You may have heard the term “raw water” recently, since stories about it have been all over the news. The story gained traction in part because raw water typically sells for around $15 per gallon, at least for initial purchases.
Fifteen dollars for a gallon of unfiltered, unsterilized, untreated spring water?
So, why are people willing to pay these kinds of prices? Is raw water safe? Isn’t natural always better?
To answer the last two questions first: No.
The Dangers of Jumping on the “Natural Is Better” Bandwagon
It should go without saying, but not all things that occur naturally are good for you. The sun can cause skin cancer. Some plants are poisonous. And, the bacteria found in untreated water can cause disease. In fact, waterborne bacteria kill around 2 million people every year, most of them children under the age of five. Not every country is as lucky as America when it comes to having reliable access to clean, safe drinking water.
Which Is Better: Death at 35 or Death at 80?
People often long for the “good old days” or “simpler times.” That’s because science has practically eradicated once-common diseases, such as cholera and typhoid, in developed countries.
Clean water isn’t the only reason that life expectancy more than doubled. Other public health measures played a role, particularly during the First Public Health Revolution. It ran between 1880 and 1920, sparked in large part by a tragic cholera pandemic that took over 900,000 lives during the late 1800s. This led to a push for public water treatment as well as improved sanitation, sewage management, municipal garbage collection, and food inspection.
It’s easy to forget these things because, for most of us, they were never part of our daily reality. Most people today assume medical advancements, such as disease control and the development of antibiotics and vaccines, deserve the credit for increased life expectancy. These things are important and did play a role in people living longer and enjoying an improved quality of life. However, the importance of public health improvements cannot be overstated.
Breaking Down the Raw Water Claims
Back to the question of why people are willing to pay $15 for a gallon of untreated water, we look at what proponents of raw water claim are its benefits.
Claim: The water treatment process leaches away natural minerals.
Facts: Although raw water does contain trace amounts of minerals, this does not offset the health problems associated with drinking tainted water. If you’re truly concerned about consuming those minerals, a healthy, plant-based diet provides all of your body’s nutritional needs.
Claim: Fluoridated water is dangerous.
Facts: Fluoride in low doses, such as what is added to water, does not harm your body and offers significant dental benefits.
Claim: Raw water is not tainted by chlorine.
Facts: Treated water does contain trace amounts of disinfectants such as chlorine. This ensures your drinking water does not contain parasites, bacteria, and viruses. Even natural springs have been found to contain bacteria such as Giardia, which causes a diarrheal disease called giardiasis. It’s so commonly found in natural water sources, in fact, that it’s often considered a camping- or backpacking-related disease, as hikers often contract it after drinking from a natural spring or other water sources. Symptoms include abdominal cramps, dehydration, and diarrhea, all of which last from two to six weeks.
It’s important to remember that many of the things that contaminate your water are invisible to the naked eye. Animal waste that enters the water source may contain parasites, or underground contamination may leach into the water. You also need to worry about runoff from pesticides and pharmaceuticals. Harmful bacteria often found in freshwater supplies include E.coli, salmonella, and giardia.
The Water Treatment Process Explained
As doctors who believe in a holistic approach to full body health, we strongly support taking a more active interest in what goes into your body. The danger comes when people have just enough information to be dangerous, or make poor health decisions based on ideas like “natural is always better.”
If you’re truly concerned about the path your water takes to get to your home, this article does an excellent job outlining the water treatment process. You can also look at your local government’s water department website, or check the CDC and EPA websites. Both offer detailed information on the water treatment process.
America’s drinking water, while not perfect, is, on the whole, safe thanks to the water treatment process. Although some communities still deal with outdated lead pipe systems contaminating their drinking water, when proper treatment procedures are followed, the risk is practically non-existent.
If your main concern is tap water quality, you’re better off investing in a home filtration system than spending $15 per gallon for raw water.