Clean Water Tech: Get to Know It

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Image courtesy of

We’ve seen enough survival shows on TV now to know that when you’re in a survival situation, you need water. People in the real world could start suffering from dehydration on the way from the grocery store back to their car (you know who you are). Whether you’re Les Stroud or not, you probably know you need water to live, and you need it very often. But the saying goes “water, water everywhere but not a drop to drink” for a reason, and that’s because the vast majority of all the world’s water is not safe to drink. If you have easy access to lots of clean fresh water, consider yourself fortunate: over 600 million people worldwide don’t have access to safe drinking water.

You may not be seeking out a survival situation, but it might seek you out once in a while. If it does, there’s a good chance it will find you. There are plenty of scenarios where you might find yourself without safe water. In those cases, the only thing you can do is be prepared. And the only way to be prepared is to have something portable.

  • The LifeStraw has been on the market for a while now and has been used by survivalists and people who live in areas where clean water is scarce. It is simple in construction–it’s basically a straw with built-in filtration. Stick it into some water and suck. It does not require a power source. It removes particulate contaminants, along with any water-borne pathogens. LifeStraw also makes purification systems that can filter water supplies for years, without the need for electrical power.
  • The Platypus GravityWorks system is essentially a couple of reservoir bags, one for untreated water, the other for treated water. Also unpowered, it is useful for filtering both small and large amounts of water. It’s lightweight and portable, although it’s a little more complicated than using the LifeStraw.
  • The Katadyn Vario Water Filter uses filtration similar to the LifeStraw and the GravityWorks, with an activated charcoal filter included for added protection against chemicals. It requires pumping by hand to use.
  • Another hand-pumped device is the MSR Guardian Purifier Pump. It has extra filtering technology for protection against viruses.
  • The SteriPEN is a device that you stick into a container of water and stir. It’s a UV water purification system that removes the same pathogens as the LifeStraw and the GravityWorks. It can purify much more water than the LifeStraw or the GravityWorks as it uses radiation instead of filtering (filters eventually need to be replaced). But it requires a battery.

You’ll find items similar to the ones I’ve listed here through a simple keyword search. They are thoroughly tested and you have several brands to choose from. But a new technology has been developed at Stanford University. It looks simply like a small tablet, and it’s smaller than a postage stamp. You drop it into your water, and it uses the sun’s rays to decontaminate. And it doesn’t just use UV light–it uses visible light as well, and purifies your water in minutes. Don’t look for it in stores yet, though. Its effectiveness, so far,  is limited since it is a pretty new design. Researchers are currently refining the device to make it as effective (or more so) than the best purification devices around.

Since the light-purification systems can’t do any filtering, particulates would need to be removed with, well, some kind of filter.

The biggest drawback of any purification system is that they are ineffective on salt water; nothing other than distillation through evaporation will make salt water drinkable. And that’s the kind of thing that is hard to make small and portable.

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