When preparing for a paddling trip in the high desert climate of Canyonlands, clean drinking water is a matter requiring serious consideration and deliberation. What follows should make that decision making process much easier.
The average water intake has been established at one gallon per person per day, this will accommodate your drinking needs - especially during the hottest months. This may well sound like an excessive amount to you, but the unforgiving nature of the desert cannot be stressed enough where drinking water is concerned.
The choice you are faced with in the planning stages of your trip is either to bring enough drinking water for the entire trip or starting your trip with a minimal amount of stored water and bringing an efficient means of purifying or filtering available water. We strongly suggest the you do not depend on only one means of water supply but have an alternate method for emergencies.
The duration of your trip should help to make this decision for you. On trips of a shorter duration (4-5 days) the water supply for two people would be about ten gallons, weighing just over 80 pounds. This would be easy enough to accommodate in one canoe. However, the water supply for the same two people on an 8-10 day trip would double in volume and weigh in excess of 160 pounds. This is a situation that could necessitate the use of a reliable means of water filtration or purification to maintain a supply.
The most effective way to extend a drinking water supply is by using river water for common cooking chores. Most parties at some time will be boiling water for hot drinks or meals that include rice or pasta and involve large amounts of water. The river water is usually murky from silt and many people are reluctant to use it. We can state through personal experience and without reservation that boiled river water is completely sanitary and though silty does not affect the taste of food or drink.
Boiling water is proven as the most effective and reliable means of purifying water. It is recommended that you bring water to a full rolling boil for at least 1 minute to remove the risks associated with any biological contaminants. Boiling takes a significant amount of time and fuel and can be an uncomfortable chore in summer months.
While being an effective means of water purification, chemical treatment is not as reliable as boiling and has several disadvantages. Depending on the water temperature and amount of organics in the water, not enough chemical will be ineffective and too much could prove harmful to those drinking it. Iodine and chlorine treatments commonly leave the water with an unpleasant flavor. There are many brands of chemical tablets available that come with detailed directions for their use. In our opinion chemical treatments are fine for emergency water needs but have disadvantages for daily use.
A variety of filtration devices are available to remove organisms from the water. With filters you need no fuel and no formulas and most devices leave no treatment aftertaste in the water. Filter units, however, require an initial monetary investment and their operation involves time and effort.
Through experience and the testimony of many canoers we have learned that the lower cost water filters, especially those using a disposable cartridge type of filter element, will have difficulty with the high sediment content in river water. We recommend only using a system that can be cleaned without requiring filter replacement. Do not be fooled by any system having a " Pre filter " which might also require replacement . A filter must be capable of filtering out particles down to 1 micron to eliminate microorganisms such as giardia. One of the more expensive systems but one which has proven to be reliable under all conditions is the KATADYN. Some other filters receiving recommendations from canoers are the MSR, PUR, and BASIC DESIGN systems.
Settling River Water
The first step in any of the previously listed methods is the settling out of sediments. River water is settled by collecting it in any large container and allowing it to sit undisturbed for several hours. Water to be purified is then removed from the top leaving sediments behind. Clear water collected from side streams or springs does not require settling prior to purification.
Watch video from The Southwest Backpacker: Settling silty water with alum
- Fruit juices, club soda, or other non-alcoholic beverages may be used to supplement your daily water needs. Alcoholic drinks act to deplete water from your system and should not be considered a supplemental source. In fact, alcohol consumption without increasing ones water intake can lead to serious dehydration problems.
- Ice from ice chests, if kept clean, can be a ready source of supplemental water.
- Water supplies are most easily transported in lightweight plastic containers. Rigid containers are sturdier and less prone to leakage. Collapsible containers are more space efficient but are easily punctured and prone to leakage.