Published on 02/13/03

Bottled water vs. tapped: a personal choice

By April Reese
University of Georgia

Americans continue to turn away from the tap and toward the bottle when it comes to drinking water. And concerns over safety isn't the main reason, say University of Georgia experts.

In 2001, over five billion gallons of bottled drinking water were sold in the United States. Health, convenience and taste rank high on the list of reasons people are choosing bottled water over tap, said Judy Harrison, an extension foods specialist with the University of Georgia College of Family and Consumer Sciences.

The value of bottled water, she says, is actually in the eye of the consumer.

A healthy alternative

"Bottled water is a healthy alternative to high-sugar carbonated drinks," she said. "I think that's one reason why people are turning more and more to bottled water."

The human body needs 64 ounces of water every day to help flush away impurities. By substituting water for soda, the body can get more of what it needs, she said.

"Depending on where you live water will be different because of the different minerals that are found in that region," Harrison said. "We've all traveled to places, tried to drink the tap water, and found that it just tasted terrible to us. This is one of the times that bottled water becomes a good choice."

But even though the water may taste different, it doesn't mean that its quality level is any different, she said.

Purity levels

Just like food items, bottled water products are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. That means it is up to the manufacturer to make sure the product is safe and wholesome and that the label on the product tells the truth about what is in that product and where it came from, said Harrison.

"There are levels set on how much of a particular contaminant can be in the water," she said. "That is also true for municipal drinking water. So in most cases, as far as what's in the water, it is really not a lot different from the municipal drinking water."

Certain treatments are allowed for bottled water just as they are for municipal water supplies.

"Bottled water manufacturers can add antimicrobial agents such as chlorine for safety and fluoride for strong, healthy teeth," Harrison said. "If added, these will be listed on the product label."

The FDA also sets standards for bottled water that divides the water into categories based on the origin of the water. Bottled water typically comes from one of the following four sources:

Spring water comes from an underground formation from which the water flows naturally to the surface.

Artesian well water comes from a well that taps an aquifer, the layer of underground porous rock, sand and earth where water collects. When tapped, the "artesian pressure" in the aquifer pushes the water up and can push it to the surface.

Mineral water is water from an underground source that contains at least 250 parts per million total dissolved solids.

Well water is water from a hole bored or drilled into the ground, which taps an aquifer.

While the types of water may vary, she said, there are no guarantees that any one type is better than the other.


A big reason bottled water is so popular is because it's convenient.

"It is convenient to pick up a bottle of water when going to the gym, when your child has a sports game or before hiking," she said.

Flavor consistency is another reason for the increased popularity.

"Bottled water has a good taste or flavor that is consistent from one type or brand of water to the next so you can always count on having bottled water that has good flavor to drink," Harrison said.

Good flavor or convenience doesn't come cheap. Bottled water costs $1.50 on average for a 12-ounce serving.