

Have a 2–4 inches (6–9 cm) screw-cap opening to make cleaning easy, but is small enough to keep hands and dippers—being used to get the water—out.

Are made with a strong, safe, and easy to close spigot or spout for getting water out.

Has pictures and/or written instructions fixed permanently to the container.

Have a certificate of approval or authenticity with it.

The cost of water storage containers is also important since they must be affordable. Buckets, cooking pots, earthen pots, plastic beverage containers, and other open containers are less desirable for household water storage, but may be suitable for water collection and transport. Animal skins or bladders, canvas, rubber, gourds, concrete and earthen containers may be difficult to clean, be too heavy, and not have a spigot. Each container needs to be looked at carefully to see if it is best for the job.


Clean, safe storage might fail if the water gets contaminated after treatment.

4. Summary of simple solutions to clean, safe, water use

Obtain water from a safe, pure source or purify it before you or your family drink it.

Store purified water in a clean container with a narrow opening and spigot for getting the water out.

Avoid drinking from any glass or cup that someone else uses because spit has millions of microbes in it and some might be dangerous and cause disease.

Before preparing food or eating, wash your hands with soapy water.

If the towel has been used by others, let your hands air dry instead of using the towel.

Rinse off fresh fruits and vegetables in pure water before eating them.

Carry along pure, bottled drinking water. Don’t rely on finding a safe supply of water to drink.

If your water comes to you through old lead pipes, let it run it for 2 minutes to flush out the lead before using it for drinking water. This is very important for children’s water.

F) Water softening

Soft water lathers nicely and is pleasant to use, but softness does not improve purity. In fact, microbes can grow in softeners. Softeners also increase the levels of sodium in the water. This is important to know if a person has high blood pressure and sodium makes it go higher. Water is made hard by the minerals it contains. Calcium, magnesium, iron, manganese, and others make it hard. Water softeners remove the minerals to make the water “soft.”


*World Health Organization Guidelines for Drinking-water Quality (GDWQ) WHO /UNICEF 2000

© Copyright 2010 by A Place of Healing.