Water, water everywhere but not a drop to drink (safely).

By DontForgetYourTeam Posted: August 7, 2012 at 8:42 pm

So, as some if you may know, DFYT is off to India today. We have been busy planning our first week, as after a few days relaxing days in the mountains of Rishikesh, we will be flying by the seat of our pants and following the advice of locals and other travellers.
But there is one thing we are not planning on taking a risk on Рgetting ill from drinking funky water. The water supply in India has a reputation for being full of nasties, from E. coli and Salmonella bacteria to the hepatitis virus (Drinking India’s tap water can yield more than a bad case of Delhi belly) and whilst many people do travel without problems, we looked at how we could minimise the risks.
We have several options (with the assumption that chemical pollution is not a problem):

Boiling. Using a portable stove or travel kettle.
Pros:
100% effective against both bacteria and viruses.
Doesn’t matter how cloudy the water is.
Cons:
LOTS of energy/fuel to boil all your drinking water, or electricity if relying on a kettle.
Heavy/bulky equipment.
Need to boil water for 10 minutes + cooling time.
Overall: A lot of trouble unless you are camping with a permanent cooking setup and staying in one place for a good period of time.
Can’t light a fire in public!

Chemical treatment, either using bleach or iodine. These can come in tablet or liquid form, adding the suggested amount to your water bottle and agitating.
Pros:
Very lightweight.
Cheap.
No equipment required.
Doses can be adjusted depending on how turbid the water is.
Also keeps equipment clean, such as when using a camelback or similar, where water is trapped in valves, tubes and threads of lids.
Water is less likely to subsequently become contaminated if it comes into contact with potential contaminants.
Chlorine smell can now be removed using a neutralising liquid or tablets – often sold with the chlorine.
Cons:
The taste will be affected (limited with neutraliser).
Long term use of chemicals is not recommended. Long term use of Iodene has possible negative affect on your thyroid.
Chlorine does have a LAXATIVE EFFECT!
Treatment time of water varies from 15 minutes to hours depending on your water quality.

Water filters, either pumped or gravity fed. Such as Katadyen travel water filters.
Pros:
Can be quick and affective at removing most particulates out of water.
Some pumps work with very dirty water.
Removes Bacteria and particles, can be followed up with with other treatments to increase effectiveness.
1l per minute is common amongst small handheld pumps.
Improves taste.
Cons
Expensive – but long term cost is low if used and maintained regularly.
Needs some maintainence.
Will NOT remove viruses without a chemical (usually Iodene) filter (as above).
Somewhat bulky to carry
You’d look a bit of a muppet in a public place with one!

Ultra-violet light water “purification”. Such as SteriPen.
Pros:
Effective (in almost clear water) at killing 99.99% of everything.
Can be used in most water bottles.
Will treat up to 100L on one set of batteries.
Compact.
1 liter in 90 seconds, 500ml in 45.
Cons:
Requires batteries or charging – although there is a solar model.
More bulky than tablets.
In cloudy water, there is a risk of bacteria/viruses “sheltering” from the UV rays.
Doesn’t look THAT cool…

What did WE go for?
After much deliberating, I was very nearly persuaded by a water pump, but as one of the main problems in India is viral infections, and “clear” water is available from most taps, we went for the Steripen, specifically the “classic” model. This also solves the problem of possibly contaminated bottled water – it fits in the top and seals it, so you turn the whole thing upside down and shake whilst it does its magic. It also came with a pre-filter and bottle, so if we do need to drink “dirty” water in a bind, then we can do that too. I have loaded it with 4x AA NiMH batteries (rechargeable) so I should get nearly 100 litters for the three of us. I have also taken a charger and spare batteries in my camera flash so i’ll always have some spares.
You certainly have to have confidence in science to be trusting a little glowing stick to keep you from getting some nasty illness, but I hear they use the same approach in hospitals to make sure their water is bug free…
As a “belt and braces” backup, I also bought some Chlorine tablets to pop in my wallet – just in case it breaks, batteries die or we come across really gross water. They will also prove useful in keeping our bottles and water bladders clean – a couple in 500ml should do the trick. I didn’t bring Neutralisers – we can bear funny tasting water if that’s our only option.

If you have any experiences of any of these, please Comment!

I will update this post as the trip goes on…

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    4 Responses to “Water, water everywhere but not a drop to drink (safely).”

    1. [...] we’re still alive and we’ve been drinking “Steripenned” Indian tap water (see why here) with, as of yet, no ill affects! We boarded our flight from Heathrow terminal 5 (we had a delicious [...]

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    3. N.R. says:

      So how did it go? Did you manage to drink tap water in India without getting ill? I’m wondering about Steripen in such situations, does it really work

      • The Steripen was amazing, we used it throughout the trip. We used disinfectent tablets on the lids and bottle mouths to make sure that nothing snuck past the UV light. The only thing I would say is that the water is often warm and dosen’t always look all that appealing, definitely worth popping it in the fridge before you drink it if you have one. It can taste a little different, but that is to be expected.
        I had the dreaded Delhi belly, but not from the water; the rest of my party was also fine.

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