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Hydrophiliacs — Water on the Brain


I grew up drinking well water. The well was 220 feet deep and my father had the water tested every year. It wasn’t pristine, it had both mineral and bacteriological contaminants but both were within acceptable limits, at least for the time, and the water tasted good. Water with real flavor, albeit a mild, unassuming flavor.
Click to view larger versionMy parents, siblings, and I have remained remarkably resistant to colds, flu, and similar infections over the past 50 years and my theory is that our not quite perfect well water enabled us to develop strong immune systems — we were constantly fighting off mild attacks, attacks that didn’t even make us sick but still exercised our immune systems, and we’re far stronger for it. And then there were the inevitable contaminants found on fresh-picked garden produce and farm-raised beef. You can’t avoid infection, so better to develop natural resistance.
My parents first traveled to Europe in 1962 and my mother returned an addict of bottled mineral water. At that time, European water supplies were highly suspect, far more contaminated than our well water, and so most visitors drank bottled, processed water. My mother became particularly fond of effervescent mineral water, but it was largely unavailable in this country at that time and so she bought a siphon and added CO2 to our well water – which had its own share of minerals. When Perrier became available she switched to that. And to this day she’s fond of sparkling mineral water, although she no longer insists on Perrier.
I don’t care for mineral water as a rule. I say this knowing that minute amounts of some mineral (and biological) contaminants are what make the best tasting water — the water found in mountain streams being a perfect example. But most mineral waters contain too much mineral for me. Nevertheless, I can easily understand her liking for a flavor that isn’t present in tap water and her willingness to pay for that taste.
But I have no understanding of the current American love affair with plain bottled water. My current tap water isn’t the best I’ve had and when I lived in Sacramento the water actually tasted bad. But in both cases I found filtering the water eliminated my problems. In California my house had a reverse osmosis system on the kitchen tap (installed by the previous owner) and here I use one of those Pur systems that fits on the end of the faucet. Both work perfectly and cost micro-pennies to use, so why the hell would I pay $1.29 for a 12 ounce bottle of water? That’s almost $14 a gallon! Can you imagine what their markup must be? If gasoline cost that much I’d buy a Segway. Hell, I’d walk first.
And then there’s the whole environmental issue.
Fortunately 70 percent of the bottled water sold in this country is ordinary tap water bottled by Pepsi (Aquafina) or CocaCola (Daisano). I say “fortunately” because that means fewer environmentally-sensitive aquifers are being sucked dry to satisfy our nonsensical lust for water packed in plastic. Instead, the taxpayers in Atlanta and Chicago and other regional bottling centers are funding our perverse desire. Nevertheless, this water is then packed in plastic bottles (wasting petroleum) before being shipped out (wasting diesel fuel) only to end up in a landfill (wasting space).
The industry’s position on this is that it’s no different from any other packaged food product that requires shipping. Get a clue: Water doesn’t have to be shipped, it can be delivered via pipes directly to a home with almost no environmental side effects from delivery.
The bottled water industry also likes to claim bottled water is cleaner than tap water, but as this article notes, there are no standards for testing for parasistes like Cryptosporidium or Giardia, both of which are tested for in tap water. In fact, there are few mandatory standards at all for bottled water — most are voluntary. Think you can trust the industry? “We found after testing more than 1,000 bottles that about one fourth of the bottled water brands (23 of 103 waters, or 22 percent) were contaminated at levels violating strict enforceable state (California) limits for the state in which they were purchased, in at least one sample.” — Natural Resources Defense Council. Even coliform bacteria (does eColi ring a bell?) is only tested for once a week in bottled water plants while tap water is tested 100 times or more per day.
I understand the desire for water that tastes good; whenever I go to the Smoky Mountains I make a point of finding a place where I can lay down on my belly by a stream and have a good long slug of icy cold, naturally effervescent, lightly mineralized water straight from the source. To hell with the possibility of picking up Giardia or highly diluted bear urine; neither is going to kill me and thanks to that well water I grew up on it’s likely neither will make me sick. No bottled water I’ve ever tasted can come close to that experience or flavor. Nor can a bottle of water match the sounds and smells of a forest or the feeling of river gravel beneath my stomach.
If you want to experience mountain water, go to the mountain.
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