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Monday, June 9, 2008

Knowing Your Local Water Sources

While talking with a former survival student of mine about disaster-related, the issue of water resources came up. Concerns like: what to do when your tap runs dry during or after a disaster, where are the best sources outside of your home, outside of your city, which lakes/rivers/springs are nearby and are they safe?, etc....

Every region of the country has it's survival concerns to factor in with regards to disaster preparedness, and here in the Southwest, water is at the top of the list.

I have a "water map" that I've made up over the years, it is a Forest Service map that has red-ink marks for all the water sources I am personally familiar with and also info on their reliability, access (only in summer?), and purity. This is something I think everyone should do for where they live, if water is a major survival concern (not you folks in the Pacific NW or Great Lakes!).

Get a local map, start with a 10 mile radius and move it out from there as time permits. Then drive/hike around one weekend and check them out. Are they safe to drink from? What's upstream (farms with pesticide runoff or an old mine)? Is the water year-round or just seasonal? And so on.... Check on your water sources a few times a year or more, especially the primary ones you'd consider using in an emergency.

Now, I'll qualify all this by saying that I live in a high-desert region so my water map and concerns look different than someone in a big city but the principles are going to be the same: where, outside of your neighborhood or metropolis, is your nearest reliable water source(s)?

Don't rely on topographic maps to be up to date either. Most I have are dated 1965 or 1983 and out here water availability in the wilds changes each season. I remember doing a land navigation exercise with my students where we trekked to a designated "water tank" on the map. When we arrived, we found a rusty cattle trough turned on its side and riddled with bulletholes. So much for slaking our thirst based on the topo map features!

And yes, being prepared and having quantities of water on hand at home are essential but there's no substitute for "local knowledge" of nearby water sources for a potential long-term situation. Such knowledge costs little and can go a long way if your well-prepared stocks at home run low or are comprised in some way.

Whether one is talking about survival in the wilds or the urban jungle, it's all about being prepared and taking care of yourself and your family by having a few basic necessities in place and a PLAN.

About Ancient Pathways

Tony Nester is the author of numerous books and DVDs on survival. His school Ancient Pathways is the primary provider of survival training for the Military Special Operations community and he has served as a consultant for the NTSB, Travel Channel, Backpacker Magazine, and the film Into the Wild. When not on the trail, he lives in a passive-solar, strawbale home in northern Arizona. For information on Tony’s books, gear, or bushcraft courses, visit

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