Water to drink

There are two ways water can become unsafe to drink. It can be contaminated by either bugs or poisons (or maybe both). It used to be that you didn’t have much choice – you avoided water that tasted bad to avoid poisons or toxic contamination and you just hoped there weren’t any bugs you weren’t already accustomed to. People are a lot more aware of water safety these days and have a lot of ways to improve the odds of getting safe drinking water.

One reason the Chinese railroad works suffered less sickness back when building the transcontinental railroad is because they drank tea rather than water, like the other workers did. Boiling the water for tea tended to keep the water safer. This is the same reason the navy ran on beer and booze then as you couldn’t store water for months without it becoming unsafe to drink.

In the United States, the risk from a public water supply is now very low. At Ramhorn Springs the water used to be available for drinking. The springs were covered and a pipe led the water to a convenient tap. New water safety regulations have caused that tap to be removed and the water now flows only to the creek. The BLM could not afford to meet the testing requirements necessary to keep it available as a public water source.

Water straight out of the ground, like from a spring, is usually safe to drink. This is the well water or spring water used by many ranchers and others in private water supplies.

Surface water from rivers and lakes has had a chance to collect things so it isn’t so safe without purification and treatment. Keeping surface water from getting less safe is one reason there are regulations about waste disposal within 200 feet of any water on federal lands.

There are three basic ways to make water safe to drink. You can filter it or chemically treat it or boil it. The OA Guide to Water Purification is part of The Backpacker’s Field Manual by Rick Curtis. It describes each of these methods and discusses their benefits and problems.

Water purification is a big business. Many times safety is used as a sales point. In the US, it is very seldom that anyone needs water purification unless they are looking at backwoods backpacking or emergency preparedness. Often, filtration and other purification techniques are more for enhancing water taste.

Distillation is considered by some to be the ultimate in safe water and by others as a hazard due to some myth or other. Some links to peruse for distillation include: Water Distillation Principles — A make-your-own solar water distiller — a wood fired distiller. — A steam distiller — and the technology overview of how to get water from air or sea or land.

Distilled water is good for your battery but much of this water purification stuff is probably overkill for most of us, at least as far as safety is concerned.

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