To tap the tap -- or buy a bottle? More are choosing latter
December 2, 1996
Web posted at: 11:00 p.m. EST
This is the last in a three-part series on water quality in
the United States.
From Correspondent Dan Rutz
MILWAUKEE (CNN) -- A hundred years after America was piped
into the convenience and low cost of tap water, more and more
people are buying the water they drink in a bottle.
Industry figures show two out of three Californians drink
bottled water, and even in the Great Lakes region --
alongside the world's largest freshwater supply -- bottled
water consumption is taking off.
In northern Wisconsin, the owners of an 8-year-old artesian
well say their sales have gone up 25 percent a year. "We
have taken the place of the old milkman that comes to the
house," said David Holdener of Nicolet Forest Bottling Co.
Holdener has tapped into the Northwoods, an area of Wisconsin
where farm chemicals have not contaminated the rich network
of rivers and lakes that exist above and below the ground.
"We believe our industry continues to grow because of two
major concerns," Holdener said.
"One is taste. A lot of consumers prefer a very good taste
in their water. The second thing is a health consciousness."
Government regulations over bottled waters are generally no
tighter than those for tap water. But, the industry's major
trade group also sets rules. And now the FDA sets the rules
on product labeling -- to help buyers know whether the water
they're buying is natural, processed, or just filled from a
"It's pretty trendy to drink bottled water, isn't it?" said
Carrie Lewis of the Milwaukee Water Works. "But I don't
think that it's something that's needed."
However, the quality of U.S. tap water varies from place to
place and even from season to season, as Milwaukee learned in
1993. A microbe called cryptosporidium infiltrated the
city's water system that year and sickened 400,000 people.
While most healthy people generally aren't bothered by impure
water, some who do get sick never blame their tap water.
"It takes a lot of people getting sick, and going to
physicians, and then it also takes the physicians diagnosing
the illness and recognizing that it's water-borne, and very
often all of those things don't happen," said Dr. Robert
Morris of the Medical College of Wisconsin.
As utilities tighten their monitoring of treated water,
sporadic disease outbreaks may disappear. But out of sight,
a greater problem looms.
In much of the country, underground water mains and
connecting pipes are old -- over 100 years old in some
places. Leaks let water out, and let possible contamination
in. And lead pipes may carry traces of that toxic element
into the home.
"If you put clean water into dirty pipes, you have dirty
water," Morris said.
Until the aging U.S. water system is overhauled, it is
possible that more and more Americans will buy the bottle
instead of turning the tap.
© 1996 Cable News Network, Inc.
All Rights Reserved.