please just trust me on this one…

We don’t have running water right now. We don’t know when we will again.

I’ve talked about stockpiling food and I will be posting soon about stockpiling other household goods like toiletries and paper products. But I have a great opportunity right now to talk about why everyone – in Greece and out – should stockpile water at home.


Think over the past 12 hours of your life. Now imagine those same 12 hours, without water. You could not flush the toilet, wash your hands, wash the dishes, put water in the coffee pot, boil pasta, or do the laundry. Now multiply that by all the members of your household.


How quickly would your bathroom become unpleasant? How quickly would you start spending money to eat out, money perhaps that you had not budgeted for that purpose? How soon before you start calling around to your friends to see if you can take a shower at their house?


Now imagine that instead of 12 hours, it was 12 days. And instead of just your household, it was everyone in your town. And not just houses – restaurants, hotels, and other businesses without water as well.


Food is relatively cheap, easy to store, and people can actually survive without it for a surprisingly long time. And if you’re just looking to survive, the bulk of food that you need to consume is relatively low. A handful of raisins per day can keep you alive for months. If that weren’t true, many, many Greeks would never have survived the German occumpation of Athens during WWII.


Water, on the other hand, is also cheap, but is very difficult to store, because of the amount we use. Running water is efficient, because it is easily controlled – it is decanted at an adjustable rate into a basin, sink, or bathtub. But storage water is very difficult to use. It has to be decanted by hand – whether ladled or poured – it lacks adjustable water pressure, is not aerated, and can be very difficult to control. It takes considerably more bottled water to rinse dishes than it does running water.

Add to that that our labor-saving devices, like washing machines and dishwashers, often use less water (especially when we use the energy efficient features) than handwashing clothes and dishes.


Furthermore, storage space – especially in a city apartment – is a very big issue for many people. The amount of water a typical American family of four uses in a week would fill our entire bedroom. S and I used 15 cubic meters of water over the last 8 weeks, and we were trying very hard to conserve. That’s a quarter of a cubic meter per day, assuming aerated, easily controlled water, in devices like a dishwasher that conserves water anyway. We simply cannot store very much water in our apartment; it will not fit.


Even if you have the space, water can be difficult to store for other reasons. It must be kept in foodsafe containers if you plan to use it for drinking, cooking, or rinsing dishes that will be used for eating. Foodsafe containers are expensive, and large ones are hard to find.


And there is another problem. Water is extremely heavy. Even just a single six-pack of 1.5 liter bottles is a pain to carry around. Add in water to flush the toilet and to cook and do dishes…. it’s very difficult to move it around from place to place.


We went to my in-laws for the three-day weekend. When we came home Monday night, we discovered that the pipes had frozen. The pipes are located on the outside of the building, something that we did not know (we’ve only lived here since August, and the landlord never told us that). We should have known better than to trust the pipes not to freeze, I suppose, and we should have left the water running. But we were out of town, and we didn’t know that the temperature would go so low, and we didn’t know that the pipes are outside.


The landlord says that we can’t do anything except wait for the temperature to go far enough above zero for long enough that the pipes melt. He says that the pipes are not accessible, so trying to warm them with a blow dryer, or wrap them in rugs as a friend suggested I try, would not work. According to the current weather forecast, we have at least six days without water to deal with here.


It’s amazing how quickly priorities arrange themselves.

Showers are completely out of the question. So is the dishwasher and the washing machine.

Toilets can be flushed on an absolutely-necessary basis. Luckily there are only two of us living here.

Food that can be prepared without water is ideal. Leftovers, pre-packaged foods, and things that can be cooked in the oven are good options.


Food that can be served in such a way as not to dirty plates unnecessarily – so eating leftovers out of the container, canned food out of the can, jarred food out of the jar.

Things that I usually avoid turn out to be the things I want: prepared, packaged foods; paper towels; paper plates.

We are avoiding salty foods or adding salt to things, because that will make us thirsty. We are drinking water, but we are being conservative with it.

Dishwashing by hand is on hold, except on an as-needed basis. I have a fork and spoon; S has a fork and spoon.

A tip I read once on FerFAL’s famous blog suggests putting plastic wrap onto a plate and serving food on top of that. I may use this tip; so far I’ve been sticking to containers as dishes.


I did not have enough water stockpiled. There were several reason for this:

When we lived on the island, I was obsessive about stockpiling water. A significant proportion of our tiny little cottage was bottled water. The water went out all the time there, and we relied on that water constantly. But the island’s tap water was also dangerous to drink, so we bought bottled drinking water, and I saved the bottles and filled them with tap water for stockpiling (for washing, flushing, etc). So I had tons of bottles on hand.

1. Here, the tap water is fine. We don’t purchase water for drinking. That means I don’t have lots of water bottles or foodsafe containers for water.

2. The city water system is pretty good. Unlike the island system, which was incredibly poor and often went out multiple times over the course of a week, here it’s just a regular city water system that never goes down (so far). So I didn’t feel that fear of losing our water. And I also didn’t have the experience of having no running water in the past here to prompt me to store a lot of water.


I did store some, but as always, like pretty much everyone who finds themselves without running water, I underestimated how much water we would need. (Need. Not want.)

We bought 30 bottles (1.5 L each) Monday night so that we would have good drinking water. I’m saving the bottles, of course, and as soon as I have running water again, both #1 and #2 are going to be solved. I will have bottles, and I will have motive.


However, I know – and you should know too – that the 50 or 60 liters of water that I’ll be able to store in those bottles including the ones I already had are nowhere near enough.

Storing food but not water is asking for trouble. And while you can do okay without food, or with a very small amount of food, water is absolutely essential for anything over just a few hours.

It’s also good to remember that a water delivery system can fail at any time.


Right now, I have a miserable headcold that I’ve had since January 4. For almost a month, pretty much the best relief I’ve been able to find has been hot steamy showers. I don’t get to have those anymore. And I’m not in the best mood, either. Water shortages happen when you have a fever, when you have food poisoning or diarrhea, when you have your period, when you need to look presentable at work, when you have houseguests staying for a week, and when you have no extra money for eating out – or even for buying bottled water. They happen to you at the same time as they happen to your neighbors and your friends. They happen to you at the same time as they happen to your plumber’s other customers, and your local supermarket’s other bottled water purchasers.


They happen in the summer too – on the island, and in other areas of Greece where I’ve lived, they were worst in the summer. That means when you’re hot and sweaty. And if you are relying on your own garden for food, you could lose everything if you can’t water it during a heatwave.

After air, water is up there in importance. A water panic can escalate very quickly.


Could a water shortage happen in Greece for economic crisis-related reasons? Why not? In other countries with severe economic problems, water delivery has suffered. It may continue to come out of the tap, but be undrinkable or be full of bleach if more expensive ways of purifying it aren’t available, as FerFAL describes happening in Argentina after the economic collapse there.. It may be available only at certain times of day – when you might be at work. It may not be available to higher floors in apartment buildings, if the pressure is low.


Water is a tough subject, because while we have it, it’s abundant; it’s a bear to store; and it can lead to issues of actual survival when it’s not around. With some planning in advance, you can at least buy some time during which you can try to get a reliable water supply again.


Meanwhile, I am grateful for a friend across town who offered us showers, and for our neighbor (whose pipes did not freeze, as they were here using the water all weekend) who refilled our bucket for toilet flushing, and offered to do so as many times as necessary. (But: water is not cheap in Greece. We are being extraordinarily careful with the water we are being given. And as soon as I have water again, I’ll be baking them some very nice thank-you gifts.)


But please, trust me when I say this: store water. Water is unpredictable. We are currently experiencing the coldest weather in 27 years. Not just Greece; all of Europe. In Poland it’s -30 C. That’s not normal, pipes are freezing everywhere. You’ll be glad to have it when you need it.

Please read the comments for some excellent reader tips!!

(I took these photographs on various islands in Greece; mostly the island of Kimolos, but also Milos, Kythnos, and Ios.)

I’m editing this on to add:  it’s now Thursday night.  We bought bottled water Monday evening.  Tonight, we went back to the supermarket for some other things, and of course, their bottled water was almost completely sold out!  That’s never happened before here.  So clearly we are not the only ones.  There were only a few bottles of Evian and the other really expensive brands left.  We still have about 17 bottles left of the 30 we bought, thank goodness!

This post is linking up with:

Chic on a Shoestring Decorating

12 thoughts on “please just trust me on this one…

  1. I’ve been there. Lost power/water for 2 weeks in an ice storm, and other life experiences! I learned a long time ago how to wash dishes using as little water as possible,by hand. I wrote it up below. Read it through before you do it. I have a metal wash pan I only use when I have to do this….

    Scrape most of the loose food off the dishes. Put your biggest flat pan or dish pan on the bottom, it’s okay if it needs to be washed too. Build a stack of dishes that isn’t precarious that forms a sort of pyramid, from biggest to smallest in your pan, preferably with a heatproof cup on top (it doesn’t matter if the pan’s dirty right now, or not.) Heat a kettle of HOT water. Put some soap in that cup. Fill it with the hot water. Swish it around with a sponge or cloth, wash the dish, (If you’ve got it really soapy, put a finger thru the cup’s handle so the cup doesn’t slip out of your hands, also don’t wash the inside and the outside at the same time, do one and then the other, you;lll lose less china that way!) Wipe off the outside of the cup with the soapy sponge. Pour the hot soapy water into the next dish, put the cup aside on the counter.

    Continue doing this until you get to the bottom dish. Your soapy dishes will be filling your counter top. Wash the pan with the water in the pan and then toss the water. Put some clean hot water in the pan, enough to make about 1-2″, and one at a time, dip the other, soapy dishes in and out of the water to rinse, until the water is so soapy that you’re sure it’s not removing any soap. (If you have the water REALLY hot, tongs will help you not scald your fingers!)

    Put that water in a jug or tub or something, you can use it and the water on your counters from the cleaned dishes to wipe down your counters. Refill the pan with clean hot water, finish your load.

    Or, alternately, wash the dishes as above and while you’re doing that heat a stew pan full of water, dip the dishes in one at a time (Use tongs!) and put on your dish rack. Use that water as the beginning of your dishwashing water the next load.

    The 2nd method of rinsing is easier, but uses more water.I learned how to do this on the Hopi reservation years ago, in a town where all the water had to be hauled 25 miles (in Arizona).

    I bet this sounds confusing! It really isn’t, it’s just a different pattern than you’re used to. Frankly, when I have a HUGE load of dishes, I clean them out that way, making the pyramid and all to rinse them, it’s much faster than doing everything one at a time.


    • Hi Teacup! What a neat system – I love it! I’ve been using a 2 pan system and trying to keep the dishes to a minimum. I’ll give your pyramid system a try tomorrow. On the island where we used to live, water was very scarce, and we were pretty good at conserving it. I collected water during showers to wash clothes (we didn’t have a washing machine). And of course it goes without saying that we use barely any water when showering – that’s the case for all of Greece. Ten seconds of water, then turn it off to soap and shampoo; then a quick rinse. We used much more water adjusting the temperature in our very ancient plumbing than in actually washing ourselves! 😛

      When I growing up, we pumped our own spring water with electricity, so when we had no electricity, we had no water either, but we never went longer than 7 days without water & electricity. Luckily, we had a swimming pool, so we had no problem with flushing toilets and even bathing (the pool got a little sudsy…). On the island, we very often didn’t have one or the other, but usually not longer than a day. I have to admit that this is the worst I’ve experienced, because of the combination of the length of time (they’re now saying it might be 2 full weeks w/o water) and because there’s no other water anywhere (pool, etc). I’m doing my best to stay patient with this!

  2. I was a spoiled L.A. kid when I went to the reservation, culture shock doesn’t begin to cover it. If I hadn’t gotten really sick, it would have been more fun!

    As I said the only two kickers about this are that the dishes get slippery when you’re sudsing them and the rinse water is HOT! Writing it down reminded me why I had 2 sets of tongs in the kitchen, I was just about to throw one in the antique booth, so you did me a favor! I’ll retrieve it and throw it back in the drawer. (Last time we lost power I needed tongs for cooking, and I was washing dishes, and….)

    I’ve enjoyed reading your stuff. Thanks!


  3. I goofed! I edited that so often I took it out. The reason that you put the soapy dishes on the counter is that you then use the soapy water from the dishes to wipe down the counter. It’s another way to save water.


    • Good tip about the countertops! A friend just suggested that we drain the water from our (now icy cold) hot water heater to use as needed – I’ll be looking into how to do this. It’s quite small (good for two quick Greek-style showers) but would probably flush the toilet a few times if I can figure out how to do it. Unfortunately it’s high up so I’ll have to stand on a ladder to do it!

  4. I hope that works! I knew someone years ago who’d been through the drought in N. California, They swore they’d never be without a waterbed, and use that water as their “household water” storage if needed.


  5. LOL @teacupofwater – I lived through the drought in norcal and suddenly all the weirdos who had waterbeds make sense! When our main well went dry we had the back-up well (deeper, unfiltered, orange water), but when the pump gave out a different year, that sucked! At least then it was summer, no one had to go to school and we kids were just farmed out to friends until the part came to fix it. I can’t really imagine what we’d do if we lost water here in DK. I mean, we’ve got some snow and a fireplace… but we’d be hard pressed. I imagine we’d have to get the caravan’s water tank and haul water from my husband’s work. Ugh. I hope it warms up soon for your sakes!!

    • hehe the waterbed idea is hilarious! I happen to be extremely, extremely sensitive to motion sickness (seriously, I can get motion sickness in an elevator!), and waterbeds make me seasick, so I’d never be able to have one! AG, we thought about the snow but apparently it takes an enormous amount of snow to produce a little water. The crystalline structure spaces it out so much. If you imagine a handful of snow melting in your hand, it’s just a tiny rivulet running between your fingers. We don’t get that much snow here. In DK, you probably do! We also don’t have a fireplace – phooey! I would love one. But you’re on an island, right? There’s always the sea!! When we lived on the island, we always had that in the back of our minds – just drive to the beach and fill up some jerry cans. We never had to do it, but it was sort of comforting knowing we could.

      • Yeah, the sea is great for flushing the toilet, but I wouldn’t want to bathe in it or cook with it or wash clothes in it. Wouldn’t you get a lot of salt build up? (Suddenly I feel a great deal of pity for sailors in the old days.) Well, I guess if I was desperate! I was thinking about cooking and drinking and you are right that snow does not result in much water. We don’t get quite enough snow or get it regularly enough to rely on, so I guess I should down-load plans to make my own desalinator a la “Voyage of the Mimi.” Just in case.

        • Yes, you’re right – I am the type to take a shower as soon as I get home from the beach, but seasalt is a natural exfoliator and the water is clean. (S swears that regular swims in the sea prevent winter colds and minor illnesses, I’m not sure I buy that one). If you wanted to do it in the winter, you would have to transport the water and heat it before using it, and I agree, you can’t wash clothes in it. When we lived on the island, we weren’t even supposed to use the tap water for cooking! The first year, we used bottled water to cook pasta, beans, etc. We only used tap water for washing. It was so expensive that I did look into sea water desalination, so I did those searches, and there are indeed ways to do it extremely inexpensively on a small scale. Rain collection is probably more accessible to most people, at least psychologically. (The second year on the island, we switched to using tap water for cooking because we had reasons to believe that there were special interests behind proclaiming it unhealthy.)

          If you live in a place that gets a lot of rain – and even if you don’t – you can set up large rain barrels and you can rig up a collection system using gutters which makes use of the entire surface area of your roof, with the rain running through the gutters to barrels set at the corners of your house. Rainwater is great for washing clothes and for all garden uses. In fact, many people use rainwater preferentially in the garden. It’s extremely free, after all.

          For us, rainwater collection is very difficult if not impossible. We live on the 3rd floor of a 6 floor apartment building, and our balcony is covered by the floor of the balcony above us; all the balconies have awnings which push any rain that blows onto the balcony back out to the street. We get almost no rain at all, except during a thunderstorm!

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