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Where Does Bottled Water Come From?

Many bottled water products are geological: mineral water, artesian water, spring water, groundwater, sparkling water.

bottled water
Vintage Water Bottles: Some of the early bottled waters were sold in fancy, colorful glass bottles. This special packaging created an impression of value and luxury that justified their high price. BLM Image.

The Popularity of Bottled Water

Bottled water sales are exploding again! During 2013 Americans consumed over 10 billion gallons of bottled water. This is a new volume record after a brief slump during the recent recession. That is about 33 gallons or 250 single-serving bottles of water for every person in the country.

The total value of bottled water sold in the United States during 2013 was approximately $12.4 billion. That was a record high dollar volume of sales.

Some Bottled Water History

The economic value of "special water" was first cultivated in Europe during the late 1700s when people began visiting natural springs to drink the water or bathe in it. Then in 1767, Jackson's spa in Boston began bottling their popular water. This enabled them to share their water with people over a broad area and increased their income.

In the early days of the water industry, "mineral water" and "spring water" were the most popular types of bottled water. Many people believed that "mineral water" had a medicinal effect and that "spring water" had a special purity because it had just emerged from the ground and had not been used. The bottled water industry was born with these "perceived benefits" and they, without genuine reason, remain a driving factor for sales.

Is Bottled Water More Pure than Tap Water?

In the United States, water delivered by public water supplies is regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Bottled water is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). These two agencies have different standards for these products. In general, EPA's quality standards and rigors of inspection for public water supplies are higher because it is sent out to a much larger number of people. However, FDA does have strict standards of purity and labeling that must be met by manufacturers of bottled water.

Is Bottled Water High Priced Tap Water?

Lots of tap water is sold in bottles. FDA requires bottlers to identify what type of water is in every bottle. If the label says "from a community water system" or "from a municipal source" you are buying the equivalent of tap water.

The bottler might treat municipal or community water so that it meets the United States government's definition of "purified water", "demineralized water", "deionized water", "distilled water" or "reverse osmosis water" and can be labeled with those terms.

Waters from Geological Sources

Some bottled waters are specially produced and marketed as being from a natural water source. These are also regulated by the Food and Drug Administration and must be labeled according to FDA definitions. Listed below are some of the more common water identities.

Mineral Water

"Mineral water" is a natural water produced from a well or spring that naturally contains at least 250 parts per million total dissolved solids. These dissolved solids could be considered impurities. However some people believe that the dissolved minerals provide specific health benefits.

There are very few rigorous studies on the health benefits of mineral waters produced from specific sources. The FDA does not allow the producer to add additional minerals to the water or claim that mineral water provides any unproven "health benefit".

Ground Water and Well Water

"Ground water" and "well water" are names used for water that is produced from a well that penetrates the water table. The water table is a level in the ground below which all pore spaces are filled with water. Many community and municipal water systems produce their water from a well. There is nothing special about these waters. They have no natural properties that make them superior to other commercial waters. They are what many people on public and private water systems receive from their tap every day.

Artesian Water

"Artesian water" is water produced from an artesian well. To be an artesian well the water in the aquifer (a subsurface rock unit that holds and transmits water) must be under enough pressure to force it up the well to a level that is higher than the top of the aquifer. Although this is an interesting geological situation, artesian water has no special chemical or medicinal qualities.

Spring Water

"Spring water" must be produced from a natural spring. A spring is a location where water flows naturally to earth's surface. In the past many people believed that spring water was special because it emerged from the ground and had not been used before. However, the processes which form springs are now well understood and the water that flows from them is simply groundwater with no special qualities.

Sparkling Water

"Sparkling water" is spring or well water that naturally contains dissolved carbon dioxide - thus the water is naturally carbonated. The producer may artificially replace any carbon dioxide that is lost during processing but may not add more than what the water had when it emerged from the ground. Although this is a rare geological situation the water is a novelty rather than being a product that provides special health benefits.

Is Bottled Water Better than Tap Water?

If you are drinking bottled water because you think that it is more pure, better for your health or safer than community or municipal water you are probably not getting your money's worth. The purity standards for bottled water set by the Food and Drug Administration are no higher than those applied to tap water set by the Environmental Protection Agency. In some instances they could be less rigorous.

One concern about tap water that motivates many people to drink bottled water instead is "taste". Some people don't like the taste of their tap water so they drink bottled water instead. Some companies produce flavored varieties of waters to increase the appeal of their product.

Why Pay Big Money for Bottled Water?

The benefits of bottled water are mainly convenience and novelty. Instead of buying bottled water you can carry a canteen or a drinking cup and save lots of money by drinking tap water. Bottled water can cost thousands of times more than water from a tap!

Drinking tap water will also help the environment because plastic water bottles require resources to produce, they are one of the major sources of plastic going into landfills, and, shipping billions of gallons of water every year uses a lot of fuel!

So, if you think that drinking bottled water instead of tap water has health or environmental benefits then you are mistaken.

The REAL Benefit is what You Didn't Drink!

Water has no calories, no dissolved sugar, no alcohol and no caffeine. If you regularly drink water as a replacement for soda you might lose a little weight. Replace iced tea or coffee to lower your caffeine intake. Quench your thirst with water instead of a beer and you might avoid a beer gut or a fender-bender on the way home. Those are some real benefits of bottled water - or tap water. It's easy to drink water as an alternative beverage.

So, start thinking of water as an alternative beverage. Bottled water and tap water are both healthier to drink than most of the alternatives. Drink bottled water when you need convenience. Drink tap water to save money and preserve the environment.


vintage water bottles - Bureau of Land Management Image
Today most bottled water is sold in single-serving bottles. People purchase them because they are convenient, fast and easy. Image © iStockphoto, @laurent.

bottle water sales
Bottled water sales have been increasing strongly for over a decade with only a slight dip during the recent recession. Data from the Beverage Marketing Corporation.

bottled water map Did You Know? The United States was not the leading per capita consumer of bottled water in 2010. People in Mexico, Italy, UAE, Belgium, Germany, France, Spain, Lebanon, Thailand, Hungary and Switzerland consumed more.

water table
Cross section showing deep and shallow wells used to produce groundwater. The deep well penetrates to a depth below the seasonal low water table. The shallow well is not deep enough to produce a sustained flow of water during times of drought. USGS Image.

artesian well
Cross section showing an aquifer tapped by artesian wells. Pressure within the aquifer forces water up the wells. The well on the right side of the diagram is a flowing artesian well that yields water without pumping. The artesian well on the left has a water level that is higher than the top of the aquifer; however, it is not a flowing artesian well. USGS Image.

bottled water mapDid You Know? In some parts of the world, familiar brands of bottled water are purchased because people are afraid to drink tap water or an unknown brand of bottled water.

More Bottled Water Information

[1] Bottled Water Shows Strength Yet Again: website article on , accessed June, 2013.

[2] International Bottled Water Association: an association with over 600 member companies that include bottlers, distributors and suppliers of bottled water, accessed May, 2012.

[3] Product-Specific Information on Bottled Water: overview, rules, regulations and reports related to bottled water by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, accessed May, 2012.

[4] Bottled Water Investigation: a series of website articles by the Environmental Working Group, accessed May, 2012.

[5] Ground Water and Drinking Water: links to EPA information about groundwater and drinking water, United States Environmental Protection Agency, accessed May, 2012.

[6] Per-Capita Bottled Water Consumption by Top Countries: report posted on the website, accessed May, 2012.

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