Where Your Bottled Water Comes From

U.S. News & World Report

Where Your Bottled Water Comes From

The Mayo Clinic recommends drinking about two liters of water a day to flush our bodily systems and replenish lost fluids. As our bodies are composed of approximately 60 percent water, we should be keen to follow its advice. When we're at home, we reach for the tap or the Brita pitcher in the fridge. But on the road, many of us duck into the nearest convenience store and grab a bottle of chilled agua. Usually, we select the cheapest brand; however, sometimes, that glamorous cylindrical or -- gasp! -- square-bottomed bottle catches our eye. We then wonder: Is this how water tastes on that tropical island? Before you know it, you're out the door with a bottle that cost you many pretty pennies.

Whether it's our discerning cosmopolitan tastes, wanderlust or simple on-the-go thirst, we've started buying domestic and imported H2O bottles in bulk. Supplying data to the International Bottled Water Association, the Beverage Marketing Corporation reports that, on average, each American consumed 16.7 gallons of bottled water in 2000. In just 10 years, that number jumped to 27.6 gallons. This 65-percent increase in consumption meant an approximately $4.7 billion in additional revenue for producers. And the U.S. isn't even one of the top three consumers. Per capita, Mexico, Italy and the United Arab Emirates -- three different countries on three different continents -- lead the consumer pack in this multi-billion dollar, international business.

Since bottled water now arrives from all over the world to sit on local shelves, we decided to investigate seven popular brands and find out A) where their water comes from, and B) how their water is purified, if at all. This year, the investigative non-profit Environmental Working Group (EWG) has found that nine of the 10 top-selling brands fail to disclose this information on their labels. Organizations like EWG urge producers to imitate their product and aim for transparency. Yet, more than half of the 173 brands reviewed by EWG failed their water transparency test.

So, sit back, grab some water and take a quick tour of your favorite bottled brands.

The Ricker family started selling water in 1859. Since then, the Poland Spring company has been integral in growing western Maine's tourism industry by promoting the health benefits of its spring water and the relaxing wilderness setting of its mineral spring. The main bottling facility is now in Hollis, Maine, but it's not worth visiting: Public tours of the plant ceased after Sept. 11 because it is an emergency water provider for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. But you can visit the natural Poland Spring, from which the water derives its name, just 45 minutes north of Portland, Maine by car. Here, annual precipitation filters through the soil and replenishes the spring. Pipelines and trucks transport the spring water to the bottling plant, where it endures micro-filtration, ultraviolet light disinfection, even ozone disinfection before being bottled and further inspected.

This complex operation relies on the production of the spring. Therefore, the company runs the Poland Spring Preservation Society and Park, where you'll find the natural spring and the original bottling facility, now a museum that showcases the brand's heritage. The company even employs Jason Libby, who oversees a team of educators that gives tours and teaches visitors about Poland Spring -- the company and the natural resource. Also on the premises are four miles of hiking and cross-country skiing trails, which are open to the public. And nearby, the Poland Spring Resort welcomes guests with a golf course, grass tennis courts and wallet-friendly prices. To learn more about Poland Spring, check out the company's website.

Spouting the slogan "Live Young," Evian ads emphasize the drinking experience over its water's taste. According to Preetam Rao, a senior brand manager for the company, "At Evian, we really focus on how it makes you feel and the resulting mindset." Hence, we get the "Roller Babies" YouTube video, the culmination of the dancing babies phenomenon. But beneath its proliferating advertisements, Evian is a bottled water producer with a unique source and back-story. In the French Alps, rain and melting snow filters through glacial sand and clay for more than 15 years before reaching Evian's aquifer. The water then surges upward, emerging from the Cachat Spring in the town of vian-Les-Bains. The company taps the aquifer and funnels water directly into bottles without touching or altering it in anyway.

Already a glamorous resort town in its own right, Évian-Les-Bains draws thousands of luxury travelers that seek the mythical rejuvenating powers of the Cachat Spring. The Alps and Lake Geneva provide a stunning backdrop to Evian's source. Visitors can tour the bottling plant, which is a 30-minute bus ride from the city center. You can also splurge and stay at the Évian Royal Resort and pamper yourself at the Les Thermes Evian spa. For more information concerning the town and the water source, check out Evian's website.

Florida is renowned for its gorgeous, rejuvenating beaches, so why not get your water from a place with such relaxed vibes? Zephyrhills hopes you'll think just that. Based in central Florida, the brand takes pride in its state of origin, and rightly so, as its product derives from Crystal Springs, which is fueled by the Floridian Aquifer -- a massive water source deep below the state. The water gushes from a crack in the limestone bedrock, supplying Crystal Springs with 40 million gallons of H20 a day. A 3.5-mile pipe directs about one to two percent of the surging water to the bottling plant in Zephyrhills, Fla. There the freshly arrived fluid is filtered, purified and tested before reaching the army of plastic bottles. The plant reports that the contents on each of its 10 production lines are examined 200 times a day by laboratory workers and microbiologists. The final step is filling the bottles, which 10 spinning machines do at the rate of about 1,300 bottles per minute. It's an incredible operation.

Unfortunately, you can't see the mechanized bottling process in person, but you can venture to Crystal Springs, Fla. In the 1960s, swimmers and sunbathers used the area as a popular watering hole and nearly devastated the natural surroundings. Fortunately, this natural water source became a nature preserve that has since recovered. Now, the pools are populated with varieties of fish. Human traffic is limited to group tours led by Karen Pate, a local expert, who details this verdant, thriving ecosystem. To arrange a trip, check out the Crystal Springs Preserve website.

You immediately recognize the bottle -- that square, light-blue container with four elongated white letters on its side. Coming from the honeymoon hot spot, Fiji Water is one of the most identifiable bottled water brands on the planet. The precious liquid inside the container derives from an artesian aquifer in the isolated Yaqara Valley of Viti Levu, the largest of the Fiji islands. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, or FDA, defines "artesian water" as "water from a well tapping a confined aquifer in which the water level stands at some height above the top of the aquifer." What that means is that the water you find on the shelf is completely untouched and unchanged. Each bottle's contents contain tiny amounts of silica, fluoride, and bicarbonate that are acquired while filtering through an ancient volcanic rock that surrounds the aquifer; it's these minerals that give the water its distinctly smooth taste.

Although the bottling facility directly above the aquifer is closed to the public, the lush Fijian scenery is just as refreshing as the water. We suggest zip-lining over the island's rainforest canopy; a thrill for many adventurers. But if you prefer to have your feet on the ground, Koroyanitu National Heritage Park offers dramatic hiking trails. And for peaceful relaxation, head to Natadola Beach with its soft white sand and soothing waves. For more information about Fiji Water, check out the company's website.

A product of the Coca-Cola Company, Dasani is one of the most popular brands of bottled water in America. But why exactly? The water in those blue vortex-like bottles actually comes from the local water supply near bottling plants across the country. According to the Coca Cola Company website, the factories filter and purify the water using "a state-of-the-art, multiple-barrier treatment system." Although the company admits that the treatment process might vary from plant to plant based on location and water quality, Coca-Cola regularly tests its product to assure consumers that Dasani water meets FDA specifications of "purified water."

Because the water comes from multiple sources, the best place to taste Dasani is your own home, which also encourages the brand's go-green message. A Coca-Cola spokesperson recently reminded us that the company's carbon footprint (and transportation costs) is reduced because bottling facilities around the country distribute the product. At the forefront of the company's eco-friendly focus, the new PlantBottle, according to the Dasani website, is made from up to 30 percent plant-based material and is 100 percent recyclable. But if you are feeling less green and still interested in learning more about Dasani, Atlanta -- home to the World of Coca-Cola and company headquarters -- is the best place to "witness" its origins.

Many people (ourselves included) are stunned to learn that Perrier's fizz is au naturale. That's right: Perrier water emerges from the ground already bubbly, without any help from the bottlers. When Perrier first started bottling the effervescent water in the early 20th century, the company took the liquid straight from a spring called Les Bouillens (or "The Bubbles") in Vergèze, France. Carbon dioxide bubbles are released from volcanic gases deep underground and caught in the upward-moving water stream, which fuels the spring. However, to keep up with demand, the carbonic gas and the water are now extracted separately at different depths. The gas is purified and then reintroduced to the water at the precise carbonation levels of the spring. The result is the tasty sparkling water that fills those iconic green bottles, which are also manufactured in Vergèze.

Originally the site of a Roman spa resort, Vergèze is a charming, petite town; however, there is little see or do there aside from tour the spring. You must make reservations for tours, which include admission to Harmsworth House, a chateau and museum. But good news: You can reach Vergèze in less than 45 minutes from Montpellier, which has many attractions like the Chateau de Flaugergues. For more information about the water and touring Les Bouillens, check out Perrier's website.

Legend has it that San Pellegrino mineral water received two thumbs up from Leonardo di Vinci in 1509. And with that blessing, it's no wonder this stuff is bottled up and sweetly savored. San Pellegrino mineral water originates from three Italian springs fueled by an aquifer 1,300 feet below the surface. Filtering down through approximately 2,200 feet of earth in the Dolomite Mountain range, rain water and snow take more than 30 years to reach the aquifer. The limestone and volcanic rock that surround the subterranean basin provide a unique combination of minerals that subtly flavor the emerging liquid. Naturally occurring carbon dioxide -- taken from the same springs but at a greater depth than that of the water -- is bubbled back through the liquid. From there, the now-fizzy fluid is bottled in lime-green glass and slapped with a sky-blue label that provides a detailed mineral analysis.

For centuries, the town where this takes place, San Pellegrino Terme, has been a tiny resort destination. Although the bottling plant doesn't offer tours, you can still find evidence of just how important the springs have been to this town by visiting its historical buildings. See the grand San Pellegrino Water Hall -- a palatial tasting area with marble basins and colorful frescos. The town is also nearby Bergamo and Milan, two cities with many historic attractions. For more information about San Pellegrino Terme and its famed mineral water, check out the town's website and the company's website.

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