As readers of WQP, you have likely dedicated your careers to ensuring people are drinking clean, safe water. Being immersed in this industry, you know better than anyone how important water treatment is in protecting public health by removing harmful contaminants. So perhaps you shared my incredulity when you saw the recent New York Times piece, “Unfiltered Fervor: The Rush to Get Off the Water Grid.”
If you missed the article, here’s a brief summary: The latest trend sweeping Silicon Valley and beyond is the sale, purchase, and consumption of “raw water,” which is exactly what you think it is—untreated, unfiltered water that comes directly from the source.
One company, Live Water, based in Madras, Ore., sources its raw water from a local spring and sells it in 2.5-gal glass orbs. At the Rainbow Grocery co-op in San Francisco, a full bottle sells for $36.99, with $14.99 refills.
The creators and supporters of these raw water brands say conventional treatment processes remove vital minerals from drinking water and add harmful chemicals. This produces what those in this movement call “dead water.” Mukhande Singh, founder of Live Water, was quoted in the Times piece as saying tap water is, “toilet water with birth control drugs in [it],” and that fluoride is “a mind-control drug that has no benefit to our dental health.”
There has been backlash from the scientific community about the idea of bottling spring water without treatment or filtration. “Water pulled from a spring or water that comes out of the tap—the water molecules are identical,” said Michelle Francl, chemistry department chair at Bryn Mawr College, as quoted in the Washington Post. “So the only difference is what else is in there and some of those things might be innocuous like the minerals, some of them might be not so innocuous—things like Giardia and bacteria have been found in springs.”
Those who bottle and sell raw water make claims that their water is clean and does not contain any of these harmful pathogens, but the high price points make the raw water lifestyle unattainable for many. There is a fear that the claims made by those leading the movement combined with raw water priced at more than $10 a gallon will lead people to head to their nearest water body and take a drink without fear of consequence.
Of course, modern water treatment is not perfect. From high lead levels in Flint, Mich., to lingering traces of pharmaceuticals in treated water, to the emerging threat of perfluoroalkyl substances, there certainly is room for improvement in our processes. Those concerned with purity in their water might opt to put down their glass orbs of raw water and instead call their elected officials to see what can be done to improve municipal treatment.