Types of Water

Tap Water – Everyone knows what this is. In the Baltimore-Washington Region, almost all tap water comes from surface sources like the Potomac or Patuxent Rivers. The water is processed using basic filtration techniques like sand filtration (filters out the big pieces of stuff floating down the river), flocculation (chemicals added to the water to get smaller particles to coagulate and float so they can be removed) and finally, chlorine is added to kill bacteria and micro-organisms. In most cases, this tap water is potable (drinkable) according to EPA standards.

However, as we all know, there can be problems with the water – like the chlorine smell, taste and aftertaste. Chlorine is not particularly good for your body – it has been linked to a variety of cancers – but it does kill the microorganisms that can make you violently ill. There’s also the lead issue. There isn’t lead in the water at the treatment plant – it’s in the pipes bringing the water to some of our homes. That’s a huge problem. If you have any lead in your water – I would, in the strongest possible terms, suggest you avoid drinking your tap water.  If you live in an older home or suspect that you might have lead in your water – you should have it tested ASAP!

The absolute best thing about tap water is that it’s cheap – relatively speaking. Tap water in the Washington, DC is among the most expensive tap waters in the country, but it’s still relatively cheap. It’s perfect for washing your car, flushing down the toilet and watering the yard. It’s not as good for showering in (because you absorb the chlorine through your skin and breathe it into your lungs), washing your dishes in (it sticks to dishes and glasses and makes them smell like chlorine), or drinking.

The TDS of Washington, DC tap water ranges from 200 ppm to 400+ ppm – it depends on many factors including the temperature of the river (high temps are good for dissolving things), the flow of the river, runoff, time of year (fertilizing lawns, etc.) and many others. So, the tap water is constantly changing in quality – a fact that most people never know.

But if it’s cheap you want, then tap water is your best choice!  There have been many efforts to generally disparage bottled water because “the tap water is fine”.  Yet, in the same breath, those people are shopping at organic grocery stores because they’re worried about the adulteration of foods from chemicals, growth hormones, fertilizers, etc.  I just find it highly illogical that those people are so worried about their food but then when it comes to the water they drink – their mentality is “eh, it’s fine”.  It makes no sense.

Spring Water – Spring water is the subject of many popular misconceptions. Many of those misconceptions are promoted through less than accurate advertising pitches. For example, many people believe that spring water is actually “pure” water. On the contrary, spring waters contain many of the same impurities found in drilled wells or even tap water. In fact, since springs feed our rivers, there’s lots of spring water right in your own tap water! On average, the purity of spring water is roughly comparable to that of tap water. Some have lower TDS levels and some are much higher.

But is spring water “100% pure” as many spring water companies advertise? As it turns out, the “100% pure” refers not to the absence of impurities in the water, but to the source of the water itself. That is, 100% of the water in the bottle came from an underground source (i.e. a spring), rather than from a surface water. These cleverly worded phrases may be legally permissible, but many people find them to be misleading, to say the least.  Even more frightening is the fact that most people actually believe them.

Another adjective which frequently pops up in spring water advertising is “natural”. While this term may conjure up images of a pristine wilderness setting, the fact is that “natural” can mean just about anything. This vague term could actually apply to our local tap water since the Potomac River is most certainly a “natural” source. It may be natural, but I don’t know many people who would go down to the river and scoop themselves a refreshing glass of “pure and natural” river water!

“Protected source” is yet another spring water sales claim that can be misinterpreted. When most people hear this term, they think about a remote mountain spring, far away from the pollution of civilization. The reality is more often a well-head surrounded by chain link fence. Hence, the “protected” source!

Spring water advertising is all about images – images of the mountains, streams and wildlife. What really happens to get that bottle of water to you is actually quite different from those images. Many, if not most, spring waters are not bottled at their source. Instead, the water is pumped into large tanker trucks for transportation to a bottling facility at a different location. (So remember, those “pristine” springs are being visited many times each day by large diesel tanker trucks – not exactly a “pristine” image.) Health regulations dictate that the water in those tanker trucks be either chlorinated or ozonated at all times to protect against bacterial contamination.

At this point, particularly if they are chlorinated, these spring waters are virtually indistinguishable from chlorinated tap waters. Once the tanker truck water reaches the bottling facility, a carbon filtration process is used to remove the chlorine. However, most of the other impurities remain. The “spring” water then has to go through more treatment – like micron filtration to take out floating particles and more ozonation before being put into the water bottles.

But the real question is why stop at just a few types of filtration? Why not remove all of the impurities? Who wants nitrates in their water? Who wants various metals in their drinking water? The answer is that if most people don’t know what’s in the water in the first place, perhaps they don’t care.

Finally, the biggest spring water companies in this country are all owned by huge, foreign-owned corporations.  Your money goes elsewhere.

Filtered Water – This is a type of water frequently found in grocery stores. Typically, the source of the water is municipal tap water. That water is then run through carbon filters to remove the chlorine (which makes it taste better) and sometimes through a micron filter before being ozonated and bottled. It’s basically tap water without the chlorine. It’s really not much different than many spring waters. It comes from a “natural” source, goes through minimal filtration, and is then bottled and shipped to market.

Purified Water – Purified water represents the fastest growing segment of the bottled water industry. Why? Because it’s purer than other types of waters. When it comes right down to it, why does anyone “buy” their water. Some buy out of convenience, but most buy because they want something that’s of a higher quality and purity than other options like tap water. Like other types of water, there are popular misconceptions about purified water as well. To meet the legal definition of “purified water”, water impurities must be removed or reduced to extremely low levels. Water which meets this definition is of higher purity than spring water, tap water or filtered water.

Purified water is often confused with filtered water. Many people believe the two terms to be synonymous, but this is not the case. While both types of water are subject to some sort of filtration (as is almost every spring water), purified water is cleansed and purified through additional purification processes, typically reverse osmosis, distillation or deionization. The resultant product, “purified” water, is of significantly higher purity than either spring water, tap water or filtered water.

Purified water may originate from either a spring or surface or groundwater source or directly from the tap. It simply doesn’t matter. Since, the purification process is designed to remove virtually all types of impurities, the quality of the source water has little bearing on the quality of the final product. Nevertheless, our source water meets the EPA minimum drinking water standards before any purification is even done!! A properly designed and functioning purification system will produce extremely high purity water every time, regardless of variations in the source water’s quality. This is not true of spring water, tap water or filtered water. For this reason, purified water is viewed as the objective benchmark against which the purity of other waters is judged.

If you’re buying water for higher quality and higher purity reasons, then purified water is your best choice.

Distilled Water – Distilled water is water that is created through the process of distillation.  Basically, in the process of distillation, the pure H2O is boiled out of its contaminants.  So, many of the contaminants found in water are inorganic minerals, metals etc.  Those types of contaminants have very high melting points and even higher boiling points.  Wayyyy higher than the boiling point of water at 212 Degrees F.   So, as the water (with its contaminants) is boiled, the pure water turns into steam and is captured and cooled and thus becomes distilled water.  The junk left behind is all of the contaminants.  Now, there’s one small problem with that.  There are many volatile organic compounds found in water – and many of them have boiling points below that of pure water.  So, when the water gets heated, the volatiles boil off first, then the pure water.  So, it’s very important to have additional purification technologies – besides distillation – to make sure all the bad stuff is removed.