Marler says that those who don’t wish to drink centrally treated water have alternate options for making water safe. He says, “It doesn’t necessarily need to be treated with chlorine or fluoride, but there are systems that filter out bacteria, viruses, and protozoans. It’s just common sense.”
More importantly, Dr. Rose, Dr. Bowser, and Marler were skeptical about claims—such as those made by Live Water—about the innate safety of spring water.
“Even in Europe and the U.S. where we have pretty good control over our water and water systems,” Dr. Rose says, “any untreated water carries a risk of microbial infections. Even springs. And what we found is springs, because they’re under pressure, because they come up to the surface, the water moves faster. They can be almost as risky as surface water in terms of contamination. It really depends on how people are protecting the spring, where the water comes from, and what kind of testing they’ve done.”
Live Water claims on its website that, “An analysis for waterborne particulates shows conclusively that Opal Springs [its source in Madras, Oregon] is a ground water source, not influenced by surface water. We test each delivery for harmful bacteria.”
Dr. Rose would like to know more about the testing process. “Have they tested it for Giardia and Cryptosporidium? Have they tested it for viruses? Have they tested it for a whole range of bacteria? Then we could start to actually put a number on the risk.”
Noting that springs are influenced by rain and pressure, Dr. Rose says that proper monitoring would require “a bare minimum” of 18 months of monthly sampling, particularly over a rainy season, to include Giardia and Cryptosporidium samples, as well as screening for viruses.
“With groundwaters, you’re supposed to monitor for viruses because viruses are notorious,” she says.
For Marler, the starting point would be to find out what fecal coliform standard “raw water” producers test to.
“You can then differentiate between what you’re finding in the water,” Marler says. “Are you finding Shigella? E. coli? Salmonella? You can look for all those bacteria, and protozoans, and viruses. But even then, testing is kind of random: Unless you test everything, you’re not testing everything. Water is better than testing hamburger or leafy greens because it’s more ubiquitous, so the pathogens are more likely evenly spread—but not necessarily.”
Dr. Bowser concurs, saying, “With today’s technologies, it is impossible to ‘test in’ quality for water. If the sample size is 0.5 liter and the batch size is 100,000 liters, there is a chance that the contaminant won’t show up in the sample. This is especially true for contaminants like microorganisms that may clump or are not evenly dispersed.”
Marler underlines that it is impossible for companies like Live Water to guarantee the safety of their product. “The idea of selling potentially unfiltered, untreated water to the public—at a higher cost—is in my view problematic from both a health point of view, and from a legal point of view.”
Live Water’s website hosts a disclaimer that acknowledges, “Some people may be more vulnerable to contaminants in drinking water than the general population,” and suggests that “immuno-compromised persons such as persons with cancer undergoing chemotherapy, persons who have undergone organ transplants, people with HIV/AIDS or other immune system disorders, some elderly, and infants can be particularly at risk from infections” and should “seek advice about drinking water from their healthcare providers.”
This text appears copied from the 2016 water quality report of the Deschutes Valley Water District (DVWD), in which Live Water’s source spring is located. The DVWD provides direct-to-tap domestic water without filtration to roughly 4,000 locations in Madras, Oregon. The DVWD 2016 report notes that there has been no detectable change to the springs’ flow, temperature, or pH since 1925. The EPA does not require the DVWD to test for all contaminants annually, though a 1996 Oregon Health Division waiver required some tests and schedules of testing. The DVWD report notes that in the testing period, the District tested for 80 contaminants, and found three, all at levels below EPA thresholds.