Fit To Drink
Some numbers to remember when transporting water to the playa:
1 gallon of water = 8.34 pounds
1 gallon of water = 3.75 liters
We call it 'potable water' because unlike the stuff coming out of the BRC water trucks, it's safe to put in a cookpot (or directly into your body). Potable water is a mandatory item on the 'What to Bring' list. A week on the playa starting in late August will require between 1.5 to 3 gallons of water per day for each person to 'piss clear' (protecting your kidneys) as well as some water for meal cooking and showers. Of course, water for misting and countless refills on water-propelled toys may require some extra.
When trying to reduce your impact on the environment, keep in mind that potable water is a precious resource that is quickly becoming scarce! Bringing much more water than you need could mean a lot of waste, especially if you simply dump it out on the playa (which, on a larger scale, will impact the local playa environment). Driving it back home is better, as long as you'll put it to use.
The hottest 'green' issue around water has to do with those handy water bottles being sold by more and more companies each year. Many companies offering bottled water are simply re-packaging water from a local water supply. However, bottled water quality control/regulation is far less-stringent than what happens at the city-level in most U.S. cities. In other words, there are lots of people making sure that the water from your tap is clean, but not many folks are checking on what's in that bottle you just paid for.
Small, disposable bottles also means lots more packaging – more waste to be packed out, and more waste produced in general. Bottled water also has to be shipped from the bottler to you, increasing its 'carbon footprint'.
Larger, reusable containers are less wasteful/impactful when used properly. Filling those containers closer to the event means less weight on your vehicle, possibly improving your fuel consumption. See the Tips below for some details on alternative approaches.
Tips & Hints
Big jugs are your friends.
Rather than get a dozen 3-gallon water bottles, why not one large water barrel? Stainless steel (or military drinking water) drums are the best alternative. Some plastic drums may leach chemicals into the water, especially when stored in sunlight. Make sure that you look for food grade drums/barrels and keep in mind that if they've been used before, they're likely to transfer odors/tastes to your water. Bring smaller containers to fill with lemon and mint for cooling and taste factor.
To find places to buy barrels or other water containers, check hardware stores or camping/survival gear stores. You can also search online for things like 'emergency water storage', or 'food grade water barrel'. There are a number of Burner-friendly vendors in the Reno/Sparks area who sell water storage supplies (as well as the water itself).
Big jugs means big pumps?
The simplest way to get water out of a 55-gallon drum is with a hose. Get a length of hose at least twice the height of the drum. With one end in the water, you can suck on the other end to start the flow of water. If the other end of the hose is below the surface of the water in the drum (like off the side of a truckbed), the water will flow out without any more prompting. Look for valves that match your hose to close off the flow.
Much easier... search hardware stores or the web for a hand water pump, or 'barrel pump'. It takes relatively little pressure to pull water out of a big drum, and there are lots of different pump designs, many of which screw directly into the semi-standard holes at the top of a 55-gallon drum. Using an electric pump might be necessary if you're feeding to a complex kitchen structure, but is probably a waste of electricity for just refilling personal use bottles.
Protect your water!
It's a good idea to cover the drums of water in a shaded area, to prevent chemical/odor/taste leaching as well as keeping them a little cool. Some plastic bottles will actually deform from the heat of the direct sun.
Sunlight is energetic enough to cause chemical reactions in the bottle's plastic, imparting unpleasant odors and tastes to the water. Also, if there is anything in the water, like bacteria or algae, the sunlight will foster growth, which could cause illness as well as bad taste. Keep in mind that the "milk jug" style plastic (polyethylene) breaths, allowing outside air to reach your water. Do not store your bottles near any chemicals or other things with strong odors -- your water next to a bag of onions could mean onion flavored water!
Buy your water closer to the playa.
Water isn't light! If you're concerned about fuel-consumption, keep in mind that each person's allocation of water for a week could weigh over 175 lbs. Reducing the distance over which you haul that weight could improve your gas milage, and cut down on your gas emissions.
There are a number of places in the Reno/Sparks area that sell water by the gallon. Check out our page on Groceries and Water in the Preparation section.
Get a water truck.
Network with other large camps and rent/borrow/steal a large-capacity potable water truck to transport water to the playa. Potable water can then be stored in drums/water truck and distributed to camps as needed.
Design your kitchen to be efficient.
Use water only WHEN NEEDED. When washing dishes, use a spray bottle and personal cloth to wipe down the gunk, then a container with water to rinse and sanitize. Then run that water through a grey water filtration system.
Use paper plates, and burn or compost them after the meals. If you choose this route, make sure you get some sort of planet-friendly paper plates, since the plastic coated ones may leach toxins into the air (and your lungs).
Less is More in the shower!!
A spray bottle and your favorite cloth often does the trick for conserving your precious water. Working with a partner really helps get those hard to spray areas as well as deepen any relationship you may have had...
Many people use solar showers -- a bag that holds about a gallon of water, then sits in the sun like a turtle, slowly heating through the day. This can deliver a nice hot shower but do the numbers and decide for yourself how much water and energy conservation you want to practice.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can grey water be used for misting/showering or drinking? While some camps supported by environmental engineering students have developed elaborate systems to treat the grey water for reuse, most camps do not have the expertise to treat grey water to be clean enough for misting and drinking. More importantly, it is against the public health standards to re-use the water in this way. Make sure you visit these camps for tips for next year,though. You can find them on the Earth Guardian's "Leave No Trace" tour.
Can filtered water for sale or tap water to fill my containers be found in Gerlach, Empire or some other small town near BRC? NO. Waiting until you reach one of these small towns to fill up on water could leave you and your mates high and dry. There aren't any larger grocery stores in these towns, leaving you with the singularly un-green option of buying multitudes of tiny plastic bottles of water at a gas station. These communities welcome us as we pass through to BRC, but are highly impacted by the increased travel during the last week of August. They do not have the infrastructure to provide the inhabitants of BRC with anything close to the amount of water needed. Water in the desert is a precious resource. Please don't steal water in Gerlach or Empire.
However, there are a lot of Burner-friendly vendors in the Reno/Sparks area who sell water and containers for it, listed in the Preparation section.
Must shower/misting water be stored in a potable water container? Yes. In order to assure the health of those enjoying showers/misting, the water used for showers/misting must be potable water (i.e., water deemed safe for people to drink) and stored in containers used only for potable water. These containers may also be called 'food grade.'
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