How can you tell if water is safe to drink? One way would be to run the tap and if the water is brown, well, don’t stick around. But I am not talking about finding safe water in your kitchen. If you decided for the first time to take your SUV off road as it was, but flipped it over in the great wilderness and need to find liquid sustenance because you only brought along one bottle of Perrier, what will you do? You will search for a crick or a creek or a stream or a river or a lake. But can you be sure the water in a creek or a stream is drinkable? Especially since George W. Bush undid all the laws and regulations protecting Americanagainst the pollution of his biggest campaign contributors, it is not wise to simply suggest that because the water is clear and cold it is drinkable. Maybe yes and maybe no. But how to be sure?
First thing to do is look for animals. If animals come by to drink from the water source in the great outdoors, then that is a potential sign that the drinking water is safe. Animals have this weird thing where they tend to prefer water that doesn’t make them sick to their little stomachs. Of course, the thing is that there may only be one water source and so animals will drink whatever water there may be. So even if there is a menagerie of animals drinking from the water source, it still may not be safe. For one thing, wild animals are able to build up a certain level of resistance to waterborne bacteria and viruses in the water that may cause you to spend the rest of the night retching behind a tree. This also goes for people, in fact. Those people who are used to drinking from polluted water may actually be able to drink from a source without getting sick, while if you were to drink from the same source you’d wind up in what passes for an emergency room.
The best thing to do when you find a source of drinking water in the wilderness like a stream or river is to follow the source as far upstream as possible. Take care to look for the carcasses of dead animals as well as signs of pollution. Also notice whether there are large deposits of algae. If the algae in the water source is as plentiful as oil lobbyists at a Republican fundraiser in Texas, stay the heck away. Also take notice of the plants and vegetation around the water source. If the plants do not look healthy, especially the ones that are actually feeding from the water source in an obvious manner, then it may be better to try to find another water source.
Of course, the best advice you can ever receive in regard to drinking water with which you are unfamiliar is to boil it. Boiling will take care of most impurities, but if the water is genuinely polluted with chemicals even this process won’t be enough. The ideal solution is to boil and filter through charcoal, though obviously this is not always going to be an option.