One of the things that have always intrigued us about the water industry is the number of people that regularly drink bottled water but complain about the cost of water from their local utility. Why do people pay $1.50/gallon for bottled water, but complain about water from the tap that costs $0.02/gallon?
Now we understand that some tap water can suffer from taste and odor issues, especially water that comes from surface sources such as reservoirs. Some people feel bottled water is safer to drink than tap water because of chemicals that might be found in the water. Water utilities can deal with both issues and for a cost that is a lot less than what consumers currently pay for bottled water. Unfortunately, consumers are resistant to price increases for tap water and political pressure can make water utilities reluctant to ask for increases to improve water quality.
We think consumers should reconsider their preferences for bottled water for several reasons: First and foremost, tap water is safe. It is rigorously regulated by state and federal authorities. Second, tap water is a more environmentally friendly and sustainable source for water versus bottled water. Bottled water is transported to the consumer via trucks which consume fossil fuels. Tap water comes to us via an efficient water distribution system. Bottled water comes in plastic packaging only 24% of which is recycled. This means that we are consuming petroleum based products and putting the unused containers in landfills. Tap water comes without packaging.
In terms of taste, odor and chemicals, as we have noted in previous posting in this blog, these problems can be solved by a range of treatment technologies, some of which are supplied by Spartan Environmental Technologies. Ozone water treatment and other advanced oxidation processes are proven techniques for reducing taste and odor problems in drinking water. Water utilities in the Dallas Fort Worth area have successfully used ozone to overcome taste and odor problems typical in the summer due to the turnover of their reservoirs. Their customer complaints about taste and odor dramatically decreased with the implementation of this technology.
Recently, in this blog and elsewhere in the news media there have been articles on the presence of pharmaceuticals and other personal care products in drinking water. Numerous case studies have shown that ozone, advanced oxidation processes, membranes and activated carbon can remove a significant portion of these compounds. Given that the presence of these compounds is already at levels considered safe, removal of virtually all of the compounds was achieved.
At most these technologies would add a few pennies per gallon to the cost of water to the consumer and do so in an environmentally sustainable fashion. Unfortunately, utilities are reluctant spend the money on these technologies. In some cases the utilities can legitimately claim that their water is safe to drink and does not require these new processes. In other cases, the utilities cannot raise the capital required to invest in these technologies. At the same time, however, enormous amounts of money are spent on bottled water for the same benefits.
On the positive side, the drinking water industry continues to make improvements in water quality on their own initiative and due to the regulatory pressure of the US EPA. The newer water treatment technologies such as the use of ozone and UV will become prevalent. Hopefully consumers will realize that improving water quality does not justify the costs associated with bottled water except in limited circumstances.