Treating river water

Submitted: Wednesday, Nov 13, 2013 at 15:12
ThreadID: 105107 Views:6236 Replies:15 FollowUps:12
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How do you treat a load of river water, pumped up into your tanks, to make it safe and palatable to drink?

I was thinking of adding an appropriate chemical in the right concentration, letting the tank stand, and then pumping it up through a 1 micron filter and a carbon filter.

Affordable chemical options for a 100 litre tank might be
Pool Chlorine
Sodium peroxide
Napisan (sodium percarbonate)

The first two are not great companions in a camper. Can anyone offer any advice based on their own experience?

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Reply By: Member - Oldbaz. NSW. - Wednesday, Nov 13, 2013 at 15:53

Wednesday, Nov 13, 2013 at 15:53
G'day Keith, I wouldn't be trying to treat river water to make it safe or palatable.
You could boil it to make it safe..palatability wont be altered. Washing water would not
need to be treated. I would carry water to drink & use the river for other requirements.
I would be fearful of pumping it into tanks..the sediments will settle, algaes will grow,
& tastes be hard to remove. If you have to carry it I would use 20L drums. Treatment ? I don't know..never had reason to do it...cheers....oldbaz.
AnswerID: 521369

Follow Up By: AlbyNSW - Wednesday, Nov 13, 2013 at 16:36

Wednesday, Nov 13, 2013 at 16:36
agree, carry seperate drinking water supply. We just buy carton 5 or 10 litre bottled water for drinking. I dont think it is worth the risk of family members getting sick when on holidays.
Having an upset stomach without a proper toilet would not be a good experience.
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Reply By: Member - Chris_K - Wednesday, Nov 13, 2013 at 16:37

Wednesday, Nov 13, 2013 at 16:37
Hi Keith

As said above - if possible it's probably not the best idea to pump river water into tanks. Sediment, chemicals, faecal matter - yuk. You could try using one of these to make it safe for drinking...expensive and time consuming, but they appear to work:


AnswerID: 521370

Reply By: Honky - Wednesday, Nov 13, 2013 at 16:47

Wednesday, Nov 13, 2013 at 16:47
Considering what has happened overseas and which could easily happen here, it may be a good insurance policy to have some form of water treatment.
When a disaster happens the first emergency is to get safe drinking water.

AnswerID: 521371

Reply By: Herbal - Wednesday, Nov 13, 2013 at 16:50

Wednesday, Nov 13, 2013 at 16:50
I would not be using any of those chemicals, or any other chemicals :)

We are lucky in Aus in that the old golden rule still applies... If it is clear and running, it is safe...But these days some common sense is needed too ;)

The answer to your question is, yes it can be done. But the realistic answer is, yes it can be done but not for mobile applications.

The filter system needed...believe it or not, will be bigger than your van. I looked into this question maybe 15 years ago (might be 12 years ago). The answer I got from a qualified and licenced plumber specialising in dam water filtration, was that to filter water from the dam to make it "town" quality, the filter would be 30 foot long, 4 foot deep and 3 foot wide.

There is a bloke (well, a guy, cos he is a yank) on Youtube showing how to make a filter using a couple of those 20lt builders buckets. It is only good for loo flushing and washing, but it is clear and clean water.
AnswerID: 521372

Reply By: Member. Rob M (QLD) - Wednesday, Nov 13, 2013 at 17:10

Wednesday, Nov 13, 2013 at 17:10
Hi Keith,

Have you looked into maybe fitting a second tank for river water and keeping the original for drinking water.
It is surprising how cheap they are and how little room they take up.
As far as chemical treatments go I don't think I would like to drink water treated with any of the above products.
Rob M

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Follow Up By: Member - KeithB - Wednesday, Nov 13, 2013 at 17:55

Wednesday, Nov 13, 2013 at 17:55
Sorry guys.
I meant clear river water - or water from a stream. Not the muddy variety.
My apologies again.
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Follow Up By: Member - KeithB - Wednesday, Nov 13, 2013 at 19:25

Wednesday, Nov 13, 2013 at 19:25
The camper I am building is for extended remote touring. It has three tanks. It also has a shower. In addition has three females on board who don't mind washing their hair. So you can see my problem. I don't have enough hair for it to be an issue.

The middle tank is a day tank and I can pump the other two into it through yet-to-be-installed filters, after chemical treatment. But I don't want to cart around hundreds of litres of town water if I can help it. We'll travel with just a full middle tank. And fill up close to camp.

Splitting tanks between drinking and non drinking complicates things a fair bit for our setup.

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Reply By: Andrew D. - Wednesday, Nov 13, 2013 at 17:57

Wednesday, Nov 13, 2013 at 17:57
We use river water all the time.
Have a 200L water tank similar to this unit The tank we have was cheaper with better outlet so look around.
Pump the water up from the river using a Taifu 240V submersible solenoid pump from the 600W inverter. Pump has up to 100M head.
Depending on the turbidity of the water will use alum as a deflocculant if severe and high clay content. If turbidity is low rely on domestic unscented bleach.
These two documents are required reading:$FILE/nonpotablewater-guide.pdf Carry this document with me laminated.
Excellent background to water treatment and definitely worth reading.

Take note:
Do not use under any circumstances pool chlorine or chlorine that contains isocyanuric acid.
AnswerID: 521375

Follow Up By: Andrew D. - Wednesday, Nov 13, 2013 at 18:02

Wednesday, Nov 13, 2013 at 18:02
Pressed Submit due to interruption.

Let stand for 12 hours and water is crystal clear and safe and pump the top 90% into the tanks for all purposes.
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Follow Up By: Member - KeithB - Wednesday, Nov 13, 2013 at 19:13

Wednesday, Nov 13, 2013 at 19:13
Thank you Andrew.
That is fantastic information.
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Reply By: get outmore - Wednesday, Nov 13, 2013 at 17:59

Wednesday, Nov 13, 2013 at 17:59
do you really need to?

I would drink river water in a heart beat if I was in a bear grylls situation

otherwise id really try and avoid it
AnswerID: 521376

Reply By: Member - Mark (Tamworth NSW) - Wednesday, Nov 13, 2013 at 19:11

Wednesday, Nov 13, 2013 at 19:11
When doing multi day bushwalking people either play Russian roulette and drink it straight, put it through a hand pump filter (hard yakka for small amount, but good) and or use water purfication tablets
There are two types of water purfication tablets, the cheap ones (iodine/chlorine based?) and then dearer ones from a German company which cost the equivalent of 70c/Litre and are hardly noticeable even in rainwater. They don't improve the taste, but make it much safer.
Likewise you can get UV light steri pens for treating water 1L at a time.

So for drinking water if it wasn't boiled for at least 5 minutes, I'd be using those tablets in your actual drinking water.
When using a CT you "waste" most of your water just washing up and cleaning your body. You needn't treat that much ater with those tablets.

I'd be kaving a Jerry can or two for drinking water and use your CT tank for washing cleaning water, that ought to prevent the need for any additives.
AnswerID: 521379

Reply By: Peter_n_Margaret - Wednesday, Nov 13, 2013 at 19:24

Wednesday, Nov 13, 2013 at 19:24
Like Andrew, we use river water all the time.
Chlorinate it followed by active carbon filtration and it will be safe and taste OK (better than the water at home).
Avoid cloudy water (it will block fine filters quickly, but will be safe) and avoid heavily mineralised water (it will be safe, but hard and maybe taste not so good).
The active carbon will remove any remaining chlorine (which breaks down quickly anyhow).
Same applies to water from cattle troughs and most other sources.

OKA196 motorhome.
AnswerID: 521380

Reply By: Member - Scrubby (VIC) - Wednesday, Nov 13, 2013 at 20:15

Wednesday, Nov 13, 2013 at 20:15
Well I don`t know, my gut must be a bit different to others, I have been drinking river water for about 60 years or so.

When younger and hunting along creeks and rivers we never bothered taking "tap" water, it was the normal thing to drink the river/creek water.
If we were to go fishing for a period of days or more on a river or lake we never took water with us ,we just used what was there.

At cape york and also along the Savannah Way in recent years we filled the two c/van tanks with river water at river crossings, cleaner than water from some of the towns.

I was camped near the Cooper Creek onetime and an old bloke in the next camp was siphoning water from a tub on a table to a bucket below. He had filled the tub with murky water from the creek the night before, and spread some white ash from the fire on top. Next morning I watched while he carefully siphoned the crystal clear water from the tub being very careful not to suck up the sediment that had settled on the bottom.

I wonder how our indigenous people filtered the river/swamp water, or the early explorers, they most likely had a reason to follow rivers and creeks where ever/when ever they could.
I haven`t thought about it much, but it could be the cause of why people reckon I`ve lost the plot in latter years :>) LOL

AnswerID: 521386

Follow Up By: AlbyNSW - Wednesday, Nov 13, 2013 at 20:52

Wednesday, Nov 13, 2013 at 20:52
Perhaps it is the same reason we get Bali belly etc in other countries.
Our " soft" western stomaches are not used to it
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Reply By: 178 - Wednesday, Nov 13, 2013 at 21:38

Wednesday, Nov 13, 2013 at 21:38
Have a look at B.E.S.T. Water filters.
AnswerID: 521393

Follow Up By: rooster350 - Thursday, Nov 14, 2013 at 11:19

Thursday, Nov 14, 2013 at 11:19
We have one of the "BEST" water filters and it is very good, you do need a decent water pressure to get it through the filter or you would be there for a while to get any more than 10l......our crappy water where we live comes out sweet as...cheers
FollowupID: 802103

Reply By: Ron N - Wednesday, Nov 13, 2013 at 23:39

Wednesday, Nov 13, 2013 at 23:39
Farming people, myself included, have drunk muddy dam water for the house supply for multiple decades, and I don't recall anyone dying from it.

To give you an idea what the body can tolerate, we lived in a farmhouse that was fed from a 12,000 gallon (54,500L) above-ground, concrete tank, that was fed from the roof of a large shed.
There was one downpipe that ran into the top of the tank at a low angle. It had a rat guard on that pipe. We didn't realise the rat guard had fallen off. We started getting little black specs through the house taps at the sink and in the bath and didn't take a lot of notice of that.
Then the specks got to be chunks, and we started thinking, "something's not right here - we'd better inspect that tank!"

Upon removing the inspection plate on the top of the tank, we were greeted by rat soup! About 100 rats, over a period of time, had walked down the downpipe, and slipped or jumped off the end of the downpipe, inside the tank!
There were bloated rat carcasses, disintegrated rat carcasses, and bits and pieces of rat, by the hundreds, floating all through the tank!

Of course, we felt a little queasy looking at what we'd been drinking, for God knows how long - and we had to empty the tank right out, hose it out, and start afresh with a clean tank.
However, none of us (myself, brother, SIL and two kids) ever suffered any ill-effects from drinking and cooking with that rat soup, for what was probably a year or more.

So, to all those who get a little queasy about what's floating in your river water, don't be too concerned. You're more likely to get poisoned by a feed of suss Chinese at your local chew-and-spew!

Cheers, Ron.
AnswerID: 521403

Reply By: Pushy - Thursday, Nov 14, 2013 at 11:50

Thursday, Nov 14, 2013 at 11:50
I would try to filter the water before I put it in the tank.

Have a look at Katadyn filters website, world leaders but not cheap.
They also provide good general information.

I saw a brochure recently for a new purification liquid which reportedly left no residue or bad taste. Can't remember the name unfortunately.

AnswerID: 521422

Reply By: The Bantam - Thursday, Nov 14, 2013 at 19:55

Thursday, Nov 14, 2013 at 19:55
Of course there are any number of stories about what people have drunk AND lived.

But the fact remains that contaminate water can make you very very ill very very quckly.

World wide contaminate water is one of the top causes of death and illness.

That said.....the vast majority of our town drinking water comes from rivers..and with a surprisingly small amount of treatment.

I remember taking the tour of the treatment works as a kid in school..and more recently, I carted mud at one of the biggest treatment planst in QLD.

Basicly.....the water is settled and roughly filtered, a floculant mostly Alum is added to make the remaining silt clump and drop out in the filters...the water is filtered again and then chlorinated.....either by adding gasseous chlorine or plain old sodium hypochlorate (bleach / pool chlorine).
And that is pretty much the end of it.

If the river you are taking water from is fairly clear.....particularly if it is any town entirely reasonable to expect you can produce drinking water at least as good as comes out of your tap at home.

There are affordable and practical filtration and treatment systems available.

some are as simple as a couple of filters (a particulate filter and a carbon filter) and a pump, and this equipment can be purchased at any good rural pump shop

The biggest issue is fast you want ya drinking water

There are even fully blown portable reverse osmosis units that will produce crystal clear safe drinking water from brackish water or hard, salty coloured bore water.
These systems are as small as a 2kva generator.

As far as sanitisers.......the vast majority of town water is treated with sodium hypochlorate...common bleach or pool chlorine....during the recent brisbane flood crisis, QLD heath published to appropriate dose of bleach per litre.

There are also a wide variety of water snaitisers availble......check out the boating/ yachting stores like bias boating and whitworths.

On a small scale...lots of the damns and rivers are pretty muddy, clean but muddy....boiling this water will knock down most bugs, but the water will remain cloudy ....Jack Absolom back in the 80's recomended a 1/4 teaspoon of epsom salts per 10 liter bucket to knock down the cloudyness.


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Follow Up By: Member - KeithB - Thursday, Nov 14, 2013 at 20:44

Thursday, Nov 14, 2013 at 20:44

You and Andrew D seem yo have it sussed. Andrew has listed the bleach dosage. The only thing I am wondering about is how to use the alum flocculant.

Let's say you let 200 litres of muddy river water settle in one of Andrew's collapsible covered drums for a while before adding the alum. How much alum do you ad without compromising the water?

Let it stand overnight. Then add the chlorine and let it stand for an hour or two and then check the chlorine level with a pool test kit. Then pump it into your tanks through a filter.

Does that sound like a plan?
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Follow Up By: The Bantam - Thursday, Nov 14, 2013 at 21:55

Thursday, Nov 14, 2013 at 21:55
Not sure of the dosage, but if you are using a floculant, either alum or epsom salts.
you add it and sturr well.

Then let the water settle.

The whole point is, the floculant causes the silt to form into clumps and drop to the bottom.

My understanding the dosage varies with the amount of silt present.

in the correct dosage the vast majority of the floculat will bond with the silt and be taken out of the water.

you would then draw off only the cleanest water from the top of the tank.

The floculant will also make the particulant filtration more effective.

A following charcoal filter should mop up any chemical residue.

There is a good argument for epsom salts.... that is what is in mineral is somtimes added to stock water in low doses as a magnesium supliment.

I'd be adding the chlorine after the water has been pumped thru the filtration...probably in the final storage tank or an intermediate tank.

Remember too that the chlorine takes time to work and quite a lot will disipate over time.

I am sure there is some detailed reading somewhere on the net about small scale water treatment.

The other component in serious water treatment is the use of acid, to balance the PH of the water and to knock down any excess calcium that may be in the original supply.

I seem to remember it may have a role in neutralising some of the floculant too.

Not exactly sure at what stage that that occurs.

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Follow Up By: Member - KeithB - Thursday, Nov 14, 2013 at 22:09

Thursday, Nov 14, 2013 at 22:09
Good advice. Many thanks
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Follow Up By: Bob Y. - Qld - Sunday, Nov 17, 2013 at 11:09

Sunday, Nov 17, 2013 at 11:09

Have been following this thread with interest, and you've had some good responses. We lived on the Diamantina River for over 20 years, and floccing water was a regular requirement of our way of life there. Have heard people bagging the Yarra for being muddy, but the Diamantina is really muddy, with suspended clay that's difficult to clear.

We used alum sulphate, and as Bantam mentioned the dosage depends on amount of clay suspended.Clearing a 5,000gal tank would require between half - full 10L bucket of alum. We found that by dissolving the alum in hot water, the floccing was quicker, and more efficient. Just poured the mix into the tank, and stirred the water up to mix it evenly. Once the water had cleared, I'd add some hydrated lime, to neutrilise the acid, to some degree, of the alum.

The Qld Dept of Primary Industries(don't kow what they're called these days?) had a paper on floccing of water from Station dams, and gave a test sequence, to give you a ratio of alum to water.

I wouldn't like to drink alum treated water, as it can be a bit severe on tender tummies. We used it for cooking, and other household uses, but used only rainwater for drinking, tea & coffee.

We did try filters at one stage, but the water was same colour either side of the filter :-) Can't comment on any of the chemicals mentioned above, but I feel it would be safer, and less trouble to use such products as Micropur and Aquatabs, which are available from Whitworths.


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Reply By: Michael ( Moss Vale NSW) - Saturday, Nov 16, 2013 at 19:12

Saturday, Nov 16, 2013 at 19:12
Check out LifeStraw family. At $100 you cant go wrong. Eo shop sell the LifeStraw Personal for $30, it could save your life ! Michael
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Follow Up By: Michael ( Moss Vale NSW) - Saturday, Nov 16, 2013 at 19:14

Saturday, Nov 16, 2013 at 19:14
Forgot to mention it can supply enough water to drink and cook for a fer years without replacement. Michael
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