What you should know before you jump on the "raw water" bandwagon

KOMO photo

One of the newest health trends of 2018 has people paying big money for water that has never been treated or filtered. It's known as "raw water," and it's sparking a big debate about safety.

Believers insist raw water, filtered by Mother Nature, is healthier than treated water.

Recent hype and buzz has people tracking down natural springs across the country and paying as much as $60 for a 2.5 gallon jug.

In order to help you learn the potential down sides of going natural, I went to a local Artesian well, where raw water is free.

You'll almost always find a waiting line at the free-flowing Artesian well along 164th in the Snohomish County community of Alderwood. The source of the natural, untreated water is a 1950s era well located hundreds of feet below the surface.

Natural water devotees swear by the freshness and purity.

"It tastes different," said Jason Clark, who learned of the well from friends a number of years ago. "The texture's a little bit different. And I do feel a lot better when I drink this water, because there's things like chlorine and fluoride in tap water that, aren't necessarily the best things for your body."

Raw water from the Artesian well is tested monthly at a minimum, for bacteria and other contamination.

Jeff Clarke, General Manager of the Alderwood Water and Wastewater District, says even though water from natural springs and wells is filtered when it's pushed through the sand, gravel and clay in the earth- it must be tested for safety. And a lot of raw water you come across is not safe to drink.

"Mother Nature sometimes puts chemicals, and biological substances into water that are not healthy for us. And without testing, you don't know what's in that water," Clarke said.

Health and safety advocates warn- that crystal clear spring or stream you find deep in the forest could harbor dangerous health threats- especially for children, pregnant women, and people who are frail or sick. The same goes for bottled raw water that has not been properly tested.

"If you're feeding it to your child, a friend who has cancer, an elderly person or your pregnant wife, you're nuts!" said Food safety attorney Bill Marler.

"The risks you have of hepatitis A, cryptosporidian, giardia, E.coli, hepatitis- it's just not worth it."

The Alderwood Water and Wastewater District, which owns and maintains the Artesian well, urges: do not drink raw water that has not been adequately tested by a reputable laboratory that's certified to analyze drinking water.

And read the results. Test results for the Alderwood are posted regularly on the district's website.

Also keep in mind that even the safest raw water has a limited shelf life.

Alderwood's Water Quality Supervisor Darren DeMontes says always store containers of raw water in a cool, dark place such as a garage.

"Use the oldest ones first, and if you start seeing any discoloration in it, you need to dump it out, disinfect your bottle." DeMontes said.

Keep in mind that even though the naturally occuring bacteria in raw water may be safe when the water is fresh, it can quickly become become unhealthy if it's allowed to grow.

Also be aware that many health experts insist some of health claims about raw water are unproven.

So again, if raw water is not tested regularly by a valid lab to make sure it's safe- you're taking a risk.

The Artesian well in Alderwood by the way, is one of ten that once provided all the water for that community back in 1957.

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