Live Where the Water Tastes Good

by Philip Brewer on 14 March 2010 32 comments

There's an old song, the "Michigan Water Blues" that starts, "Michigan water tastes like cherry wine." I grew up in Michigan, so the song always had a certain resonance for me, but I've lived other places where the water tasted good, and a few where it didn't. If you don't like the water where you live, you're all too likely to start buying bottled water or investing in a filtration system — neither a very frugal option.

Does it make sense to move somewhere just because you like the water? Probably not — just like it probably doesn't make sense to move somewhere just because they've got good public transit or because you can live within walking distance of work or because they have good public schools or because there are diverse natural areas nearby. But good-tasting water ought to be right up there with considerations like that.

Healthy water, of course, is an even more important consideration. But many people seem to think that bottled water or filtered water will somehow be magically safer than well water or water from a public water system. The fact is, though, there's no reason to think that filters make water any safer — unless you know there's something bad in the water and that your particular filter is the right kind to remove it. And bottled water is definitively less healthy — you've got whatever was in the water when it was bottled, plus the chemicals that leach out of the plastic the bottle is made of.

If you're really worried about the safety of your water supply, it would make more sense to investigate whether it's safe or not. You can start with the Centers for Disease Control Drinking Water page. It covers public water systems, private wells, springs, drinking water for campers, bottled water, and so on. Public water systems in the US are required to publish their water quality test reports. Start with the EPA's Public Drinking Water page.

For most people, though, filtration systems and bottled water are an aesthetic choice — they like the taste better. And if that's all it is, a much cheaper option is to evaluate the taste of the water the next time you're thinking about moving. If you don't like it, put the cost of a filtration system down in the minus column for that location.

And, if you're free to live wherever you want, think about moving to Michigan, where the water tastes like cherry wine. (The water in Champaign is pretty good too.)

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Guest's picture

The tap water tastes good where I live plus I don't like the taste of bottled water, maybe because it costs money. :)

Guest's picture

I also understand that bottled water lacks some of the nutrients you would get from other sources of water. Seems crazy to buy water at something like $50 per gallon. We would go crazy if gas were that expensive, so why are we willing to spend it on water when it is readily available for next to nothing at our faucets?

Guest's picture
Guest

Good advice about finding quality tap water and avoiding the expense of individual bottles (which were probably also filled with tap water). I thought I'd add a little clarification, though.

PETE (#1) and HDPE (#2) are plastics commonly used for disposable bottles. Neither has any relation to that plasticizer scare that appeared in the news recently. That was some kinds of PVC (#3) and polycarbonate (#7).

PETE does have a potential for leaching another substance, acetaldehyde, when the plastic is improperly heated. Acetaldehyde is partially responsible for the odor of fruit and some fermented products. Of course, it's much less pleasant when you were expecting plain water.

HDPE, on the other hand, is extremely resistant to releasing anything under any reasonable conditions. Unless you want to store boiling kerosene or nail polish remover, HDPE is a great choice for most any kind of container. When you find that good city water, keep it in a reusable HDPE water bottle.

Guest's picture

I think you make an excellent point about checking to see if the water is safe and doing something about it (bottled or purified water) only if it isn't. Water in plastic bottles is expensive, harmful for the environment and comes with its own health concerns.

I also think there's been a certain amount of brainwashing about bottled water being better or healthier that we need to be willing to combat. I particularly notice this in France. I live quite close to a spring where water is bottled for sale, in fact, our tap water is excellent. Yet I have people arguing with me that I should not drink only tap water because I need the variety, the different minerals etc. Crazy.

What I certainly don't need is the plastic.

Guest's picture
Kerry

Even in places where the water tastes good, there might be things in the water that we don't want to drink. I'm a big fan of moderation and not going to extremes. I don't think that it's really a 'negative' thing to filter your water. Though water filtration isn't a cure-all, it can help filter out some of the particulate matter. I also like the Environmental Working Group's database in addition to your links.

Guest's picture
wildgift

Great post. My favorite water was in Berkeley, and after that, NYC. It tasted great coming out of the spigots at the parks.

I kind of like L.A. water. It's a lot better than it used to be. I filter it to remove the chlorine smell.

Frugal tip is to use an old-fashioned filter holder rather than the "easy to install" filters with canisters on them. The old style filters cost $25 each, annually.

Guest's picture
Mary

I live at the moment and for the past eight mos. and next full year in Antigua, Guatemala in a rented, relatively new home. Today I was washing my clothes at home and a small 2" weird looking fish came out of the faucet. I already buy the Agua Pura by the 5 gal. plastic bottles then filter it again with Eco-Filtro for drinking and making ice. My doctora said the amoebas I have are hytolytica, and coli, caused by the "purified" water and suggested that I buy this secondary filtration for home use. Let me say, it has been a long five months to try and get rid of those nasty buggers. The treatment is as bad as the amoebas, except the tea, which does soothe somewhat. Any other ideas Phillip? How in the sam hell did a small dead fish get into my main water supply?
Any response would be appreciated. Thank you. Great article.
Mary

Guest's picture

Here you can find all about that: Purify Water It'll provide valuable tips for you I presume.

I have been drinking tap water for a while now, one of the issues with it might be that there is usually more calcium in it. I assume you can get info on what is in your tap water, but in the case of bottled water it shows on the bottle. It's easier for people who have special needs.

Guest's picture

Hey Philip - Do you live in Michigan today? If so, drop me a line. Would love to grab a beer (better than water).

Philip Brewer's picture

 @GE Miller:

I live in Champaign, Illinois, these days, but I get back to Michigan a couple times a year to visit my dad. If we're ever in or near Kalamazoo at the same time, you're on for a beer.

Guest's picture
GE Miller

Ah, home of Bell's Brewery. I've been looking for a good excuse to get over there.

Philip Brewer's picture

@ Mary:

I'm not sure I can help much. In rich countries, water from a public water supply is usually safe and data about its safety is published. In Guatemala, I have no idea.

Sorry you're poorly. Amoebas are a serious medical issue. Don't take them lightly.

Guest's picture
princess_kessie

I guess y'all missed this article, then:

Deadly fluoride in our water

I don't know about you lot, but I drink water for my health, not purely for taste. And I for one will not drink fluoridated water, so bottled water it must be - since the Australian government, in their infinite wisdom, has seen fit to outlaw domestic water filters which remove fluoride, meaning we cannot filter it from our showers, either. What happened to choice?

Guest's picture
Guest

"Experimentally" has some great advice on purifying your own water.

First, you need to cause coagulation or flocculation of the water. This means causing the suspended particles (which can protect microorganisms) to gel or clump together. This can be done with a wide variety of things, for example, Moringa seed extract, alum, or sodium polyacrylate (a cheap substance also used in medicines and super-absorbent baby diapers). Then you can filter out these clumps using multiple layers of cloth.

After that, you can use the boiling and disinfectants. I'll add a few more bits of information here. One is that the disinfecting power of chlorine bleach can be greatly increased by adding an acid like vinegar. Vinegar combined with hydrogen peroxide also makes a decent disinfectant (peracetic acid). To kill particularly stubborn bacteria, you may need to employ Tyndallization (using a waiting period to trick the bacteria into coming out of hiding so that you can kill them). I didn't know this process was still in use until a Colombian woman described it to me. She mentioned that lemon juice was used to aid the disinfection or preservation.

By the way, the reason amoebas and malaria parasites are so hard to get out of your body is that they are very similar to your body's own cells. It's much easier to kill them /outside/ of the body.

http://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tratamiento_del_agua_(tecnolog%C3%ADas_alternativas)
http://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Escherichia_coli
http://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Entamoeba_histolytica
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tyndallization
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disinfectant

Guest's picture
MikeB

My dad was a chemist who owned a small laboratory and was hired by many water treatment plants to test the water at various stages of cleaning in order to comply with the Department of Environmental Protection regulations (in Pennsylvania).
I worked for him for a summer and had to collect water / sewage samples from the water treatment plants. After seeing where the water was coming from, and the number of chemicals put in it to kill all the crap in it I lost my desire to drink tap water. Maybe bottled water isn't any better but at least I can pretend it came from Michigan!

Guest's picture

Great post---too bad the drinking water kinda sucks in Florida and Gerogia--where I have spent the better part of my life

Guest's picture
Molly

I love Chicago water. It's delicious. People give me strange looks for choosing the tap water instead of the filtered water at work, but it tastes so much better! I used to live in a town in VA with yummy water, too, unless it got too dry and then we used river water, which was not as tasty as the reservoir water.

I've found Baltimore water, beach water, and some well water to be yucky. Fortunately, my own tap water is usually good. Woohoo! Cheap, delicious, good for you!

Guest's picture
Kay

I just wanted to say I totally agree with you on the part about Chicago water. It tastes so good for some reason, kind of wonder why.

Guest's picture
Claudia

The only water I've ever had better than Chicago's was Houston's. I brought a re-filled bottle home with me (pre- 3 ounce rule) once and everyone swore it couldn't be from the tap.
I'm now back in my childhood home of Indianapolis and the water here is so hard that it makes me ill to drink it and my hair hasn't felt clean in over a year.

Guest's picture
Mary

Thanks for the info from "experimentally"...very interesting. Do you know of the "Eco-filtro"? I use it here in Guatemala and a lot of places do where gringos work (it seems the amoebas prefer us to the Maya or others that are guatemalteca).
It uses a filtration process that goes from a ceramic container into a receptacle. There is some sort of treatment on the outside of the ceramic that kills all the nasty stuff in the water.
The water tastes sweet and delicious after using this method. The website for it is:
www.ecofiltro.com
I'm curious as to what you think of this method.
The importance of potable water cannot be stressed enough. I was going to be in Guatemala for about 4 months to volunteer...that was last August. Now I need to stay here for another year or more for health care (I don't have health insurance) because Alaska health care is marginal at best. Roles got reversed it seems. You are right, amoebas are nothing to mess around with and some of the medicines make me sicker than the amoebas and don't kill them all...So it is critical to make sure water is safe for this and so many health reasons.
Thanks again, glad you are working this blog.

Guest's picture
Mary

Isn't floride a byproduct of aluminum production? I heard it was introduced in or around WWII as a way to get rid of the toxic waste from aluminum. Is this true?

Guest's picture
RJ Weiss

@Phillip

My girlfriend in college, who now happens to be my wife, went to school at U of I in Champaign. I swear every time I went, I heard about how great the tap water was.

I went to school in Charleston, (EIU) and the water was absolutely terrible. The cheapest option for me was too just buy a water filter pitcher. Probably cost around $50 a year.

Guest's picture
Rosa

Unfortunately, seasonally it has a lot of farm chemicals in it. It's absolutely safe to drink in the -
I was just going to look up which months are the bad ones, but I got distracted by the Minneapolis water agency site. "Tap Minneapolis!" Anyway. Late spring and early fall we have atrazine & other farm chemical problems sometimes.

The standards for monitoring tap water are way higher than the ones for bottled water, plus most bottled water is just tap water from somewhere else.

Unfortunately, the places I've lived with bad-tasting water, it had nothing to do with healthiness - a lot of water-soluble minerals taste bad without affecting your health at all, and a lot of dangerous pollutants (lead, perc, e. coli) don't taste like anything at all.

Guest's picture
Ian Erickson

Lead is an excellent example of a neurotoxin that tastes pleasant. The ancient Greeks and Romans added powdered lead to wine to make it sweeter and induce stronger sleep.

Another would be antifreeze and cats. The alcohol in the antifreeze tastes very sweet to pets. But to drink for them is to die.

Guest's picture

Who would ever think that there would come a time when people would be willing to buy water which is a lot more expensive than gas by the gallon?

The bottled water industry is just fueled by hyped up advertising.

Guest's picture
Mary

Did you know that George W. Bush now owns the largest pure water aquifer underground in the world in South America?

Guest's picture
Karen

Can't fix it for you, but I know all about how it sucks!

http://www.jfanjoy.com/blog/?p=2213

NEVER drink the water. That's about all I've got for you. Also, you know that having water on dishes or anything can make you sick, right? Everything has to dry thoroughly. My host mother boiled water to purify it, then washed the agua pura dispenser, did not let it dry, and poured the (cooled) boiled water into it. That water was then totally contaminated. Eh, I'm sure you know all that stuff already.

Guest's picture
Guest

According to the webpage, the Ecofiltro is a porous clay filter impregnated with colloidal silver.

The silver isn't so good for you in large quantities. If the silver is consumed to great excess or is rusted or otherwise chemically combined into a salt, it can lodge in your body permanently. But it is a great disinfectant in that it's much more toxic to bacteria than to you. Chronic metal accumulation still beats sudden and nasty attacks of bacteria. I imagine filter would need to be recharged with silver every now and then.

I'm more concerned about the way the pores are created. The manufacture of laboratory-grade ceramic filters is precisely tuned to give pores of an exact, known size. Using bits of sawdust, on the other hand, seems rather less of an exact science. I don't see any step labeled "microbiological testing" on the Manufacturing Process web page.

My guess is that the Ecofiltro is superior to cloth filters, but hardly perfect.

Guest's picture
Bryan

Grew up in the Detroit area and well, the water there is pretty pathetic. Sure, if you live in the country it might taste like cherry wine, but around Detroit it tastes like bleach, and whatever industry has been dumping into the rivers for the past 100 years.

Best urban water I've had was in New York City, followed by San Francisco.

Guest's picture
Rae

Water is pretty much the only thing I drink in my day, other than a cup of coffee and maybe a beer. I pay for a filtration system (Brita) because I want my beverage of choice to taste good and consistent (I'm a full-time RVer, so I'm never in one place for long). If the Brita isn't enough to get through horrible water, then I buy huge gallons of the cheapest water available. I've calculated that my water habit costs me up to $200 per year, or $17 per month. How much does the average reader spend on pop, juice, and 'flavoured water' in a month?

And I am qualified to say that the best tap water in Canada can be found in Campbell River, British Columbia. I have no problems drinking that water!

Guest's picture
Chelsea

Tampa has nasty water that smells strongly of chlorine and tastes like crap. I've tested the water quality at USF a couple of times in different courses, and each time the water hardness was ridiculously high, over 200 mg/L, which explains why it takes me three handfuls of shampoo to wash my hair every time. Levels that high can also have a laxative effect. I thought it was the dining hall food that was giving me problems when I got here, but I guess not...

It just perpetuates the question that I keep asking myself and still can't find an answer to, and neither can my entire economic geography class (we were discussing it the other day): Why would anyone live here if they weren't stuck in college?

Guest's picture

I live in Spring Lake, Michigan and my water tastes fantastic when it comes out of the tap all nice and cold, but if it sits for any length of time it tastes horrible--a bit like chemicals.  I thought a filter would alleviate that problem but it didn't.  I was buying bottled water for awhile but in the back of my mind I was always worried about the plastic leaching into the water, so I went back to the tap and only drink it when it first comes out--I let it run until it comes out cold first.  Gone are the days of taking a glass to the bedside to sip when I wake up in the night.  It just tastes too foul.