12 Places to Get Water in the City After SHTF

September 04, 2021

“Water is the driving force of all nature.” – Leonardo Da Vinci.

In this blog, we’re going to cover places you can find water after a disaster that many will simply overlook.  These are places you can find in a typical urban, suburban environment and with a little knowledge and a few tools, they will provide water that can be easily processed giving you a precious gallon or two to ensure your survival.  

This blog is a stand-alone video in collaboration with several other fantastic YouTube preparedness channels as part of the 30 Days of Preparedness Collaboration and National Preparedness Month.  I will link to these channels in the comments below that are involved in this project. 

After the electricity goes out, the failure of the water system is probably second.  You are hopefully sitting on your stored water when it does. Still, you will need to continue to collect water and get it from other sources to maintain a supply of drinkable water and extend your chances of survival through a disaster.  The truth is, water is all around us, even in the desert.  I’ll structure a dozen or more locations working out from your home where you can find water after a disaster.  You just need to know where to look for it and how to extract it.  When others are desperate and fighting for every drop, you’ll be a couple of steps ahead of everyone armed with this knowledge.  Let’s dive in…

Let me be upfront and tell you that this isn’t a video about water storage, treatment, filtration, or purification.  When a prolonged disaster impacts an area, the municipal water supply can be rendered unsafe to drink.  So, have a plan to make your water drinkable.  And if you don’t have a water storage setup, I would encourage you to do so now as there is no better option.

So let’s look at some of the overlooked places where you can find water after a disaster starting in your home and moving outwards.

  1. Your Home

If a storm is approaching and you have enough advanced warning, top off all your water supplies.  Fill all your large containers, sinks, and bathtubs.  Don’t forget any ice in your refrigerator will keep things colder when the power goes out, but as it melts, you will want to capture the water.  There is also water in your pipes you can access even if the municipal water stops and can be accessed by opening your lowest tap or faucet.  If you suspect the water coming to your house is compromised, immediately shut off the water valve coming into your residence to protect the water in the pipes.  Even when pumping stations fail, municipal water sources use as much gravity as possible to get water to you.  The power may be out, and the water will eventually stop flowing to you, but it will still flow for a while, so capture as much of it as you can, as long as you have no reason to believe it’s contaminated.

  1. Canned Foods

Canned foods are typically packed in either sugar or sodium water.  Don’t throw that water out.  You can use any fruit syrups directly in your cooking or drink them straight for an energy boost.  The saltier brine like your vegetables and beans can be mixed with a little stored water to provide vital electrolytes.  You should avoid drinking the saltier brines straight, as this could dehydrate you.  If you can dilute it a little by adding water, you will derive more significant benefits.

  1. Hot Water Heater

You walk by, probably every day, around 40 to 50 gallons of water stored in your water heater, but would you know how to tap into it after a disaster safely?  Here’s how: Start by turning off the gas supply line by turning the valve to the off position.   Then you may want to wait awhile to allow your water to cool off. Then find the larger lever, which is the water source line, and close that off as well.  Then, open the pressure relief valve to vent any high pressure.  Finally, with a bucket under your water heater, open the drain valve to capture the water.  If you do this in 5-gallon increments with a 5-gallon bucket, you can get a solid 40 to 50 gallons here.  You can show a neighbor how to do the same in exchange for another five or more gallons off their water heater.

  1. Toilet Tank

I know this may be a bit hard to believe, but that back tank of your toilet has some of the cleanest water you will be able to get your hands on after a disaster.  The water comes in fresh from your municipal lines and is sealed off from fecal matter, so you could, in a crisis, drink it right out the back of the toilet, but it never hurts to treat it or filter it just to be safe.  If you use chemicals in the reservoir like the kind that releases with each flush, you will need to treat and filter the water.  The water in the tank is good, but you have to be genuinely desperate to drink from the bowl.  You would definitely want to treat that water before you drink it from there; however, it is okay for your pets.  Many bacterias that would make us sick they don’t even notice.  Don’t overlook this supply of water.

  1. Irrigation Lines

Do you have sprinklers in your yard?  If you do, you are surrounded by water.  Most irrigation lines are 3/4 inch or 1 inch.  There are 231 cubic inches in a gallon.  If my math is correct, the average suburban lot of 5,000 square feet will have a little over 420 feet of PVC irrigation, including lateral lines.  If that’s a 1-inch line, that’s going to be at least two gallons and likely more of water just sitting in the underground lines of every similarly built house in your subdivision or neighborhood.

To tap into this water source, you just need to know the width of the male threaded riser, have polyethylene or vinyl tubing to put over that riser, and the lowest sprinkler head.  If there is a lower head in the system, it may weep naturally when the system is not on, and it is easy to identify in older systems. If the sprinklers are all built level, you can tap into anyone, but you may need a hand pump to extract the water.  In fact, a hand pump with extra tubing will be a great addition to your prepping supplies because it will allow you to run a line to water sources that are out of your reach.

Clear the dirt from around the sprinkler head with a shovel or trowel.  Unscrew the sprinkler head and quickly put the tube on the riser.  The water may have sufficient hydrostatic pressure to begin to flow and drain.  If not, a small hand pump will be of great use to you.  Also, a large sponge will allow you to collect water that is lost between the time you detach the sprinkler head and attach your collection tube. 

Just realize that water meant for irrigation is not 100 percent safe for consumption.  Always treat and filter water collected in this way.

  1. Transpiration and Plants

It won’t provide you a lot of water, but placing a plastic bag tightly over leaves will capture small amounts of water through what is called transpiration.  Excess water drawn up from the plant’s roots is expelled in this process. The plastic bag seals the leaves in and captures the water out of this transpiration stream.  The water will collect through the hottest times of the day.  Harvest your water in the evening or early morning when water vapors have converted to liquid form.  Be careful that the plant you are harvesting water from isn’t toxic.  Depending upon your climate, you may also be able to harvest dew.  Also, some cactus and succulents are edible and store large amounts of water.  You can eat aloe vera and pear cactus plants to provide you vital water.  Know what plants are in your area because you don’t want to be experimenting and taste testing after a disaster.

  1. Harvesting Rain

Draping a tarp and collecting rain is an excellent way to capture natural water sources, assuming you get rain after a disaster.  How much water can you gather from rain?  To calculate this, take your tarp’s square area and multiply it by inches of rainfall and then by .62.  Length times width times inches of rainfall times .62.  So, a standard ten by twelve tarp collecting 1″ of rainfall will collect an incredible 74 gallons of water.  After a disaster, realize that this same equation can be used to calculate rainfall on your roof.  If your roof area is just 20 by 40, that same 1-inch of rain will be coming down your gutters to equate to 248 gallons of water.  Make sure your gutters aren’t just draining into the dirt.  Have a plan or system in place to channel and collect this water.

  1. Fire Hydrant

Moving to the street, and while probably not exactly legal, you can obtain water from municipal lines by tapping into fire hydrants.  Note that everybody else will be trying to get water in this way too.  Be careful as hydrants are under tremendous pressure.  This high pressure can easily cause injury. Were you to try and tap a hydrant, the method would be to unscrew the outlet then gently loosen the stem nut in a counterclockwise manner.  If you can keep this action slight, you will be able to regulate the flow and won’t risk depressurizing the entire system.  Loosening the stem nut opens the valve at the drain hole at the stem of the hydrant.  Make sure you have a sizable collection container, and you’re going to need a mammoth wrench to do this.

  1. Commercial Buildings

While we are on the topic of tapping municipal water supplies that aren’t ours and are, technically, stealing, many preppers make sure to have a 4-way sillcock key in their bug out bags.  Every commercial building has an external water outlet.  If the water is flowing, you simply put the sillcock key in and turn it counterclockwise to open the valve.  Even if the water is out, the hydrostatic pressure of the latent water in the building will often still force the water out.  So, even if the water is out, you would be draining the stored water in the pipes of the building.

  1. Ponds, Fountains, and Pools

Ponds, fountains, and pools are large quantities of water, but they are not safe for consumption unless properly treated, which is possible.  I’ll post a link in the cards above to a video detailing various approaches to safely treat water like these sources.

Basically, there are two things that can make you sick or kill you from this water– organic components and chemical components.  Pathogenic bacteria, protozoa, amoebas, and algae can all make you sick. There are also many toxic chemicals that runoff or are directly put into ponds, fountains, and pools.  Filtering these sources of water can be a lifesaver, something we’ll cover in the next video.

One note about finding these sources.  While the grid is up, before disasters, it’s not a bad idea to get familiar with your neighborhood and surrounding area using something like Google maps using the satellite view.  If you have a drone, you may want to consider surveying your neighborhood in advance to identify sources of water such as pools or small ponds in people’s backyards.  Obviously, never trespass into people’s backyards, but if the grid goes down and people leave their home and it’s abandoned, you may be able to safely access these sources.  Just know, you may not be the only one doing so.

  1. Springs and Wells

Get to know your area as old water systems are still all around us, unseen and overlooked. Often wells and springs were sealed off when municipal water lines were built.  It was no longer necessary to hall up buckets of water, so they fell into disuse.  Taking a walk through the historical parts of your community and trying to find these hidden stores of water is a valuable exercise before disaster strikes. Knowing where they are and how you can access them after a crisis could be a lifesaver.  With a little research, you may be able to find some of these sources.  

  1. Lakes, Creeks, Streams, & Rivers

I wouldn’t quite label this last source as overlooked per se, but for many urbanites and suburbanites, they may not consider these options as they’re not sure how to process these water sources to make them safe for drinking.  There’s a few things you can observe before trusting these sources.  When collecting water from the wild, it’s essential to see if other animals are enjoying that water.  If there are many tracks around the lake or stream, you know that other animals enjoy and thrive in the source.  If there are dead fish, large green algae blooms, or white or red bacterial blooms, the water will need some heavy filtration and treatment before it can be consumed.  If it has an oily or murky sheen, try and find another source.  Think of anything upstream that may be running into the water supply. 

Our ancestors drank straight from flowing creeks, streams, and rivers, and their bodies were heartier as a result.  They also died at a younger average age than we do today.  Contaminated drinking water is estimated to cause 485,000 diarrhoeal deaths worldwide each year.  After a disaster is not the time you want your body to adjust to an occasional organic organism.  If this water is your only option, you can drink it if you filter it and treat it appropriately.


Finding water sources after a disaster is critical to your long-term survival strategy.  That’s the first part of the equation when you need to move beyond the water you have stored and on-hand.  The second part is rendering that water drinkable.  There are other videos on that.  Hopefully, these dozen or more places to find water have got you thinking, observing, and locating water sources around you that you can tap into in case of an emergency.  You can only store so much water, and you need two to three gallons per day just to survive.  Know where the water is around you now for when you may need it later.

What do you think?  Are there any sources of water around you that I didn’t mention here?  What’s your water strategy in an SHTF situation? 

As always, please stay safe out there.

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