Water and the Google All-Nighter

Fact: Tap water is more strictly monitored for contaminants than bottled water.

All the municipal water systems that bring you tap water in this country are regulated by the EPA and the Department of Health, which both have higher water quality standards than the FDA (the organization that monitors bottled water).

Last weekend, I went to the Google All-Nighter, a 24-hour programming contest organized by UPE and sponsored by Google. UPE is Upsilon Pi Epsilon, the computer science honor society. It was a terrific event, with food, code, and prizes. All entries were hosted on Google Code and tagged uscgan2008. This means they’re all under some kind of open source license. Furthermore, they had a mini-competition to make the best Wiki pages, so most of the entries have fairly interesting descriptions. We didn’t win this contest, but I put effort into putting info up on our Google Code project anyway.

google-camelbak-002.JPGMy team, named paleGoldenRod after the CSS color, created a real-time interactive game visualization mashup, along with three new games using Google technologies. I got sick from staying up so late (I slept only 1 hour during the 24 hour contest), but it was worth it: we won Best Overall, which is essentially the 1st place prize. That meant we had first pick at the prize packages. One offered a Google bag with stuff in it, including a 1 GB iPod Shuffle; another was a Google beanbag chair, lava lamp, and $25 to Amazon.com; and the last was a Google laptop bag, beach towel, frisbee, yo-yo, CamelBak, and $50 to Amazon.com.

I chose the last one, which was an obvious best to me. Not only did it include the most cash, but I don’t have any of the stuff in it. From the first pack, I already have an iPhone and thus have no need for an iPod; from the second, I have a Google beanbag chair (although I am still waiting for a computer science common room, so I can donate it there). The last prize pack, though, is simply awesome. Surprisingly (to me), it was the least-sought-after, and there were two extras remaining, even after all the winners had selected their prizes. Pam said they’ll possibly be used at future UPE events.

For most of my life, I’ve been refilling old water bottles and taking them to class, drinking from them throughout the day. They’re disposable ones from companies like Costco (Kirkland Signature) and Arrowhead. Whenever I have a chance to get a fresh bottle, I go for it. But I know that tap water is just as good. It’s just some strange desire for guaranteed pure water that makes me prefer bottled.

Since the prize pack included a Google CamelBak, I decided to look it up online. I learned a lot of things, among which is the fact above. Shocking, isn’t it? In my opinion, there is ample proof against the need, in the vast majority of situations, for bottled water. Consider this:

Fact: 25% of bottled water is just filtered tap water.

Did you know that bottled water cost 1,000 to 10,000 times more than tap water? Really, it’s true. And remember those 8 glasses a day you’re supposed to drink? Well that’ll cost you $1,400 a year in bottled water, but just $0.49 if you drink tap.

That’s from CamelBak’s site, Choose to Reuse. Other sites have other conclusions, also favoring tap water. For instance, this article from ABC News

“20/20” took five bottles of national brands of bottled water and a sample of tap water from a drinking fountain in the middle of New York City and sent them to microbiologist Aaron Margolin of the University of New Hampshire to test for bacteria that can make you sick, like e. coli.

“There was actually no difference between the New York City tap water and the bottled waters that we evaluated,” he said.

Many scientists have run tests like that and have consistently found that tap water is as good for you as bottled waters that cost 500 times more.

The labels of the bottled waters do suggest they’re special. Some show mountains or polar bears or glaciers. You have to look at the fine print to find out Everest Water is not from Mount Everest. It’s from Corpus Christi, Texas. Glacier Clear Water is not from a glacier in Alaska. Its source is tap water from Greeneville, Tenn.

Yup… water that costs 500 times more, not any better for you. Water is water. And more from the New York Times

I suspect many people who buy the fancy waters are getting suckered by the ads or the labels.

Bottom line, if you buy bottled water because you think it’s healthier than tap, test after test shows no evidence of that. And if you buy fancy brands because you think they taste better, you’re probably just buying the hype.

Plus, the environmental benefits of tap…

Water bottles, like other containers, are made from natural gas and petroleum. The Earth Policy Institute in Washington has estimated that it takes about 1.5 million barrels of oil to make the water bottles Americans use each year. That could fuel 100,000 cars a year instead. And, only about 23 percent of those bottles are recycled, in part because water bottles are often not included in local redemption plans that accept beer and soda cans. Add in the substantial amount of fuel used in transporting water, which is extremely heavy, and the impact on the environment is anything but refreshing.

The scariest thing, though, is the idea that tap water might not be this way forever. I don’t know what it costs to maintain this system, but it often surprises me that the US is different from most other countries in the cleanliness and wide availability of drinking water.

Now, I should note that this applies to the United States only. I know I’ve talked with foreigners who are shocked that it’s possible to drink tap water in the US. Your country may differ; but around here, the water’s fine.

3 Responses to “Water and the Google All-Nighter”

  1. Michael says:

    Hey, you should post your video of the Water Tasting test. What’s that expensive bottled water? VOSS … taste tested against Costco’s Kirkland brand.

  2. Michael says:

    BTW, Congrats on the contest!

  3. Geek Mother says:

    Bottled water sales here in the UK are rising each year and more and more flavoured waters are appearing by the day. I do not buy them on principle when what comes out of the tap is about 1/2000th of the price. I just wonder how many miles some bottles of water actually travel – so count your water miles in future.

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