Bottled Water vs. Tap Water

When it comes to drinking water, there is an ongoing debate about which is better: tap water or bottled water. Jennifer Nelson, M.S., R.D. of Mayoclinic did her research about this topic, and here is what she found out:

Tap Water

According to extoxnet.orst.edu, tap water comes from "either a surface water or groundwater source. These sources are found within a watershed, which are those land areas that are bounded by ridge lines that catch rain and snow, and drain to specific marshes, streams, rivers, lakes, or to groundwater."

Tap water is either supplied by a public or private water supply system. A public water supply system, according to extoxnet.orst.edu , is defined in the Safe Water Drinking Act of 1974 as "…a system that has at least 15 service connections or regularly serves an average of at least 25 individuals daily at least 60 days out of the year."

Private water supply systems on the other hand, are "generally in rural areas and consist of wells which serve one or a few households. Wells are fed by ground water sources which may be replenished by nearby surface water sources. Private well owners are responsible for the quality, testing, and treatment of their water."

Bottled Water

According to gem.msu.edu, "the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) defines different types of bottled water on the basis of (1) its water source and (2) its chemical composition at the time it is drawn form the source."

Bottled water sources

  • Artesian Water/Artesian Well Water -collected from a confined aquifer where water under pressure rises above the water table.
  • Spring Water – can be drawn only at the spring or from a bore hole adjacent to the spring that taps the aquifer feeding the spring. The properties of the water drawn from the bore hole must be the same as that of the water in the spring.
  • Well Water – comes from a bore hold that taps the water of an aquifer. This water must be pumped to the surface.
  • Purified Water – is produced through distillation, deionization, reverse osmosis or other water treatment processes. This water comes from either tap water (i.e., from a municipal system) or groundwater. Other names for purified water include: distilled water, purified drinking water, distilled drinking water and deionized water, depending on the treatment process used.
  • Mineral Water – contains more than 250 ppm of total dissolved solids (FDA standard) which are present at the point of emergence from the source. No minerals can be added to this water nor can it be drawn from a municipal source. In Europe, any recognized spring water with minerals can be called mineral water.
  • Sparkling Water – contains the same amount of carbon dioxide that it had when it was drawn from the source. Soda water, seltzer water and tonic are not considered bottled waters.(source: gem.msu.edu)

Safety

Tap water is regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and shares similar standards for ensuring safety with the FDA (who regulates bottled water). The EPA mandates that water utilities provide customers with annual quality reports that contain information such as source (river, lake, aquifer), contaminant levels, and possible effects on health.

Bottled water on the other hand, is regulated by the FDA as a food product. Manufacturers must comply with the FDA’s quality standards, labeling regulations, and Good Manufacturing Practices or GMPs.

Bottled water is also regulated at state levels. The state’s responsibility is to "inspect, sample, analyze and approve water sources and the final product."

Taste

This, according to Nelson, is personal. Once you go beyond safety issues, the decision to go for bottled or tap water seems to depend on taste. 

Economics

Bottled water is definitely more expensive. Bottled water manufacturing is a million dollar industry. Consider the cost of producing glass and plastic containers, and shipping thousands of bottled waters abroad.