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Re: (drinking) water safety

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(drinking) water safety
August 07, 2017 11:12AM
Searched on this topic but didn't come up with what I'm looking for. Thought it may be a conversation with some value for others too, so here goes...

I'm wondering if anyone can cite credible sources regarding safe/best practices for drinking water in the backcountry. I have not yet been sick from "bad water" - but I don't plan to push my luck. I always either filter or UV-sterilize drinking/cooking water*. Anything that goes directly into my gut is treated. But what are prudent practices regarding "once-removed" water contact? Specifically:

* can one "clean" a water container (e.g. Nalgene bottle) that was immersed in dirty water (e.g. a lake) simply by rinsing it out with clean (filtered/sterilized) water? Or is a thorough cleaning with soap and clean water required?
* similarly, when washing cooking/eating utensils, is there significant risk in using dirty water, then drying thoroughly? Is a final rinse using clean water sufficient? Or should only clean water and soap be used?

For maximum risk reduction I presume that never letting anything other than clean water touch bottles, bladders, pots & utensils is the best practice. I'm wondering if that is pursuit of "five nines" purity and uncalled for. Not sure if (for a person with a healthy immune system) the goal is to not ingest too many (however many that is...) protozoa which could reproduce and overwhelm natural defenses, or if it really is a matter of absolute-zero contamination as a goal.

I have read that in North America viruses are not generally found in water (and my Sawyer 0.1 micron filters don't remove all viruses) but I suppose that is also a possible, if unlikely, vector for water-borne illness.

What are your practices in the backcountry? Have you had any hard-learned lessons?

(* a few times I have found a water source (spring) where I can see the entirety of its route from bubbling up from the ground, and have enjoyed that w/out treatment. My thinking is there is virtually no place for "upstream" contamination by animals)

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 08/07/2017 12:49PM by ags.
Re: (drinking) water safety
August 15, 2017 10:21PM
I don't have a link to an online source. I do have a copy of Ray Jardine's Beyond Backpacking (an old edition; the new edition may have a different title). He rarely cites any source other than his own experience. But he has a lot of that: at the time of publication, he had hiked something like 15,000 or 20,000 miles.

One of his points that made a lot of sense to me is that spring water comes from groundwater, and it's only as clean as what's upstream. If your creek is below a meadow with sheep grazing on it, it's probably full of whatever bugs come out of the backs of those sheep. And of course backpackers themselves spread intestinal infections. But some springs are safe to drink without treatment... if you can identify them.

Another "uncommon sense" point is to think of Giardia just like we think of whatever lives in the water in other countries (Mexico, India, wherever). Gets us sick when we go there, but the locals have no problem. Jardine isn't entirely clear on whether this is "news you can use", but he seems to suggest that on through-hikes you can just acclimate your body to the water.

And finally, backpackers (including me) don't always have the best personal hygiene, so we can introduce bugs just by eating with dirty hands.
Re: (drinking) water safety
August 18, 2017 09:44AM
Here is a link to an article regarding backcountry water quality I read some years ago.

Re: (drinking) water safety
August 21, 2017 10:03AM
Thanks for the replies. I followed the link above to see if I could find more information, but failed.

My question is really more about safe water handling practices, not safe water. Let's presume that I filter all my drinking water. For cleaning, is it sufficient to rinse a container that contained unfiltered water (such as the one that I use to collect lake/stream water for filtering and consumption) with filtered water? - or is it necessary to clean it with soap and filtered water? Is it safe to wash cooking items (pot for cooking, utensils, etc) with unfiltered water then dry, or must clean (filtered) water be used?

I am not a physician so don't have a basis for making this determination. If Giardia or Crypto can only live in water (not on a dry surface) for any time, then cleaning with unfiltered water followed by a thorough drying may be OK. If what is necessary is to avoid ingesting large amounts of these protozoa then perhaps even if there are some present on these items, would it be in small enough quantities that a normal immune system could fight them off?

I've looked at sites like WebMD and others, but they focus on what the parasites are, symptoms, treatment, and filtering water as a preventative step. Nothing about this practical application in backcountry living.
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