Unfiltered Fervor: The Rush to Get Off the Water Grid

Unfiltered Fervor: The Rush to Get Off the Water Grid

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Pure water can be obtained by using a reverse osmosis filter, the gold standard of home water treatment, but for Mr. Singh, the goal is not pristine water, per se. “You’re going to get 99 percent of the bad stuff out,” he said. “But now you have dead water.”

He said “real water” should expire after a few months. His does. “It stays most fresh within one lunar cycle of delivery,” he said. “If it sits around too long, it’ll turn green. People don’t even realize that because all their water’s dead, so they never see it turn green.”

Mr. Singh believes that public water has been poisoned. “Tap water? You’re drinking toilet water with birth control drugs in them,” he said. “Chloramine, and on top of that they’re putting in fluoride. Call me a conspiracy theorist, but it’s a mind-control drug that has no benefit to our dental health.” (There is no scientific evidence that fluoride is a mind-control drug, but plenty to show that it aids dental health.)

Talk like Mr. Singh’s disturbs Dr. Donald Hensrud, the director of the Healthy Living Program at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. What the raw-water partisans see as dangers, he says, are important safety measures.

Untreated water, like this bottle with a “use by” date from Live Water, should he discarded after a few months, Mr. Singh said: “If it sits around too long, it’ll turn green.”

Credit
Leah Nash for The New York Times

“Without water treatment, there’s acute and then chronic risks,” Dr. Hensrud said, including E. coli bacteria, viruses, parasites and carcinogenic compounds that can be present in untreated water. “There’s evidence all over the world of this, and the reason we don’t have those conditions is because of our very efficient water treatment.”

Dr. Hensrud said he has noticed more interest in alternative water sources; a patient recently asked questions about a raw water he had been drinking. “There are people, just like with immunizations, that don’t accept the status quo,” Dr. Hensrud said.

The rules for selling bottled water are imposed by states and the Food and Drug Administration, which does not specify how water be treated but sets acceptable amounts of chemicals and bacteria at a low level. State and federal inspectors make unannounced visits to bottling plants to test for harmful contaminants.

Seth Pruzansky, the chief executive of Tourmaline Spring (whose website touts its “sacred living” water), got an exemption from the State of Maine in 2009 to sell his water untreated. “The natural food industry has been in the dark ages when it comes to water,” he said. “Now there is a renaissance.”

The movement against tap water, like the movement against vaccines, has brought together unlikely allies from the far left and the far right. Conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones, founder of the right-wing website Infowars, have long argued that fluoride was added to water to make people more docile. Similar claims can be heard in the largely liberal enclaves where Live Water is seeing interest spike.

“Fluoride? It’s a deathly toxic chemical,” said Vanessa Kuemmerle of Emeryville, Calif., who does landscape design for large tech companies. She said she was an early adopter of raw water, and has noticed many of her clients following suit.

“They’re health-conscious people that understand the bigger picture of what’s going on,” she said. “Everyone’s looking for an edge: nootropics, Bulletproof coffee, better water.”

The health benefits she reported include better skin and the need to drink less water. “My skin’s plumper,” she said. “And I feel like I’m getting better nutrition from the food I eat.”

At Opal Springs Water Company in Oregon, raw water is prepared for shipping to the company Live Water.

Credit
Leah Nash for The New York Times

In the community of tap-water skeptics, many talk about water the way others might about fine wine.

“My friends who drink spring water, when they come over now they’re like, ‘Oh yeah, give me the good stuff,’” said Amanda Thompson, a writer in San Francisco. “The consciousness around water is changing.”

Not everyone has been receptive. Many San Franciscans are proud of their tap water, which comes from Hetch Hetchy, a reservoir in Yosemite National Park.

“My landlord lives across the street and thinks I’m crazy,” Ms. Thompson said. “He gave me a big rant around Hetch Hetchy water and how the water’s so good. I always hope he’s not around when there’s a delivery.”

Raw water is such a nascent business that there’s debate over what exactly to call the liquid. Daniel Vitalis hosts a podcast, “ReWild Yourself,” that promotes hunting for food and gathering water; he started the site called FindASpring.com to help people locate springs. He prefers the term “unprocessed water,” which echoes the idea of processed versus unprocessed food.

“I don’t like ‘raw water’ because it sort of makes people think of raw sewage,” Mr. Vitalis said. “When you say ‘live water,’ that’s going to trigger a lot of people who are into physics and biology. Is it alive?”

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