Sunday, May 6, 2012

Tasty Water - Part 1

I have a keen taste for water. I can’t hardly tell a good beer from a bad beer or a $10 bottle of wine from a $100 bottle, but water is a different matter. It’s hard for me to even sip chlorinated tap water or worse, chlorinated tap water from limestone areas like Florida. So I confess I’m a fan of the much maligned species, Bottled Water Destroytheplanetus. And yes, I’m even picky about bottled water too. If it was bottled in a part of the country underlain by limestone or similar lithography, then I’m not crazy about paying for the hard water taste (and so of course I save my money by never ordering Pellegrino or similar mineral water when dining in Italian restaurants).

I’m also not fond of paying for filtered tap water if I can avoid it, which is what comes in Dasani (Coca-Cola’s brand) or Aquafina (Pepsi’s brand) bottles. So what do I think is worth paying for? My favorite is Poland Spring Natural Spring Water (now one of Nestlé’s many water brands). It comes from springs in good ol’ hard granitic rock Maine (Maine’s only limestone bedrock is found in the far northeast part of the state, a corner of Aroostook County (potato country – they need limely soils to thrive). There is an original Poland Spring in Poland, ME of course. (The tradition of providing lodging started in 1794 and the spring water began its renowned reputation in the early 1800s). But demand long outgrew one little spring bubbling out of a crack in the granite ledge. (Yankees call bedrock “ledge”). In geologic terms, a spring has to be free flowing and this is a rare-ish condition for the most part (think water seeping out of outcrop cuts along highway right of ways or AVI’s photo of icicles at Bridal Veil Falls. You can imagine it would be hard to satisfy market demand with mere trickles.

So, (little known fact alert), what constitutes spring water is generally defined by state law and not much else. In Maine, like most states, bottled water can be labeled as spring water only if it was taken from an area where water flows, or USED TO FLOW, from the ground naturally. That means that water can be pumped (extracted or “mined” if you are not a fan of the water industry) for commercial use. And that’s what happens at Poland Spring and most every other commercial water supplier. Wells are drilled around the area of the original springs and groundwater extracted in volume to supply our thirst. Basically, it’s the same water chemically as trickled out of the natural spring, so same taste. The extracted water might need filtering or ozonation before it can be sold as a commercial product, but to me those treatments don’t alter the taste. Some springs waters get carbonated to make them into sparkling waters, but I prefer mine with as little tampering as possible. Great stuff.

The bottled water industry has plenty of detractors, both because of the water and the plastic bottle. I generally don’t pay much heed top the self-appointed consumer protection groups that open a PO Box and launch themselves into “business” with a staffer and a press kit. “Not worth the money… Could contain toxic minerals…”Blah, blah, blah. And the recent trend at college campuses is to cave to certain student groups and ban single serving bottles from the entire campus. Lodges in several national parks have gone this route as well. I appreciate a spirited debate about the pros and cons of bottled water but it is painful to listen to completely unknowledgeable folks ramble on. In early April NPR aired a lengthy segment on bottled water and most of the show was a pretty decent discussion of pros and cons. But you know the OWS anti-corporate group would have to weigh in. Here is an e-mail read by the host on the air:

Phillip asked, "Corporations like Nestle are draining aquifers around the world, including the Great Lakes. Please ask your guests about the commercial appropriation of world water sources."

A loaded and off-base question to be sure. First, open water bodies like lakes are not aquifers. That term is reserved for underground water resources in saturated zones that can be extracted by means such as pumping of water wells. Second, I’m not sure that Nestle has bottling plants tapping the Great Lakes, but I doubt that the U.S.-Canadian Great Lakes are in danger of drying up due to bottled water operations. Unfortunately, the response by the guest “water expert” was not particularly on-target or even cogent, so the opportunity for some interesting and relevant discussion points was simply lost.

I reached for a fresh bottle of Poland Spring to wash away any residues of toxic discourse.


Assistant Village Idiot said...

Filters don't do it for you?

james said...

And what do they drink when traveling in Africa?

Sponge-headed ScienceMan said...

James - Not much of a reliable nature I'm afraid. Africa has plenty of water, even under desert areas. It's either sanitation or availability/extraction issues that has been the continent's bane.

james said...

Quite true. Even drinking bottled water isn't a guarantee of safety, since food is usually prepared or washed with unclean water, or handled with unclean hands. Lower class travelers like us drink the bottled water or the soda or the beer. I suppose our betters, who warn us that bottled water is bad, drink champagne.