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Where Bottled Water Comes From

Is Your Bottled Water Worth It?: Where Bottled Water Comes From

June 10, 2009

EPA requires community water systems to disclose the name and location of the lake, river, aquifer, or other source of their drinking water in their annual Consumer Confidence Reports (CCRs).

Tap water source disclosure: short, simple, informative

The following quotes, taken from 2007 and 2008 Consumer Confidence Reports from around the country, demonstrate how water utilities can provide remarkably specific and informative source data in just one to three sentences:

  • Davis, CA — "During 2007, the City pumped water from 20 municipal wells and one private well. These wells tap into aquifers beneath the city at depths from 210 to 1,730 feet below ground surface."(City of Davis Public Works 2008)
  • Austin, TX — "Customers of the City of Austin Water Utility… receive their drinking water from two water treatment plants that pump surface water from the Colorado River as it flows into Lake Austin." (Austin Water Utility 2009)
  • Philadelphia, PA — "The water that we treat comes from the Schuylkill and Delaware rivers. Rivers are surface water supplies. Philadelphia does not use groundwater. Each river contributes approximately one-half of the City’s overall supply."(Philadelphia Water Department 2009)
  • Sacramento, CA — "The City of Sacramento has two independent water sources. Our primary water source is river water from the American and Sacramento Rivers, which provide 85 percent of our water supply. Groundwater provides the remaining 15 percent." (City of Sacramento 2009)
  • Tampa, FL — "The Hillsborough River is the surface water source that supplies most of Tampa’s water demand, an average of 82 million gallons a day. During our dry season, usually April through June, Tampa’s river supply is supplemented by the Aquifer Storage and Recovery (ASR) system and regional groundwater, surface water and desalinated seawater purchased from Tampa Bay Water." (Tampa Water Department 2009)

Community water systems are also required to notify consumers of any existing source water assessments and how to obtain them. These assessments pinpoint current and potential sources of pollution in the water source. In certain cases, systems are also required to provide a brief summary of the assessment in the CCR.

Overall, EWG found that 23% of products surveyed contained no source information on either the labels or available websites.

Nearly a third of the bottled water labels we examined, including leading bottled water brands such as Dasani Purified Water and Perrier Sparkling Natural Mineral Water, offered no information about the water’s source, generic or specific. Until recently, the major brand Aquafina also fell into this category. However, after extensive pressure from Corporate Accountability International and other consumer groups, Aquafina agreed to modify its labels to say that the water is sourced from unnamed public water supplies.

A third of the labels we inspected included partial or vague source locations, providing the consumer with little or no useful information. Aquamantra Natural Spring Water, as the name implies, sourced from a spring identified on the label as in zip code  92707. The labels of Voss Artesian Water and Meijer Natural Spring Water identify their water sources as "Vatnestrom, Norway" and "deep within Michigan’s countryside," respectively.

FDA requires that if the water comes from an underground aquifer, companies may advertise their product as artesian water, ground water, spring water or well water, depending on how the water is tapped or how it flows to the surface. Companies may advertise their product as mineral water if it is ground water that naturally contains 250 or more parts per million of total dissolved solids.

A few brands stand out for source disclosure.

National brands Ozarka and Poland Spring were among the minority of brands that disclosed precise source locations on their labels. Only 69 of the 188 products (37%) analyzed revealed precise sources, such as the name of the spring or aquifer tapped. Poland Spring Natural Spring Water named six springs in Maine from which the water may have been extracted. Ozarka’s Natural Spring Water and drinking water products named the springs and community water system from which the water was taken.

Websites of bottled water brands were no more informative. 

More than half of the products EWG investigated had no websites.  This resource void was especially pronounced among private label brands, including CVS Gold Emblem, American Fare, Kirkland Signature and Holiday Pantry.

For 9% of the products analyzed, including Nursery Purified Water for infants, websites had no any information on water sources.

Websites of another 28% of the products we analyzed listed ambiguous source locations.

Only 9% of the 188 products analyzed had a website disclosing clear, precise water sources.  Among these were New Zealand Eternal Artesian Water and Iceland Spring Natural Icelandic Spring Water, both imported.  Of that 9%, 1 in 3 provided a list of possible sources, leaving consumers to guess exactly which sources were used to fill a particular bottle.

Manufacturers of just 6% of the products in this investigation provided precise source information on both their product labels and websites. These included Deer Park Natural Spring Water and Evian Natural Spring Water.