Today, most Americans are concerned about the quality of the water they drink. This concern is relatively new to North America: for thousands of years, Native Americans lived by reliable fresh water sources. Not so for the settlers. They considered fresh water dangerous, a perspective rooted in paranoia and the realities of poor water-drinking decisions. Said Jamestown resident George Percy, “cold water [was] taken out of the River, which was at a floud verie salt, at a low tide full of slime and filth, which was the destruction of many of our men.”
Instead, they favored fermented libations, primarily cider and beer, made from corn, wheat, oats, persimmons, and green cornstalks. Lest we be a nation of inebriated half-wits, some inhabitants found safe drinking water by digging shallow wells. The first bottled water was served about 100 years later at Jackson Spa in Boston for therapeutic purposes. This more or less launched what is now a $100 billion industry worldwide. Flash forward another hundred years and treated public waters systems were cropping up in some cities, leading to the tap water millions of Americans consume today.
So, which is better, tap or bottled? Let’s start with tap: it’s readily available and inexpensive, if not free. It flows from water sources that must adhere to strict regulations, more so than bottled water. Still, while tap water is as safe, if not safer, than bottled water, approximately 10% of the supply nationwide is contaminated. The all-important flavor may came from the water or, more likely, the pipes which can be new and sparkling or, in some cases, a century old.
As for bottled water: the flavor is predictable and the color reassuringly clear. Bottled water also has high grab-and-go appeal. Still, the FDA considers bottled water low on their priority spectrum and requirements are limited making the contents unreliable. Then there’s the environmental concerns; a typical 16-ounce plastic water bottle creates more than 100 times as much air and water pollution as one made of glass. Further about 3.8 million tons of plastic are used each year to make water bottles – only about 31% gets recycled. The rest wind up in landfills. Ironically, some bottled water, such as Nestles’ Pure Life water or Coca-Cola’s Dasani, actually originate from the tap.
So, which is best? Bottle or tap? Maybe both: bad tasting or impure tap water can be modified with a home filtration system while bottled water can come in 5 gallon returnable water bottles limiting environmental damage. You can also buy a reusable water bottle or flask and fill it with the water of your choice. The options are numerous and, for the most part, in good taste