Water Spouts will speak volubly and endlessly about all the issues concerning water. The ongoing degradation, and growing scarcity, of the water supply here in the US, and the rest of the world. The continued absence of potable water in so many parts of the world. The work being done by NGOs, and charities, in the third world, to help alleviate the situation. The emphasis on WASH ( Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene ) so health and healthy water are maintained. "Water Spouts" will spout it all out.
The Saugatuck Reservoir in Redding is owned by Aquarion Water Company and is part of the greater Bridgeport water system.
For the Roper family, tap water is a family focus passed from father to son. Kenneth Roper works as a chemist testing water for the Town of Greenwich Department of Health. His older son, Ken, designed an eighth-grade science project to find out whether the price of bottled-water brands has any bearing on quality. And his younger son, Jake, designed a sixth-grade science project to learn which water-filter pitchers work best.
Like the Ropers, most of us care about the water we drink. And many of us have begun to wonder whether the stuff in the bottle is really any better than what comes out of the tap. When, if ever, is the right time to choose one over the other?
The answer for the Ropers is black and white. "If you ensure well water (or municipal water) is safe, I don't see any reason you would want to use bottled," Roper says from his lab. "It uses a ton of resources and produces a ton more waste."
But lots of us are stuck in the gray. The environmental group National Resources Defense Council reports that more than half of all Americans drink some bottled water. In fact, U.S. sales tripled to nearly $4 billion over the past 10 years.
If we put aside our concern over plastic waste we typically choose one over the other based on which is handy and which seems clean.
Tap water is very handy, says Fairfield resident John Herlihy, director of water quality and environmental management at Aquarion Water Company of Connecticut. While Roper monitors well water, Aquarion supplies and monitors municipal tap water throughout most of Fairfield County as well as five other counties throughout the state.
Just turn on the spigot and out it flows. It is also, he says, very clean. "Our water is monitored 24/7, 365."
The federal Environmental Protection Agency sets public-water system standards in accordance with the Safe Drinking Water Act. The Connecticut State Department of Health ensures water's purity and adequacy. And Aquarion takes it from there, overseeing it from source to sinks.
"There are a lot of people behind the scenes ¦ and infrastructure in the ground ¦ that you take for granted when you turn on your tap," says Lori Mathieu, section chief of the public health and drinking water section for the Connecticut Department of Health.
These behind-the-scenes folks begin by monitoring land-use activity, including requests to site housing and commercial developments near reservoirs. Water then goes to treatment plants to be filtered and disinfected. Fluoride is added to help prevent tooth decay. Chemicals are added to minimize pipe corrosion. And chlorine is added as a disinfectant. From there water flows through underground pipes until -- voila! -- it pours out of our taps.
Despite this infrastructure, municipal tap water costs less than a penny per gallon, even less if it comes from a private well. Bottled water, in comparison, selling for up to $3 per bottle, rings in at more than 300 times the cost of tap. And while advertisers market bottled water with pastoral pictures of bubbling springs and artesian wells, nearly one-third of all bottled water is actually filtered tap, reports the NRDC.
You can tell the difference by checking the bottle's label, says Chris Hogan, spokesman for theInternational Bottled Water Association. The phrase "spring water" means the contents come from a spring, while the phrase "purified water" means it's filtered municipal water.
Filtering bottled water is a multi-stage process, Hogan adds. It typically involves forcing water through a series of strains or "membranes" to remove excess or harmful minerals, chemicals and contaminants. Although no water -- bottled or tap -- can promise to be completely "chemical free," any chemicals it contains must fall below strict regulatory requirements. Bottled water can never contain chlorine, for instance. And if fluoride is present, it must be listed on the label.
Filtering municipal water can contribute to the price of bottled water. But the majority of the price increase comes from the cost of bottling, packaging, shipping, marketing, retailing and, of course, the bottler's profit, says the NRDC.
Bottled and municipal water also are monitored differently. The federal EPA closely monitors municipal water throughout the United States. The federal Department of Agriculture, on the other hand, typically regulates bottled water's purity. But when bottled water is packaged and sold within the same state, these states -- instead of the FDA -- take over regulatory responsibilities. Budget shortfalls and decreased manpower could lead to looser monitoring.
Despite the difference in price and oversight, many say the decision to choose one over the other depends on the circumstances. "There is a place for bottled water," says Herlihy, adding, for him, that includes times when he's out of the country and unsure of the tap water's purity, or when he is at an airport and needs to stay hydrated. He drinks it then, he says because "it's available, convenient and safe."
Many drink bottled water for other reasons. Some do because they are allergic to chlorine used to disinfect municipal tap water. Others don't trust fluoride. Still others worry about lead and contaminants leaching from old pipes into their drinking water.
Bottled water can filter out additives and contaminants harmful for people with compromised immune systems. It can provide an alternative for folks having problems with their private wells. And it comes in handy when storms, such as last October's nor'easter, knock out generators that pump our water.
As far as the difference in price in bottled brands, Roper's older son's science experiment reinforced what the NRDC has said all along. The price of bottled water has almost no bearing on its quality. The water filter brand makes little difference either, as Roper's younger son's sixth-grade experiment concluded. And as for the bottom line in the bottled vs. tap-water faceoff, Roper remains adamant. "Bottled water is depicted as natural and pristine," he says. "But no research shows that it's better than tap."
Bottled Water vs. the Environment
Bottled water increases fossil fuel consumption: 17 million barrels of oil, equivalent to the fuel need to keep 1 million vehicles on the road for 12 months.
Bottled water increases air pollution and greenhouse gases: Bottled water is trucked from factories to stores to consumer's homes.