Survival is Impossible Without Water pt 1

By Bison Pumps “the Power of Water in Your Hands”

A person can survive four weeks without food; but only one week without water. It is the transportation system of the human body; moving nutrients, circulating the blood, carrying oxygen, removing toxins from the kidneys, and eliminating waste from the body. The human body is 60% water with organs such as the brain and lungs being 70-90% water and the muscles and blood consisting of 75-85% water. According to the Mayo Clinic, each day women need 9 cups and men 13 cups of water for proper hydration. Without it, a person will become lethargic, experience muscle cramping, feel ill and cold, and skin will become dry and itchy.

bison-pumpOutside the human body, seventy percent of the earth is water; 97% is saltwater, 2% is glacier ice, leaving a mere 1% as fresh, drinking water. Water recycles itself through the water cycle. A cloud is a mass of small water droplets in the sky. Warm or hot air assists in the evaporation of water turning into a vapor which forms a cloud; therefore cold air reverses the process causing condensation. As the water in a vapor state gets colder, it turns into a liquid. When the droplets get big enough, they collide together forming larger drops to fall as rain or snow. The water on the ground eventually evaporates with heat and goes back up to form a cloud to rain again or it filters through the soil to replenish aquifers which are underground deposits of water in rock also known as groundwater.

Ninety five percent of all fresh drinking water comes from groundwater. Municipal drinking water systems may be from groundwater or surface water from lakes, rivers or streams. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, there are approximately one billion gallons of groundwater in a cubic mile. Unfortunately only a small amount of this resource is available through wells and springs.

For thousands of years, people have understood the necessity of clean drinking water. In Egypt, it was recorded in Sanskrit how the Egyptians would boil or heat water by placing a hot metal instrument in the water to purify it. Eventually, the process shifted to filtering water through various sand or charcoal filters. Prior to the invention of the microscope, early civilizations believed that if it tasted or smelled clean, it was good to drink. Not until the mid-19th century when cholera and typhoid was prevalent in London did city officials determine the disease was due to bacteria around the pumps providing the drinking water. Over time, bigger sand filters were developed to filter water for larger communities of users and chlorine was added to kill microbial growth.

It should be noted, prior to consuming water from any source, testing by an accredited laboratory is necessary to determine the levels of minerals and microorganisms. This information will inform consumers as to the types of filters or treatment required to render any type of water source as potable. When determining the right water source for you, verify the amount you and other consumers in the household will need. As noted above, the Mayo Clinic recommends 9 cups of fluid daily for women and 13 cups fluid daily for men. If in a warmer climate or physical activity is common, this amount will need to be increased to replace the fluids lost from perspiration. Note: of all water usage in the home, potable and non-potable, the average family uses 400 gallons of water per day; the highest volume of use comes from the bathroom.

The following section outlines the pros and cons of the various sources of water without going into detail about the expense. Each system is unique to each application and the following is a summary only and is not intended to be all inclusive.



  • Availability of rainwater for consumption depends on climate and season.
  • Water should flow for a minute or two to wash many contaminants away once the rain starts.
  • Areas with greater air pollution require more filtering and treatment.
  • If rainwater is the only source for drinking, then a large storage containment system will be necessary.
  • Sterilization or treatment is required.

Hazards: air pollutants, biological contaminates from feces, composition of materials used for collections systems (i.e. shingles, gutters, lead, treated wood), and bacteria and microorganisms. Cleaning underground storage tanks are considered a confined space and may contain fatal levels of toxic gases.

Equipment: a collection area (typically a roof, may use a tarp), a conveying system such as gutters, downspouts or pipes, a filtering system before and after storage, storage and disinfection/treatment. Mode of delivery to the household may be by hand or via a pump, electric or hand.

Surface Water


  • More plentiful and dependable than rainwater, but it too may become depleted during a drought or if usage upstream decreases volume.
  • More pollutants than groundwater and rainwater, therefore it requires more treatment.
  • Access to surface water during the winter may be problematic.
  • Need to be located near bodies of water to have access to surface water.

Hazards: ground and water pollutants, as well as bacteria and microorganisms. Cleaning underground storage tanks are considered a confined space and may contain fatal levels of gases.

Equipment: Filtration and treatment system, conveying system and storage. Mode of delivery to the household may be by hand or via a pump, electric or hand.



  • The most plentiful water available and least amount of treatment required.
  • The last water to be depleted in a drought.
  • Access to groundwater is not always accessible or may be difficult to locate.

Hazards: ground and water pollutants, as well as bacteria and microorganisms. Cleaning underground storage tanks are considered a confined space and may contain fatal levels of gases.

Equipment: well (hand dug or drilled), filtration and treatment system if required by testing. Mode of delivery may require a pump, electric or hand, or carrying by hand.

Because groundwater is the most accessible, dependable, and longest lasting form of potable water in most emergency scenarios, this article will “dig deeper” into everything well water/groundwater related. This article will explore how to access groundwater, the physics of extracting groundwater, and the methods of conveying groundwater into the home.

To access groundwater, either you go to it via a well or it comes to you circa a spring. Not everyone is blessed with a clear spring bubbling near their homestead, therefore digging or drilling a well is the standard venue for accessing groundwater.

Hand dug wells, can be successfully dug to 200’, although typically 100’ is the norm. The deterrents include hard rock difficult to break down and the hazards of cave-ins, falling rocks, or hazardous atmospheres from equipment exhaust. Drilling a well by hand can be accomplished using an auger or a well point. Because of the shallower depth, pollution and lower yield may be a problem.

According to the Federal Water Systems Council, it is estimated the standard “drilled” well depth is 100 to 500 feet, although some may be as deep as 1000 feet. Cable (percussion) and rotary (drill bit) drilling account for the majority of deep wells using these methods.

To get water out of a well, there are several methods (not all inclusive):

  • Without electricity, a bucket or a hand pump
  • Mechanically generated power via wind or solar in conjunction with a hand pump or to generate electricity for a submersible or jet pump
  • With electricity, a submersible or jet pump

In most survival situations, the possibility of electricity being unavailable is significant. Because wind and/or solar would still require some mechanical means to withdraw water from a well, a hand pump is a standard means of getting water from a well whether through hand pumping or the attachment of wind or solar (see #7 below for concerns). With fears of catastrophic events causing grid-down scenarios or general frustration because of frequent power outages, the need for hand water pumps are rising as the primary source of accessing sustainable water. But there is misinformation and many myths about hand water pumps, even from well drillers and pump installers. These are addressed below:

  1. Shallow well vs. Deep well
    • In the “well drilling” world, a shallow well is one that taps into an unconfined aquifer, whereas a deep well taps into a confined aquifer. Artesian wells are deep wells with a positive pressure causing the water to rise; sometimes even to the surface of the ground. This is called a flowing artesian well.
    • In the “hand pump” world, a shallow or deep well refers to the level of the water from the surface to the top of the water aka static water level. Less than 25 feet requires a shallow well hand pump and greater than 25 feet requires a deep well hand pump. NOTE: In a perfect situation, you can “suction lift” from 33.9 feet. Typically at sea level, you can “suction lift” from 25 feet to the bottom of the pump. Because of well drawdown or dry spells, you would want less than 25 feet of vertical lift to ensure you can always use your hand pump.
    • In deep well applications, some manufacturers will advertise they can pump from depths in excess of 300’. Although this is true, it may not mention your yield will be greatly decreased and it will be harder to pump as the volume of water in the pipe is heavier.
      • On average, water weighs 9.42 pounds per 12” of 1” pipe or 14.72 pounds per 12” of 1 ¼” pipe. There are charts on manufacturer’s websites (or claims) about what their cylinders can do at various depths. Some do actual measurements with an average person pumping at different levels with real equipment. Other manufacturers use scientific method which does not take any variables into consideration. It assumes a perfect situation exists.
      • Manufacturers will provide information regarding the volume and pounds of pressure required to pump water at various depths. Ask the manufacturer if they are using actual data, which represents typical installations or scientific formulas which represent perfect case situations.
      • Factors affecting this pumping distance also include handle length and the different lever action of various designs. It is reported, the Bison Commercial Pump, because of its new design can reach greater depths with less strain on the person pumping.
  1. MYTH: You cannot use a hand pump with a submersible or a jet pump
    • Deep well hand pumps can be center mounted for hand pump only applications or offset to slide down past existing piping in a well. The pipe and rod and cylinder are situated above the submersible pump, typically advised to be 20 feet below the static water level. NOTE: if you have wires or pipes from your electric pumps which come out the top of the casing, you will need to do the following:
      • Find a manufacturer who can “customize” your well adaptor to accommodate pipes coming out the top. Bison Pumps is the only manufacturer who claims to be able to customize a hand pump to accommodate pipes or wires coming out the top of the casing.
      • Check your local codes to determine if you can drill into the side of your casing. If so, Bison Pumps sells a watertight conduit ell to accommodate your wires so you can use a standard well adaptor.
    • If the casing is smaller in diameter than 6”, you may or may not be able to slide your cylinder past the Pitless adaptor in the well casing. If that is the case, there are several options:
      • If you live in a warmer climate where freezing is not an issue, Bison Pumps has an inline application that works in tandem with the existing piping. They recommend using a licensed plumber or pump installer to help with the installation.
      • Pull the pitless adaptor out, put in pipe and rod and the cylinder and reinstall the pitless adaptor.
      • You can put in a smaller pitless adaptor – check local and state codes to ensure it is legal to do so.
      • In some cases, a smaller diameter pipe and cylinder can be used.
      • Drill another well for a hand pump only.
      • In shallow well applications, the pump is connected to the existing submersible piping. Water flows harmlessly through the submersible when the hand pump is in use.
  1. MYTH: All hand pumps need to be primed.
    • Newer style hand pumps are self-priming unless you are using an old-style pitcher pump (see next myth for more information about these). These do need to be primed.
  2. MYTH: You cannot have a hand pump on a well casing in climates where freezing is an issue.
    • Manufacturers of hand water pumps advise their customers to drill a weep hole, usually 1/8” – 6 to 7 feet below the well adaptor. It is important this hole be drilled in the last piece of pipe being installed so it is below the frost line. This will allow water in the body of the pump to drain back into the well.
    • Shallow well hand pumps are typically designed to lift the handle to allow water to drain back. In the older style pitcher pumps that have an open top this creates several issues; 1) this allows the leathers to dry out and will frequently need to be replaced and 2) the open top allows contamination into your well water.
    • Although Bison Pumps touts an anti-freeze plug in the cap for the application of propylene glycol, they do not recommend the use of these pumps outside in freezing conditions.
  3. MYTH: You cannot use a hand pump to pressurize a tank or pump water uphill.
    • All hand pumps can be used to pressurize a storage tank or pump water uphill.
      • NOTE: Without a check valve attached to the spout of the hand pump, pressurizing a tank will be hard work as the weight of the water means you are pumping against that force continually. Some manufacturers offer a check valve as an accessory to their hand pumps.
      • In instances of pumping into a cistern or uphill into a tank, this too can be accomplished using a hand pump. If pumping uphill, a check valve is recommended because of the weight of the water. If pumping into a storage tank at the same level or below, a check valve would not be required.
  1. MYTH: You cannot have a hand water pump if you do not have a casing.
    • Bison Pumps manufacture flange pumps for wells without a casing. The 8” flange bolts to the cover with a seal to create a contaminant-free connection. They also have a water pump for a well point driven well, vandal proof and quick disconnect options, as well as a transfer pump to move water from a pond or a stream to a tank.
  2. MYTH: You can use hand water pumps with solar or wind energy.
    • Although they can be used in such applications, ask the manufacturer of the hand pumps if they have ever been tested to verify the components can withstand the use in this application.

Not all the various avenues are explored for accessing and retrieving well water. An internet search of hand water pumps will yield a variety o f “homemade” pumps and mechanical means to get water. All may or may not work, but finding out in the heart of a crisis that you cannot depend on your homemade gadget, may become a matter of life and death.   You should never take shortcuts when preparing for life threatening situations; particularly as it relates to accessing life-giving water. Make harvesting water your number one priority and worthy of any expense as you begin preparing for all possible scenarios.

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