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I'm curious, is there an easy way to identify if surface water is safe to drink. I live in south florida and there are canals and small ponds all over the place down here, but they are often right next to relatively busy roadways.

My concern is in an emergency situation, would the threat of any chemical contamination be to high to trust these water sources? Or, assuming you boil the water/filter it to kill biological contaminants, would it otherwise be safe for short-medium time frame use?

In paticular I live in a small private/gated community that has a good size pond. It's probably around 100 yards wide and 300 yards long. There is some carp/fish in it and ducks can often be found around the pond, which would lead me to believe it is relatively free of chemical contaminants, but how could I be sure?
 

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It is my understanding that such (retention) ponds are built to percolate run-off water that is assumed to have chemical contaminates. My intuition tells me it's probably not safe to drink, but it probably wouldn't kill you immediately either. I get the feeling that boiling it won't help, but you could probably distill it to remove the chemicals. However, I really have no clue, so I'll be interested to hear what others have to say as well.
 

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More info

pre filter, then boil ,then distill then filter should kill or remove most problems! sounds hard but not really 1st filter to remove sediment large ones .
2nd boil in seperate container to kill most bact/germs to keep still clean / safer. 3rd distill water to steam condense back to water . 4th use best filter you can afford or build to remove any trace left !
ponds, streams, canals can have runoff from fertilizer or sewage from humans or animals, pesticides/insectacides , dead fish or animals !

NRA LIFE MEMBER

U. S. ARMY VET

"All gave some but some gave ALL"
 

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Microorganisms you can test for with a kit available at most drug stores. You might want one if, say, you were traveling to Mexico. Pollutants like hydrocarbons and metals are tested for in the lab. Surely your State or county has a bureau that does such testing periodically and reports enough to comply with the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. That was the whole point for having it. You pay taxes, you ought to be able to get the info.
 

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You also have to keep in mind the insecticides used along roads as well as ponds & canals to control mosquitos. No way its safe to drink.

As was mentioned, prefilter then distill atleast once would be minimum to make it safe to drink.

HH
 

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If there is dead bodies around it, don't drink it! Don't forget to look upstream either before drinking to make sure there is not a dead deer right in the middle of it right around the bend. Ask me how I know.
 

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Activated carbon filters will take out some chemical contaminates, but they do wear out and supposedly become dangerous themselves, in the process. In a real emergency though you have to take what you can get so the thing to do is to have the means to remove bacteria and kill viruses- meaning filtration and/or chlorine or iodine if the virus load makes it necessary (think: sewage). What chemicals there might be in North American waterways won't be likely to kill you in anything less than several decades- something else will get you first. GI1
 

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Greetings,

Pretty sure I've seen little pocket kits to test for water potability. Not sure how extensive the testing is or exactly what they test for. Try to google that and see what you come up with.

Heavy metals and their compounds should precipitate out (down to bottom of a container) in time, other contaminants can separate to the top depending on specific gravity (fuel, oils, etc.). Bacteria can be killed by boiling or addition of additives. Viruses are very, very small; not sure about filters that can deal with them, and as they are essentially just a DNA/RNA strand (until they get into a host and force it to allow them to replicate <more or less>) are hard to kill off. A combination of filtering, boiling, etc. should make it safe enough for use (depending on quantity). Other things to be concerned about that can *really* mess you up are protozoa, amoebas, etc..

I've had situations where I drank from unknown ground water sources before, worked out ok, but I wouldn't want to make a habit of it (I was really thirsty!).

Regards, Jim

PS..........this is all off the top of my head; drink at your own risk......
 

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If you want to filter viruses, I think your best (if only) bet is a reverse osmosis filter. However, they're expensive, slow and wear out relatively quickly. The filters can also be damaged by contaminates like chlorine, so the water needs to first be filtered with activated carbon.
 

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Yeah, I don't believe there is any practical + effective way to filter viruses. I've read that ceramic filters like the Katadin Pocket are used by climbers in places like India* and the filtered water can be drank (drinked? drunk?) safely because most viruses are attached to particles in the water and are not free-floating in harmful quantities. But as I suggested in my other post, if in doubt I would add chlorine or iodine even after filtering really bad, ie, fecally contaminated water.

* EDIT- Now I remember: This was stated in the excellent reference book Medicine For Mountaineering by James Wilkerson. Highly recommended by me, for many reasons.
 

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Never just assume water is clean and safe just because of it's appearance.

In Afghanistan we had access to well water. By smell, taste, and appearance we judged it safe. After two days of drinking it we discovered that it was fed by a small underground river of the type Bin Laden built, and upstream we found out that our Afghan Army brethren were bathing and a few were having sex with each other in the water. GI3
 

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Yeah, I don't believe there is any practical + effective way to filter viruses
You don't have to. UV light will kill them by creating thymine dimers and eventually breaking up the genetic material. This is an effective way to sterilize virus containing material. I am a molecular biologist and virologist. Also heat inactivation works at 56 degrees centigrade for 1 hour.

One of the reasons folks don't get as sick from viral pathogens like influenza, parainfluenza, respiratory syncytial virus, etc in the summer. The sun sterilizes most exposed surfaces. I wouldn't be worried about viruses as much as bacteria and especially parasites...like amoebae. They have DNA repair machinery. Viruses do not. Filter, boil and filter again.....you should be good to go. Add water purification tablet to make sure if you not sure of the filter.
 
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Cranky Old Vietnam Vet
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BUT to make good beer you have to start with good water....
Agreed...GOOD Beer Requires GOOD Water!

GI1

But even just so-so water was used in Colonial America to make a wide variety of alcoholic drinks, not just beer, but cider and even vegetable-flavored drinks...

They weren't necessarily looking for a Gold Medal Winning Brew---just one that due to boiling the water and turning the mixture into alcohol---greatly reduced one's chances of dying from water-borne diseases...

It's a fascinating chapter in our American History, un-taught in schools, and I think deliberately misinterpreted by those afraid that we will all be emboldened by the knowledge that the Founding Fathers consumed a whole lot of booze!

GI1

CAVman in WYoming
 

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Colonial times they didn't have the concern of the pesticides that can seriously harm a person. UV filtering will not remove most pesticides, just bacteria.

HH
Of course You are Correct.

'Heavy Metals' either from run-off or leaching into the aquifer from industrial uses are also a big concern...

CAVman in WYoming
 
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