Water And Oceanography

Treating Natural Water

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"Treating Natural Water"
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Camping and enjoying the outdoors can be a great experience. While you are in the wilderness however, you have to be very careful about drinking water straight from natural sources. In and outside the United States almost all natural streams and lakes contain many things that can make you very sick including protozoa, bacteria and viruses. There are many different options out there as to how you can treat the water to make it safe to drink. Here is a guide to help you decide which way you will use:

Carry your own water source
If you only plan to go on a short day hike you can plan to carry water in from a safe water source in bottles. You will have to calculate how much water you will need depending on the length of the hike, its difficulty and the temperature. Always overestimate the amount of water you will need in case of an emergency in which the hike ends up longer than you expect.

Sterilize water by boiling
One method of ensuring that natural freshwater (from a stream, creek or lake) is safe to drink is by bringing the water to a rolling boil in a pot with a camping stove. This technique will kill protozoa, bacteria and viruses making it safe to drink. Remember though that this method only kills the living dangers and will not get rid of other chemicals and dirt in the water that can alter the taste.

Treat water with tablets or droplets
Another method of treating water from natural sources is by using treatment tablets. These are typically added to the water for approximately 2 hours before you are allowed to drink it. Chlorine is a very common treatment solution that kills almost all the living protozoa and bacteria in the water, but causes the water to taste similar to that from a swimming pool. Iodine treatment is also used, but only offers limited protection against Cryptosporidium. These treatments will not filter against chemicals or mud in the water.

Bring a water filter
Finally, you can bring along a camping water filter to clean water collected from a natural source. Filters will take care of bacteria and protozoa, but unfortunately most filters are not sensitive enough to take out the very small viruses. In North America viruses are not that much of a concern but in foreign countries they can be and are a common cause of travelers' diarrhea. Take care to clean your filter regularly as they can become easily clogged.

Tips when collection water from a natural source
In general running water is cleaner than standing water. If you don't have access to a stream or creek, you can also collect water from rain puddles, melt snow, or build a dew-collector.

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