Solving Cities

Is city tap water better than bottled water?

Is city tap water better than bottled water?

Posting in Cities

Cities are making a push to promote the quality of their tap over bottled water.

If you pay for something it must be higher quality, right?

When it comes to bottled water versus city tap water it's best not to make that assumption.

Reporting in Governing Magazine, Elizabeth Daigneau says that cities are making a push to market municipal tap water as a better alternative to bottled water. And they have some pretty good evidence to back them up.

For one, Daigneau writes that government regulations are more stringent for city tap water.

Municipal drinking water is strictly regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency under the Safe Drinking Water Act, and utilities test their drinking water at least once a week. Bottled water regulation is decidedly less stringent. DC Water, for example, conducts more than 30,000 tests a year, but the Food and Drug Administration has only 2.6 full-time positions to inspect and regulate the thousands of bottled water facilities throughout the U.S.

Daigneau points to one example a few years back when Fiji Water company bad-mouthed Cleveland's water quality in an ad, saying: "The label says Fiji because it's not bottled in Cleveland." The city took offense and in a test of Cleveland's water versus Fiji Water, the Fiji water had 6.31 micrograms of arsenic per liter. Cleveland's water had no measurable amounts. In the test, Aquafina, Dasani, and Evian also had no measurable amount of arsenic.

The takeaway: don't assume that bottled water is better because you're paying a premium for it. That doesn't necessarily mean tap water will be better than bottled water in every instance. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency points out that the quality of bottled water varies: "Some bottled water is treated more than tap water, while some is treated less or not treated at all." It's unclear if a given bottled water brand is better quality than water from an individual city tap. But what is known is that bottled water is costly to ship and uses unnecessary plastic, all for a product that cities say is generally similar to what comes out of the tap.

Besides promoting water quality, George Hawkins, general manager of DC Water, tells Governing that there's another reason cities need to promote their tap water. “We have aging infrastructure that we need to fix. If our customers don’t recognize what we do and what we provide to them, then we will never get support to pay for upgrades when the time comes.”

Cities Tout Municipal Tap Water as Better Than Bottled [Governing Magazine]

Photo: Flickr/Tsja!

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Tyler Falk

Contributing Editor

Tyler Falk is a freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C. Previously, he was with Smart Growth America and Grist. He holds a degree from Goshen College. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure