This New Craze for "Raw Water" Will Not End Well

Public Domain. Nice clean river water from the Thames.

They say it has minerals and probiotics, but what else could be swimming around in it?

In 1854, after at least five hundred people died of cholera in London, Dr. John Snow mapped where the victims were and determined that the source was a water pump on Broad Street. For the first time, it was proven that disease was carried by water, and it became one of the main functions of good government to provide safe water to citizens.

In 2017, according to Nellie Bowles in the New York Times, people are lining up to buy "raw water" at six bucks a gallon. The company selling it, Live Water, gushes on their website:

Shocking but true -- all other filtered and even bottled spring waters are sterilized with UV light, ozone gas, and a sub micron filter. This is similar to how most juice and dairy products are pasteurized for shelf stability. Unfortunately this sterilization destroys beneficial sources of minerals and probiotics.

They claim that their unfiltered and untreated spring water has beneficial microbes that are "imperative for optimal physical and mental health. Without these probiotics we're not able to fully assimilate all the nutrients in our food."

The owner of Live Water, Mukhande Singh, complains that regular tap water is full of stuff that you shouldn't be drinking.

“Tap water? You’re drinking toilet water with birth control drugs in them,” he said. “Chloramine, and on top of that they’re putting in fluoride. Call me a conspiracy theorist, but it’s a mind-control drug that has no benefit to our dental health.”

He is not wrong about the low level contamination by antibiotics and hormones found in some tap water, and obviously Flint, Michigan, demonstrated that one cannot always rely on the government to deliver fresh water. But spring water can contain lots of other things, like Giardia or e. Coli. It just takes a beaver pooping upstream, or ducks and seagulls – that's why campers use water filters and purification tablets even in the middle of pristine Northern wilderness.

But tap water doesn't have that special something: "In the community of tap-water skeptics, many talk about water the way others might about fine wine." They talked about water in London that way, according to Steven Johnson, writing in the Ghost Map,

Many Soho residents who lived closer to other pumps...opted to walk a few extra blocks for the refreshing taste of Broad Street's water. It was colder than the water found at the rival pumps; it had a pleasant hint of carbonation.

Humorist Tabatha Southey has a better idea – just get your cholera direct from the source and forget the water.

water system

Lloyd Alter/ Bullitt Center water system/CC BY 2.0

In Seattle's Bullitt Center, they went off-pipe as a requirement for the Living Building Challenge. Instead of drinking pure water piped from the mountains and checked every few minutes by experts, they put in a system to purify rainwater collected off their solar panels. It had to be filtered, disinfected with UV, chlorinated (a requirement of the city) and then dechlorinated. Making water safe to drink is actually hard work. And after all of this, it still isn't checked as often as the city water, and probably doesn't taste as good.

Good municipal water is one of the great gifts of modern civilization. As more and more people turn to bottled (and now raw) water, there is less incentive for taxpayers to want to invest in high-quality systems or regulating them as carefully. In the town of Walkerton Ontario, back in 2000, after the Conservative government washed its hands of the responsibility for water management, five people died and thousands were sickened by e. Coli. Water quality and safety is serious stuff, and "raw water" can make you seriously sick. This is truly the dumbest idea ever to come out of California.