Water world

Marketplace Staff Jul 28, 2006


KAI RYSSDAL: It was another week of record heat. If you were lucky, you spent your time in the company of an air conditioner the size of Texas or in the deep end of a very cool pool. If you had to work outside, I hope you had a water bottle with you. We all know how important it is to stay hydrated, but knowing which water to drink, well, that’s a bit more tricky. There are thousands of choices, from type of water to brand to how the water gets from its source to your lips. So what’s your best bet for buying H20? Alex Cohen has some answers.

ALEX COHEN: Let’s start at the top, shall we? If you’re flush with cash and feel like splurging on high-end hydration, you may want to visit blingh20.com . . .

In addition to the jazzy jingle, the Web site offers spring water from Tennessee. It’s sold in frosted glass corked bottles and adorned with tiny crystals. A 750 milliliter bottle will set you back $34.95. That’s about $175 a gallon.

But let’s say you care more about budget than bling. In that case, you may prefer an option like this one . . .

[ Sound of water pouring ]

At the Sun Ray Water store in Austin, Texas, Ray Doty fills up a three gallon plastic jug with water purified by reverse osmosis. He also sells distilled water. And, Ray explains, there’s a number of ways you can get it.

RAY DOTY: You can come in and bring your own bottle and fill your own for as low as 32 cents a gallon. If you’re in a hurry, you come in and exchange your empties for our pre-filled bottles. That runs either 65 cents a gallon for reverse osmosis or 75 cents a gallon for distilled.

There are water stores like this one across the country, but not on every corner, which may be why so many Americans are consuming bottled water brands like Aquafina and Fiji Water.

Stephen Kay is with the International Bottled Water Association.

STEPHEN KAY: If consumers want to carry around a canteen or a thermos and fill up on the go at the gas station bathroom or the convenience store sink or a public water fountain, that is a choice and an option that they have, however, that’s not convenient or desired by some consumers.

And, Kay adds, bottled waters also offer consumers a wide variety of choices when it comes to flavor and additives.

KAY: There are imported bottled waters, mineral waters, sparkling waters. There are fluoridated brands of bottled waters. So for consumers that want fluoride in their drinking water there are those clearly labeled alternatives on the marketplace.

But before you reach for the bottle, there are some things you should think about. Like quality.

ERIK OLSON: Just because you are going into the grocery store and spending hundreds or even thousands of times more per gallon, does not mean that you are getting water that is really any better than what’s coming out of your tap

That’s Erik Olson of the Natural Resources Defense Council. He says the bottled water industry isn’t monitored as stringently as it should be…

OLSON: Our testing of over 1,000 bottles of bottled water found that although much of it is of pretty high quality, there is a significant amount of it, something in the neighborhood of a third of the brands we tested, had problems with it. Either bacteria or arsenic in it or some other contaminant.

So, should you give up Evian for water that comes out of the kitchen sink? Depends on where you live.

Olson recommends checking in with your municipal water source. They’re required by law to give you an annual report which lists what contaminants are present in your water.

Then, if you’re not satisfied with the quality, you can find the right filtration system designed to get rid of contaminants.

Peter Censky is executive director of the Water Quality Association. He says for around $30 you can buy a filter that pops right on to your faucet…

PETER CENSKY: These things can range in price from $150 to $300 or $400 or $500 but the amount of water that you can get treated through that device before you have to change out the filter is a great deal more, so in the end that turns out to be the lower cost option over a longer period of time.

But take note: If you go with a home filtration system, make sure it’s properly maintained and be sure to replace them when necessary.

And last but not least, a quick tip for those who want to drink locally but don’t like the taste of tap water, even when it’s filtered: Fill up a jug with water from your faucet and leave it uncovered in your fridge overnight. That tends to get rid of the chlorinated taste.

I’m Alex Cohen for Marketplace Money.

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