What are you drinking? Tap Versus Reverse Osmosis Versus Spring Water

( - Water. A simple molecule made up of 2 Hydrogen atoms bound to a single Oxygen atom that is nevertheless the most important substance on Earth. Quite simply, without water, life as we know it on Earth would not exist.

After all, water is pretty much what the lifeforms on this planet are made of. For example, human beings are about 65 percent water. Seventy-one percent of the planet is covered in water. But only recently have we really begun to understand and embrace the significance and importance of sources of water being ingested by people.

Suddenly, there is such an awareness of water that buying a bottle of it can cost more than a soft drink. There is a huge amount of information (and misinformation) about hydration and water. Is this water really worth the price? Here in the Western world, why buy water when you can just turn on a faucet?

The Benefits of Tap Water

One of the great health crises facing the world right now is a lack of healthy drinking water. In many nations across the globe, this most basic necessity is not available in a state which would be considered safe to drink.

However, in nations with a more stable public infrastructure,  water is generally available from municipal sources, which is chemically treated and considered 100 percent safe to drink.

The main process by which municipal water is processed involves filtering the water to remove large particulates, then adding chlorine in order to kill bacteria that might be living within the water. In the United States and other nations, Fluoride is frequently also added — not as a part of the purification process, but in order to improve dental health.

The water is generally then pumped into elevated holding tanks throughout a community and serviced to individual homes and businesses via gravity feed. The process provides water that is considered clean and safe throughout communities at the price of pennies per gallon.

The Dark Side of Municipal Water Treatment

The flip side of what the United States and other Western countries consider “safe” water treatments for municipal sources is the inclusion of chemicals that many believe are not safe at all.

The administration of chlorine and fluoride as well as the infrastructure used to deliver water are the center of serious debates about public safety, due to multiple failures of water systems across the world.

Need examples? Look no further than recent headline news to find evidence of failures of municipal water treatment. In Flint, Michigan, the city failed to provide an anti-corrosive agent to lead piping providing water to customers.

This failure, along with over-chloridating water resulted in a massive health crisis in the area. Lead in water supplies remains a major problem across the country, as aging infrastructure breaks down and begins to seep lead into water systems of older and larger buildings, especially heightening the risk to children who are especially vulnerable to lead poisoning. This issue has been recognized by the scientific community, but to completely overhaul water infrastructure in the United States alone would cost over $300 billion.

Failing infrastructure is not the only issue in municipal water treatment systems. Dozens of cases of fluoride poisoning have been reported across the country, including some that have resulted in fatalities. The inclusion of fluoride itself is an issue — many communities (and a great many nations) have rejected the use of this chemical completely, determining that the benefits to oral health care are outweighed by the dangers to those consuming fluoride-treated water.

If these potential issues exist within tap water, why not just switch to bottled water?

The Power of Reverse Osmosis

The great majority of what we know as “bottled water” is nothing more than tap water from municipal sources treated with a purification process known as “reverse osmosis.”

The reverse osmosis process places pressure on water on one side of a semi-permeable membrane, forcing the smaller water molecules through the filter while leaving larger, pollutant molecules behind to be disposed of. The end product, on the “clean” side of the membrane, is water that has had over 90 percent of common contaminants rejected and left behind on the “dirty” side of the membrane. This leaves exceptionally pure water, with a slightly alkaline pH level that is completely free of the chlorine taste of conventionally treated water.

The reverse osmosis process is so effective at removing contaminants that it is used in drinking water in poor coastal areas to turn seawater into drinking water. It is also quickly replacing carbon filtration in household purification systems, as it is much more effective at removing pollutants from drinking water. Is reverse osmosis the solution to providing safe, healthy drinking water for us all?

The Detritus of Reverse Osmosis

As it turns out, some problems exist with reverse osmosis. The major issue with the process is the massive amount of waste generated, with roughly 80 percent of the treated water being disposed of as waste.

Not only is this expensive in terms of water usage, but the disposal of the products left behind is a major issue — desalination, for example, leaves behind massive quantities of mineral-infused brine that may or may not be safe to reintroduce into the ocean.

Household purifiers have the same issue, on a smaller scale: If the household drinks a gallon of purified water a day, they are flushing 4 gallons of waste water down the drain.

There are, of course, other sources of water available, coming straight from Mother Earth without being forced through municipal water systems or desalination plants.

Could this “spring water” hold the answer to a consistent source of safe, good tasting water?

Water Direct From Planet Earth

The concept of gaining water right from the source, where it emerges from under the Earth, is an attractive one.

This water has spent years seeping through the ground, finally coming to rest in giant underground lakes called aquifers. This water has been naturally purified by its travels through the layers of substrate as if it had been passed through a series of charcoal filters.

It also has a higher mineral concentration in it, which some suggest has positive health benefits. It also is (initially) free of the tastes of harsh “purification” chemicals.

A problem here is that very little of this water is actually bottled on site. Most of it is loaded into tanker trucks (potential sources of contamination), which are then driven to a nearby bottling plant. This water is then frequently hit with the exact same treatments as “normal” bottled water — rendering it effectively identical to tap water run through a reverse osmosis process. In fact, many bottles of water sold as “spring” water are actually derived from tap water in the first place — enforcement of branding is extremely lax.

Supply is also a concern — aquifers only hold a certain amount of water, replenished by a fixed amount every year from rainfall. High demand on any aquifer begins to empty it faster than it is refilled. This “supply curve” problem means that spring water from a particular source would eventually become scarcer and scarcer, driving the prices of it higher and higher.

The Elephant in the Room: Environmental Impact

The largest issue with utilizing bottled water of any kind is an environmental one — more than 80 percent of the containers used for bottled water (whether tap, spring, or purified via reverse osmosis) are never recycled, creating a huge amount of waste.

The plastics used in these bottles will slowly biodegrade over a period of about 450 to 700 years (some plastics will NEVER degrade), meaning that an equilibrium between incoming waste and decaying waste will never be reached at current levels of use.

These products are everywhere — even found in the intestinal tracts of fish and birds with ever increasing frequencies. Also not factored in is the impact on fuel usage to treat and transport water — these hidden costs may be doubling or tripling the actual environmental “price” of consuming bottled water of any kind.


No one solution has been successfully agreed upon as the solution to water processing because there are no easy answers. The scarcity of “spring” waters and the environmental impact of reverse osmosis (and bottled water in general) all need to be addressed, as do public policies around the treatment and transport of water treated by municipal sources.

Whatever solution your taste and conscience impel you to choose, make sure you choose one of them, to the tune of a minimum of 64 ounces(8 glasses ) of water each day.

The potential health issues in each of these water sources are nothing compared to the health issues that will occur if no water is ingested at all.

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