How do you drink your water?

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I spent almost a year and a half wondering if I should switch my family from drinking bottled water to buying a water filter, or, let’s go crazy, just drink good old tap water. It has been on my to-do list for that long because some research was needed to form an educated opinion and yes, it has regularly been kicked to the bottom of the list by more pressing (or should I say easier) things to do. 

When arriving to a new place, we often make the unconscious decision to buy bottled water until we figure out all we need to know about the local tap water. We then sometimes keep buying bottled water because somehow, there is this almost instinctive defiance against tap water (the taste is probably bad and it is probably full of scary waterborne diseases). Plus we are thirsty and don’t have that much time for all this research. So we’ll deal with it later. Until then, water in a bottle is probably more expensive, but a sure thing. Or so I thought.

I started tackling the issue many times, from various angles. I tried to get the annual consumer confidence report or drinking water quality report from my water supplier to assess the quality of my area’s tap water and compare the levels of toxic contaminants to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s agreed upon regulated contaminants norms. But to get there, I had to figure out who my water supplier is. So I called the Town Hall, took several days to find the right office (you know, short open to public hours of operation, phone tag games…) to be told that since I live in a condo and am part of a community, I should check with my board association. Good thing I have these people on speed dial… Right…

In parallel, I started researching water filters, read online reviews and I went to several stores to see the options for myself and do side-by-side package comparisons. You’d think that is an easy one, just buy a Brita or Pur pitcher with cartridges, meaning pick your favorite design since they work the same way, and you are good to go. Not so simple… Their stats are somewhat different and I have no idea what set of numbers is best? How about those possibly toxic chemicals that one or the other does not block: which ones matter?

I finally figured out who my water supplying company was, and like I read online, called and asked them to send me a copy of their annual consumer confidence report. Just like in store, I got stuck on how to assess the stats I read in it. No violation was reported on the contaminants they tracked, yet there are several active norms (federal, state level…), they use an annual average measure (yet based on the range showed, some measures were over the norms but who knows how many or if it is serious or not), and the question about what contaminants to track is still up (even the EPA does not set enforceable standards for all). So in the meantime, I kept with the “sure” but more expensive way to go, or so I thought, and continued buying jugs of water… Until I read about how some bottled water companies just fill their bottles with filtered or even just regular tap water. Indeed, unlike municipal tap water suppliers (with the exception of California since a 2007 law), water companies have no legal obligation to label water sources, treatment methods or contaminants information, so most of them do not… Back to square one. Not only bottled water likely does not solve the safety question but I pay a high price for it (up to 1,900 times more than tap water per EWG) and participate in additional plastic waste produced and discarded in the landfills when not correctly recycled. Just great…

But wait, it gets better. As I progressed with my online research, I then learned that the real only way to go might be reverse osmosis because this system focuses on heavy metals, nitrates or bacteria like no other system does. But… it seems to waste a LOT of water in the process, not block all contaminants and possibly destroy minerals you’d want to keep in. Then maybe countertop water filters are the best system since they can include up to 3  cartridges, each being contaminant(s)-specific, using water pressure to force water through superior filtration? Well, undercounter filters have 6 or 7 stages of water filtration for an even greater performance… As options multiply, so do lists of drawbacks/problems for each of them. Prices tend to go up and it now seems that the basic pitcher filter everyone knows and many own, is barely removing 1/3 of the key contaminants you should want to block!

I finally made a big change in my family’s drinking water dispensing system a few months ago. No I still have not found the perfect, trusted, safe, informed answer on the subject, but until I do, I switched us all to… tap water. No filter, no system of any kind, just plain water. I re-checked the water company’s report, and the levels of key contaminants to remove are all within the EPA norms on regulated contaminants. After all, why should I trust tap water less than companies selling it in plastic bottles for profit, or other companies competing for water filtration systems an none rising to the top of the safe drinking water reviews I read? So I decided not to decide just yet. Whatever the issue, my approach is always not to put all my eggs in one basket. Since we’ve drank bottled water for a while, tap water can take its turn, until who knows, we try a filtration system. Note to self: Keep looking and… drink more orange juice. Or better, eat more oranges!

Aside from the lightness of this recollection of my searches, I still think it is a major topic and a very critical choice to make (we drink, but also cook with water). I just don’t know how to make an informed decision. What I learned is that the type of water filter system you decide upon will depend on the type of contaminants you want (need) to eliminate and your level of water consumption (as storage capacity and filtration speed vary with systems). You may also decide to test your tap water to see for yourself what needs to be removed from it and choose a water filtration system accordingly.

Do you have a water filtering system? If yes, how did you come to the conclusion that you needed one and that one in particular?

If you just drink tap water, or buy bottled water, what was your decision process to get there? All pointers are welcome, please do share them!



Highly suggesting to watch the documentary Tapped! Free viewing online, also on Netflix.

EWG safe drinking water guide Informative side-to-side comparison on main water filtering systems and brands available on the market. Big caveat: created by Aquasana, a company selling various water filtration systems, consistently rated first on this site. At least there is a good list of existing types of systems, brief description of how they work and also a good “Resources”  section in their menu. So regardless of the ranking, it is helpful in that way.

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