8 Emergency Water Sources for City Dwellers

City emergency water sources

First, make sure you have a stockpile of emergency water. Having water on hand when the grid goes down allows you the time to seek out other water sources. You do not want water to be your first concern when disaster strikes. You will need time to evaluate the situation and then to make plans. If your immediate concern in the hours after disaster strikes is water then you will always be playing catch up and this can be deadly in a crisis.

Look for water sources even if you have a substantial supply. If you live in an apartment, you probably do not have a large stockpile because of space and weight concerns, so gathering water will be a priority after you have had time to assess the crisis.

Things You Will Need To Make Water Safe to Drink

  • Filtering mediums such as coffee filters, cheesecloth, activated charcoal, clean cloth and/or sand and combining all mediums in layers is ideal for filtering

Water from any open source would need to be filtered and then purified before consuming

  • Common household bleach that does not contain any additives and contains sodium hypochlorite as its active ingredient with a percentage ratio of 5.25 to 6 percent

You may find some bleach has up to 8 percent of the active ingredient. Use eight drops per gallon of water not to exceed 16 drops if using the 5.25 to 6 percent ratio. Eights drops maximum is sufficient under most circumstances if using bleach labeled at the 8 percent sodium hypochlorite ratio. Mix/shake well and allow the water to stand for 30 after adding the drops before drinking.

  • Water purification tablets can be used, but you must follow the label directions carefully and it is always recommended you filter any open sources before purification
  • Medicine/eye dropper
  • NSF certified filtering straws or other filtration devices that state the level of and types of contaminates removed from open water sources



1.) Empty your ice cube bin into a clean container and allow the cubes to melt. However, if you know or suspect the city water supply has been contaminated then it is possible that some of your ice cubes are contaminated as well, so obviously do not consume.

Cover the ice to prevent contamination. Water obtained from ice cubes would be safe to drink without filtering or purifying, unless as stated earlier, you suspect contamination. You may only get a few cups this way but it all adds up.

2.) If you have a hot water tank in your apartment, duplex, standalone house or condominium turn off the breaker, or gas supply first before draining the tank. A typical apartment would not usually have an accessible hot water tank however.

A spigot at the bottom of the tank allows you to connect a garden hose to drain the tank for maintenance purposes, but if you do use a hose, it must be rated safe for drinking water. Potable water hoses are available at most RV stores or in the camping/RV section of most retail stores.

The on/off handle is likely plastic and it may be difficult to turn by hand, and this is where having a multi-tool comes in handy, it can help you turn the handle using the pliers. Be careful not to break the spigot handle however. Open a hot water faucet before opening the drain spigot.

Water from a hot water tank will contain sediment, which would be mineral deposits from the water. Generally, the sediment would not be harmful to you. As a safety precaution however, the water should be filtered and then treated with bleach using the described method above. Boiling is an option if you have the means to do so.

As side Note: The danger zone for most bacteria is between 40 degrees F to 140 degrees F. Legionella, the bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ disease has been known to develop in hot water heating systems and in air conditioning units and the bacteria can survive at temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees F.

Once again, out of an abundance of caution water from any hot water tank that is not currently heating or recycling the water should be filtered and purified before consuming.

3.) Dehumidifiers and this as a source is only mentioned for informational purposes and it should only be used as a last resort only after filtration and boiling. While technically water from a dehumidifier is distilled water, it is not a safe water source.

This source is also mentioned because certain blogs and websites promote this as a water source if you have an alternative power source during a power outage. There are water extractors available that are designed specifically for producing potable water from the air, but common home dehumidifiers are not designed for producing potable water.

The collection tank will be contaminated with dust, pollen, mold and mildew spores along with other contaminates not to mention heavy metals from the copper or aluminum coils. The water from this device would be considered “gray water”.

4.) Sources away from the home would include bags of ice sold in front of many convenience stores, gas stations, and even grocery stores. Looters probably would not give an ice machine a second glance in the first few days of a crisis. The bags of ice would not last long without power to the freezer units, but you would have time in the first 24 hours or so to gather some bags of ice and then melt for drinking water. Hotels and motels would have ice machines as well, but the ice cubes would not be bagged up for easy carrying.

Number 4 would be considered extreme measures and should only be used if no other alternatives are available. Getting the ice home would be a problem because of the weight, and getting any water source home would be a problem if you had to carry it. Five gallons of water would weigh slightly over 40 pounds.

5.) Public sources would include public and private swimming pools, fountains, lakes, or ponds that may be found in parks or other public areas along with any rivers or streams running nearby. However, if you suspect or know that the city water source is contaminated publics sources would likely be contaminated as well. Any water collected from these open sources would have to be filtered and purified before using for drinking, cooking, laundry or bathing.

6.) Canned goods are another source of liquids and in particular, canned fruits, so obviously do not drain the vegetables or fruits down the drain, but instead pour off and consume for hydration.

7.) You can collect rainwater by setting containers outside or even under guttering systems. Water will not collect as fast or as efficiently if you simply set a container out in the rain however.

Runoff from any structure would be considered gray water and it would have to be filtered and purified before consuming. Rainfall is safe to drink though some do caution not to collect any rainwater until it has rained for several minutes up to 20 minutes in some cases. Pollen and other contaminates will be in the air so it must be given time so it is washed away, and this may be particularly true for those that live in the city, because smog may hang in the air and contaminate the rain water.

8.) Toilet tank water (not the bowl water) can be used as long as the water has not been treated such as with the blue discs or other chemical compounds. The water must be filtered and purified before consuming.


If you plan to collect water from outside sources, you would need the means to get the water back home. You would need collection vessels and carts and/or two-wheeled dollies to help you transport the water.

Keep in mind you will be competing with others for the same resources so you have to move quickly. In the first few hours or even days many people will be scurrying around in a panic and may not be thinking about water sources, so you have to keep your wits about you, and be ahead of everyone else. Gather what you need before others realize they need the same resources.