Non-Potable Water | Types and How to Spot Them | What You Need To Know

Knowing how to spot non-potable water is one of the many skills we need to master to ensure that our outdoor activities will not turn out a disaster.

Heading to the great outdoors is an excellent way to de-stress and detach from the hustle and bustle of life. However, heading out is not as simple as it sounds. We need to learn how to keep ourselves and our companions out of harm’s way, especially when exploring areas we are not familiar with.

What is Non-Potable Water?

Knowing potable and non-potable water may not exactly be the first thing that comes to mind when preparing for outdoor activities. However, we do not realize that this is crucial information we need to be aware of, especially given how the consumption of the wrong type of water can carry significant health risks.

So what is non-potable water, and how does it differ from potable water?

Simply put, non-potable water is not fit for human consumption and is by nature usually harder to find compared to water that is safe to drink. We cannot deny though that there are still people who may find differentiating non-potable and potable water a little tricky, more so outside the confines of their day-to-day. With our heightened exposure to non-potable water when camping, hiking, or on any outdoor trip, all the more should we increase our knowledge about which water is safe to drink and use.

To help you understand this a little more, check out our list of the types of non-potable water that we probably encounter more than the others.

Types of Non-potable Water

1. Rainwater

Rainwater harvesting during monsoon. Water splashing from a tank | non potable water

It may seem odd for some people how rainwater is non-potable, given that it directly comes from nature. Still, we also have to understand that the water cycle involves water evaporating from just about anywhere. With this indiscriminate collection of water, especially with the existing water pollution issues, we need to consume water with care. If you need to drink rainwater on your outdoor trip, make sure you purify it first using iodine, chlorine, or simply boiling it.

2. Creek, Dam, and River Water

Deep forest river wild waterfall view. Forest river wild landscape. Wild river stream rocks flowing. Forest river rocks view | non potable water

Since we are already on the topic of not immediately trusting anything you find in nature, we should also treat water bodies such as creeks, dams, and river waters the same way we treat non-potable water. Like how rainwater needs to go through purification, so do the waters from these sources. And since they are exposed to other elements in the likes of soil, rocks, and other particles, you also need to make sure you subject these waters through filtration to lessen the possibility of you ingesting any foreign objects.

3. Quarry Lakes

Quarry pond in Hartheim near Freiburg | non potable water

Often the result of deep-ground excavations or mining operations, quarry lakes are human-made pits that eventually become filled with water through either the collection of groundwater, rainwater, or both. With that in mind, they may be toxic for humans, hence the need to avoid them altogether or at least make their water potable first before drinking.

4. Recycled Water

Modern urban wastewater treatment plant | recycled water | non-potable water

Also known as reclaimed water, this type of water is wastewater converted and treated to become reusable. Usually, from diverse sources such as residential homes or businesses, recycled water goes through sewer systems or wastewater treatment plants to become useful for their next intended purpose.

Though recycled water may be harder to find in the wild than the first few examples (since they are usually in secure facilities), you should think twice about consuming recycled water if you stumble upon it. For this and all the other kinds of water you encounter, make sure that they have been treated first for human consumption.

You may also want to check out Everyone Should Learn These 25 Ingenious Camping Tips And Hacks NOW.

Health Effects of Drinking Non-Potable Water

Two people attending to a woman with a virus lying on a stretcher in a field hospital with bio hazard symbol in the foreground | Health Effects of Drinking Non-Potable Water

There are many reasons why we are so particular about safety precautions for drinking water in the wild. One of which is the fact that every year, an estimated number of 829,000 people die from diarrhea just because of drinking unclean water. If that’s not already bad enough, half of the world’s hospital beds are for people suffering from a water-related disease. Besides, being far away from civilization is already dangerous; being sick while in the wild can be life-threatening.

Before we tackle the effects of drinking non-potable water, here are signs to watch out for that can show that you may have consumed non-potable water. If you ever experience these during your outdoor trip, find the means to be medically examined and treated as soon as possible.

Symptoms of Non-Potable Water Consumption

  1. Diarrhea
  2. Abdominal cramps
  3. Nausea
  4. Vomiting
  5. Fever
  6. Dehydration

Getting immediate help to address the symptoms mentioned can help you quickly detect other possibly more severe diseases. You would want to have them checked before they worsen. To give you an idea, here are the usual conditions you can get from drinking dirty water.

Diseases You Can Get from Drinking Non-Potable Water

1. Cholera

Diseases You Can Get from Drinking Non-potable Water

A silent killer, cholera can kill a person within hours if left untreated. Most people do not notice this disease until it’s almost too late. This is why it’s important to watch out for the mentioned symptoms. Symptoms particularly diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and dehydration are common signs of cholera.

2. Cryptosporidiosis

Diseases You Can Get from Drinking Non-potable Water

This disease is due to microscopic parasites called cryptosporidium that is sometimes present in unclean water. You can suspect having this if you experience our listed symptoms above.

3. Dysentery

Rod-shaped bacteria Shigella which cause food-borne infection shigellosis or dysentery | Diseases You Can Get from Drinking Nonpotable Water

This type of gastroenteritis involves the inflammation of the intestine and can be fatal if left untreated. If you experience diarrhea with blood, you can suspect that you have probably contracted dysentery.

4. Giardiasis

Giardia lamblia protozoan, found in duodenum, close-up view the causative agent of giardiasis | drinking non potable water effects | ss

Somewhat similar to cryptosporidiosis, ingestion of microscopic parasites causes girdiasis. The parasite called giardia can sometimes be found in dirty water. While it is rarely fatal, it can have lasting effects, especially on children.

Other symptoms apart from the mentioned ones can be itchy skin, hives, and swelling of the eyes and joints. This sometimes does not have symptoms at all, which makes it difficult to detect.

Prevention is always better than needing to perform contingent actions. This makes preparation a vital part of any outdoor activity. Always be prepared to ensure that you and your companions are safe while enjoying the great outdoors.

While these types of water are non-potable, here is how you can have potable water anywhere when SHTF.