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Bottlers tap into baseless fears to sell you water

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POSTED July 19, 2014 12:47 a.m.

“You’re going to get sick!”

I stopped drinking water from the end of a garden hose in my front yard and turned toward the source of the warning.

“It’s not healthy drinking from a hose,” said a woman walking down the sidewalk who I did not recognize.

I just smiled and she continued on her walk.

If drinking city water from a hose is going to kill you then I should have been dead 30 years ago.

Americans have a strange attitude toward what flows out of their taps. We have the world’s cleanest, safest, most convenient, and least expensive water by far yet we act as if our entire system is on verge of collapse when it comes to being healthy and safe..

We forked over $11.8 billion for 9.7 billion gallons of bottled water in 2012.

We freak out when we read government mandated utility mailings that list what is in our water. By the way, all of that stuff is also in bottled water but the traces are so minute that the much more lax Food and Drug Administration  standards that regulate bottled water sales don’t require them to be listed on the label as opposed to the tougher Environmental Protection Agency thresholds that govern domestic water suppliers.

And most bottled water — such as that bottled for Safeway in Merced or even what you get from the Windmill Express dispensers in shopping center parking lots — comes from the same municipal treatment plants that supply homes.

I’ve been drinking arsenic in water since I took my first breath. We all have. Your body needs arsenic in a relatively small amount to function. But all you have to do is print the word “arsenic” on a government required disclosure sheet sent to utility users and some people are convinced they are being poisoned. Forget the fact that what flows from Manteca taps is significantly below thresholds that federal agencies believe might create health problems if tainted water is consumed for long enough. Also ignore the fact there has never been a documented case of arsenic sickness in Manteca based on the lower standards that were in place before the tougher federal rules came out. 

The government says they are erring on the side of caution. That’s fine. But too often people react as if their health is really in jeopardy.

I also do something else that horrifies many people. I drink water directly from the tap.

Does it taste weird? I don’t think so, but then again everyone has different palates. I do know that all water has a taste depending upon its source, how it was treated or how it has been stored. 

The occasional chlorine taste doesn’t bother me when I drink directly from the tap.

I drink water usually from re-useable bottles I fill and refrigerate the day before. The only time I buy bottled water is for back-up when I go hiking.

And if I happen to get too strong of a chlorine taste from water I want to drink right away from the tap I always know I can shake the heck out of it first and it’ll be fine.

I got that trick from Diane Martin who retired a number years back as Manteca’s water engineer. She shared how she got rid of the chlorine taste when she wanted tap water at room temperature. She would pour some into the blender and flip the switch. In less than a minute the agitation dissipates the chlorine.

When all is said and done, we really take our water for granted.

In many parts of the world they have to travel considerable distance each day to fetch water for drinking and cooking. They have to worry about unhealthy water that can make you sick and even kill you.

That point was driven home 30 years ago when I spent three weeks in Chignahuapan, Mexico.

Drinking water was a no-no. To this day I can’t stand Squirt as warm bottles of the soda is all I drank for three weeks.

Rest assured that folks in that State of Puebla mountain community 30 years ago would have thought that we were crazy if we bought bottled water given the quality, convenience, and low-cost of what we have piped into our homes.

The same would probably hold true today for more than half of the world’s population.

The water flowing from your tap is arguably the best bargain in your household.

Americans spent $11.8 billion in 2012 buying 9.7 billion gallons of bottled water. That was up 6.5 percent from the previous year.

That translates into a $1.22 a gallon or, based on figures supplied by the American Water Works Association, 300 times the cost of tap water.

When the water bought in 16.9-ounce bottles is separated out, the cost skyrockets. It is more than 2,000 times the cost of tap water.

It’s safe to say that baseless fear fanned by brilliant marketing on the part of commercial water bottlers has made us paranoid about tap water when billions of people around the globe believe what comes out of our faucets is essentially liquid gold.


This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at or 209.249.3519.

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