In an extended primitive survival situation or wilderness living, one of the most reliable and efficient ways to procure safe water in large quantities is simply to dig a primitive well or coyote well. People have been using hand dug wells for thousands of years and, if done right, they’re a fantastic source of pure, clean water. The earth itself acts as a primitive water filter. To dig a proper well is a lot of work. But, for a long term wilderness living where potable water isn’t readily available, it’s well worth it. Humans lived for a hundred thousand years without processing water. It’s only in the last few decades or so that we’ve come to believe that raw water is unsafe.
In the mountains I regularly drink straight from the steams and alpine lakes without filtering or boiling the water. I feel very safe doing that because human and livestock inputs to those water bodies are minimal. At lower elevations where cattle and people might impact the water, or aquatic and semi aquatic mammals like beaver, raccoon, muskrat, etc. exist, I ALWAYS filter or boil the water. If there’s any doubt, and you have the capabilities to process your water, do it. I’ve had giardia once and that was enough. How I contracted it is rather ironic. Let me explain…
It happened years ago while elk hunting in the mountains not far from my home in north Idaho. I’d run out of water but I did have one of the cheaper straw type emergency water filters. I happened to be walking a closed logging road bordered by a ditch of stagnant, algae filled water. Since I had the filter straw I leaned over and sucked up a few gulps. Three days later I was doubled over puking my guts out. I had a pounding headache, severe abdominal cramps, diarrhea, fever, chills, body aches, and so on. That lasted almost 3 weeks and I lost nearly 10 lbs. In a survival situation it could have killed me. That was the first and last time I ever used a filter like that. I let the thing give me a false sense of confidence and I drank from a pool of water I never would have otherwise. Although I’ve drank unfiltered water from hundreds of mountain streams, lakes, and primitive wells, I’ve never been sick from any of them.
In a natural system, where man’s activities haven’t altered the environment, waterborne pathogens that can make us sick are rare. But today, those places are becoming difficult to find. We impact our environment in a number of ways that contribute to the presence of pathogens like giardia, cryptosporidium, and coliforms (bacteria). Fortunately most of these impacts are associated with human settlement and agriculture. Septic systems seep into nearby steams and livestock poop in or near the water, which not only adds fecal material directly to water, but also causes high nutrient loading. Another big contributor to excess nutrients in water is fertilizer runoff from lawns and agricultural fields. Nitrogen in particular can cause algal blooms and high concentrations of bacteria. Point is, stay away from areas where there may be inputs from human activities. And if you can’t, always filter or boil your water.
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