What is “raw water,” and is it healthy?

In January of this year, the New York Times reported on a trend in Silicon Valley toward the consumption of “raw water” that has not gone through any form of treatment.

Those promoting this trend claim that raw water is healthier, more natural, and tastes better than water that has gone through treatment. Stores in the Bay Area sell jugs of raw water at prices far higher than those for other bottled water (which of course costs many times as much as the water that comes out of your tap). One store reported selling 2 ½ gallons of water for over $60.

Public health officials agree that drinking raw water is a very bad idea. No matter how clear a sample of raw water may look, it can still be teeming with bacteria, viruses, and parasites that would be eliminated with typical treatment in any public water facility.

Widespread water treatment is one of the greatest public health success stories in human history. Right here in the Salt Lake Valley a century ago, hundreds of people a year died of diseases like dysentery and cholera from drinking untreated water. Today, those diseases are virtually unheard of in Utah. Any time someone does contract a waterborne disease like giardia, it can almost always be traced to drinking raw water from a mountain spring or other untreated source.

Some 700 million people worldwide still lack access to safe water. Rather than follow trends that promote unsafe and unproven water practices, we strongly urge our customers to support nonprofit organizations such as Water for People ( waterforpeople.org ) that are helping to provide clean, safe water to those who lack it.