How To Properly Purify Water
The Y2K Scare
Since no one knows what will happen when computer systems roll over to the year 2000, how and where to get your drinking water remains a concern. If municipal systems malfunction, living near a stream or a lake does not ensure you'll have good drinking water. To understand how we can rid our water of impurities, let's look at the different methods of purification.
The Old Way Still Works
Most people prefer the oldest and cheapest method of purifying drinking water -- boiling it. Also, boiling remains the moat reliable method to make water safe to drink.
Boiling water for five minutes will kill any biological hazard you can expect to find. Most pathogens actually die after 1 minute of vigorous boiling. If you live or travel in high elevations, you'll need to adjust the standard 5-minute boiling time. Many water-boiling enthusiasts often overlook the importance of adding one minute of boiling time for every 1000 feet of elevation above 10,000 feet.
Another quick tip: adding a pinch of salt or pouring water from one container to another will improve the taste of boiled water.
Chemical Methods Of Purification
If you don't want to take the time to boil your water, you can zap the belly-demons in your drinking water with two easy-to-obtain chemicals -- iodine and chlorine. Many outdoorsmen choose to carry these chemicals because of their light weight and relatively low price.
Iodine actually provides greater disinfection in a wider set of circumstances. Used properly, iodine will kill most protozoa and viruses in the water. However, keep in mind that prolonged usage of iodine can lead to thyroid problems.
If that taste of iodine doesn't appeal to you, neutralize the taste with a small amount of ascorbic acid (Vitamin C). You can use chlorine bleach to disinfect water.
The iodine and chlorine treatments require water to sit for 20 to 30 minutes. However, you'll have to let very cold or very cloudy water stand for several hours or even overnight.
By now you're probably thinking, "What a hassle to get a cool drink of bacteria-free water." Well, don't think you've solved all your water problems yet, because boiling the water and using chemicals like iodine or chlorine doesn't eliminate the chemical pollutants that may lurk in your drinking water.
Chemicals found in water include inorganic contaminants such as arsenic and other heavy metals and organic toxins such as fertilizers and pesticides. Even the smallest quantities of these chemicals in your system can ruin a good day in a hurry. The news that water sources in backcountry areas usually contain immeasurable levels of toxins rarely eases the minds of outdoorsmen.
To get an idea of the toxicity of water you come in contact with, check for fish and insects swimming around or for algae growing on the rocks. If you can see living organisms in the water, you usually can trust that water not to have detrimental chemical toxins. However, if you hike in the desert and come across trickling water and bubbling sulphur etching a groove in a rock, avoid it.