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Assessing the “Raw Water” Trend

Dr. Ben Stanford, American Water | January 31, 2018

Recently, you may have seen or heard about “raw water” a trend that has been drawing some media attention.  However, the scientific community has responded quickly with facts that the public needs to be aware of. Raw, or “live” water comes from a natural source and is unfiltered, untreated and unsterilized. Raw water may be taken from a natural spring or other sources then bottled and sold.

Raw water purveyors claim that the product contains probiotics or beneficial bacteria that might be removed during a standard filtration/treatment process. But in the opinion of many experts including myself, there are almost certain health risks of not taking measures to eliminate harmful chemicals and microbes found in raw water—ranging from e-coli and disease-carrying organisms, to harmful algae, to arsenic and other heavy metals, to fertilizer and more. 

Moreover, despite its earth-friendly feel, obtaining, bottling, transporting and selling raw water does require energy consumption and creates its own carbon footprint. On average, consumers are paying $40 for 2.5 gallons and wasting precious fossil fuels on bottle manufacture, transport, and recycling.

Whether good, bad or indifferent, the raw water trend offers an opportunity to remind ourselves of why we have come to rely on the treated and tested water that flows through our faucets every day:

  • Dependability: turn on the tap and there it is!
  • Quality and safety: water quality standards from the government as well as water companies are a common topic in this blog and are there to protect consumers
  • Value and cost: at $40 for just 2.5 gallons, “raw water” is far more than people pay for 1,000 gallons of water provided directly to their homes.

Lastly, I include progress. We know that life was riddled with water-associated disease and deaths before indoor plumbing and the many innovations we have today in water treatment, distribution, and sanitation. We must take care that a new trend doesn’t take us back to the past.

By: Dr. Ben Stanford, Senior Director, Water Research and Development, American Water