Conserving Our Liquid Diamonds

Reader Contribution by Lois Hoffman
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Nearly everything that we consume is regulated by the law of supply and demand. Diamonds are usually considered to be one of the most expensive and sought-after items the earth has to give us. That is why I refer to water as liquid diamonds. Water and air are the two most basic essentials to sustain life. We use it for drinking, bathing , food processing, cooling … the list is endless. Never in my generation’s wildest dreams did we ever believe that we would have to buy water for drinking. Today, bottled water is more of a norm than a rarity.

Bottled water has that “healthy,” pure image even though it is less regulated than tap water and generally more expensive.  The popular consensus is that bottled water tastes better than tap water from a municipal water supply or well water. Ten years ago Americans drank 8 billion gallons of bottled water and spent close to 100 billion dollars on it in one year. My personal observation is that, after being accustomed to well water for so long, bottled water has no flavor. It lacks all the minerals that give water its specific “taste.”

Isn’t water “water”? I never really thought about the source of bottled water before, thinking it all came from natural springs. I was shocked to learn that 25% of bottled water comes from municipal water supplies. So, essentially we are still drinking tap water, only out of a bottle. This whole water situation does get a little complicated.

Tap water, by definition, is stored in reservoirs, carried by pipes to homes and managed by municipalities. Even though it goes through many stages of processing, it can be hard or soft. To begin with, dirt and other particles are removed through coagulation. Aluminum and other chemicals are added to attract dirt particles which sink to the bottom. The water is then passed through layers of sand, gravel, charcoal and filters to remove even smaller particles. Some of this water from municipal supply sources is treated with UV light to kill bacteria and then filtered to get rid of excessive minerals. A small amount of chlorine is added to kill micro organisms.

Bottled water can be either mineral or spring water, both of which is bottled at the source and may not have any processing except the introduction of carbon dioxide. Both natural mineral water and spring water originate from natural, protected and specific underground sources. Besides being bottled at the source, they must be microbiologically safe to drink without treatment. The difference between the two is natural mineral water is required to have a stable mineral composition.

Although the Environmental Protection Agency regulates tap water and the Food and Drug Administration oversees bottled water, between 60 and 70 percent of bottled water is not regulated. Now that is scary not to know what exactly we are drinking.

Neither tap nor bottled water is 100% safe. Bottled water has to meet less stringent criteria than tap water. It may contain bacteria or chemical contaminants, including carcinogens, that exceed industry standards. The very plastic it is bottled in may leak into the water when stored in unusually hot temperatures such as in cars on hot summer days.

This plastic comes from virgin petroleum, a fossil fuel and fossil fuels are burned to fill and distribute these bottles. According to Food and Water Watch, the plastic in these bottles needs 47 million gallons of oil per year to produce them. The empty bottles produce up to 1.5 million tons of plastic waste per year, with only 20% of the water bottles being recycled.

Cost of bottled water varies depending on state and brand but the cost of a bottle of water can be 1000 times greater than that of tap water. Most municipal water is 1cent per gallon while the average cost for a bottle of water is $1.00 for 20 ounces.

The down side to tap water is that an entire municipal supply can be tainted. Remember the Flint, Michigan water crisis of last year? Water was piped into Flint reservoirs with significantly elevated levels of lead. Early this year journalists delved into this mess and found that it was much more widespread than just in Flint. They found that water authorities across the United States are systematically downplaying water tests to give a lower profile of the actual amount of lead in samples. How sad is this.

Who knew that to get a simple drink of water would one day be so complicated. How is a person to know if it is best to drink from the tap or buy bottled? The results of blind taste tests show must people cannot tell the difference between tap and bottled.

I am a firm believer in the Pur or Brita water filters that either go on your faucet or come in the form of a pitcher that you use in the refrigerator. Depending on the brand and filter, it takes most of the bad stuff out for a very small price. Of course, you could go with a reverse osmosis water system if you want to spend a lot more dollars.

I am fortunate to live in the country and have my own well. It carries its dangers as well but I have it tested periodically and also filter the water. I just hope the day never comes when we have to buy the air we breathe … don’t laugh, remember we did say this about water.

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