Archive for Sunday, September 3, 2006

Bottle or tap? Depends on taste

September 3, 2006


Pamela Krommendyk stood by the produce aisle at the Community Mercantile. In her cart were two gallons of distilled water.

The Lawrence resident has been drinking bottled water for more than 30 years. She won't drink the city's tap water.

"I don't like it; it makes me sick. I've tried drinking it, but I get really bad stomachaches from it," said Krommendyk, 49, a mother of two.

She is not the only person to spurn the water that comes from Lawrence taps. Still, most residents rely on city water that comes from Clinton Lake and the Kansas River.

But just what is it that they're drinking?

While some people believe that water they purchase tastes better and is better for them, those who keep an eye on the water at the water treatment facilities say tap water is just as clean and safe as bottled water.

The guardians

At 9 a.m. at the Clinton Water Treatment Facility at 21st Street and Wakarusa Drive, operators are pulling test pipes and flasks out of a pool of water. Their goal: provide Lawrence with clean drinking water.

Keith Whealy, water treatment manager, explained that operators run tests every two hours to ensure that the water they are distributing to the community meets the highest standards.

They test for things such as temperature and turbidity, which is the amount of suspended particles in the water, hardness of the water and chemical and mineral content. That includes chlorine residuals, acids, alkalinity, and pH level, all to make sure that the amount of each does not exceed recommended values and remains healthy for people to drink.

Whealy, as well as state and federal water regulators, believes this process assures that the water that comes out of Lawrence faucets is safe.

"I think it is an extremely fine product. I drink it and I give it to my family," Whealy said. "It hurts to see so much money spent on bottled water when they could use our water."

The process

As Whealy led a tour of the treatment facility, he explained the process that makes him confident in the water that he delivers to the city.

Lawrence has two water treatment plants, the Kaw and the Clinton. The Kaw Water Treatment Facility receives much of its water from the Kansas River and from wells. The Clinton Water Treatment Facility gets most of its water from Clinton Reservoir. However, both have the capability to pump river and reservoir water throughout the city.

Whealy explained that once the water enters a treatment facility, it begins a five-step treatment process to remove bacteria and dangerous components.

After the water is filtered and ready for distribution, it flows into the water mains in Lawrence. The water finally flows into 1-inch copper pipes that lead into Lawrence homes.

Minor problems do occur every day from facility to facility. Usually they involve taste and odor complaints or fears of running out of water during the dry summer months. Nevertheless, Whealy said, the facility has never failed to meet federal regulations, nor has it run out of water.

And a problem at the tap doesn't necessarily mean there is a problem at the plant.

Paul Liechti, assistant director of the Kansas Biological Survey, said the water that people are drinking doesn't go directly from the plant into their homes.

6News video

How clean is the water in Lawrence? Enlarge video

"They have to look at the pipes and things in the person's household. There is a lot of distance between the water from the treatment plant into your tap," Liechti said.

So what is in the city's water?

This summer, Lawrence residents received a brochure titled "The Water We Drink 2006" from the city of Lawrence Department of Utilities. The brochure reported a lot of statistical information, from chlorine and bacteria to atrazine and alkalinity.

The brochure is actually the Consumer Confidence Report, issued each year by the city to assure residents that what they are drinking is safe. At least one independent observer gave the report a passing grade.

"The basic idea is that the consumer can compare the city's water supply with the Environmental Protection Agency regulations to see how close the two are," said professor Steve Randtke of Kansas University's Department of Civil, Environmental and Architectural Engineering. "The numbers all look fine to me. I don't see anything at all to worry about."

Liechti, of the Kansas Biological Survey, agreed with Randtke and said there was nothing to worry about in the report.

"They are well within any federal regulations," he said. "It is healthy water. It is good water."

Water marketers

The Merc is known for its health food. The store carries about 10 brands of bottled water and its own locally distilled water.

The 2-cent-a-gallon of water out of the tap and the 45-cents-a-gallon water the Merc sells starts at the same place: the Lawrence water treatment facilities.

The difference is that once the water reaches the store, it goes through a four-chamber distillation process.

"Tens of thousands of gallons of our water is sold each month," Jeanie Wells, Merc general manager, said. "It is the cleanest water that you can possibly have."

Distillation turns water into vapor and then back into a liquid, leaving impurities behind. The Merc's distillation process removes compounds or minerals that give water its taste.

Merc customer Jeanne Johnson lived in Lawrence for more than 25 years. Her parents still live here. She said her family was leery of Lawrence water.

"I immensely hate the taste of this water. I thought that I hated all water, until I was in college visiting a friend who had a filter," Johnson said. "Then, I knew it was just the water I drank. I still hate the taste of Lawrence water."

Most commercial water bottlers start with municipal tap water. Then they distill or filter out minerals and chemicals, the things that give water its taste. Technically, pure H2O has no odor or taste. Just what is in that water, once they treat it, isn't always clear.

Aquafina, one bottled water brand, comes from a municipal water supply and then goes through a filtration and reverse osmosis process.

"It is EPA water that we filter through the Hydro-7 process," said Nicole Bradley, Pepsi-Cola North America public relations representative. "This process consists of seven filtration steps. A lot of other waters add in minerals, but we don't," Bradley said. "It is just purified water."

In the end, bottled water is more a matter of taste than of health, most observers agree.

Still, many customers have no intention of giving up their bottled water.


Richard Heckler 11 years, 8 months ago

Pure Water out of Lincoln,Nebraska produces fine stainless steel water distillers for the home with five gallon storage tanks. However running the water through a reverse osmosis system before distilling might be a good idea since water is coming from a very salty source. We have been using one for the last 15 years. User friendly, simply built for easy repair and effective best describe this distiller.

Richard Heckler 11 years, 8 months ago

Also "soft water" is good for your water lines and easier on the distiller as well. Use phosphorus instead of salt.

classclown 11 years, 8 months ago

I find there is nothing wrong with the city's water.

Richard Ballard 11 years, 8 months ago

"I don't like it; it makes me sick. I've tried drinking it, but I get really bad stomachaches from it," said Krommendyk, 49, a mother of two.

This lady needed to spend some time in the U.S. Army 35 years ago.

She should try filling her dirty plastic canteens with 2-day old tepid water from a canvas 30 gallon Lister-bag full of dead bugs, drop two Iodine tablets in it to kill the little creepy-crawlies you couldn't see, then carry it around in 120 degree weather all day on a pack harness.

After a year of drinking that, anything that comes out of a tap tastes pretty darn good.

She would appreciate Lawrence water much more if she had something to compare it to. She might even think it was great tasting water.

I know I do!


reginafliangie 11 years, 8 months ago

Somebody told her once that Lawrence water was bad. Now it's imbedded in her head. So when she drinks it, she "thinks" she's getting a stomach ache. I think it tastes pretty darn good. Bottled water is for trips and such, but why waste the money? Use the water out of the faucet while you are home.

Richard Heckler 11 years, 8 months ago

We tested filtered bottled water vs our tap water 20 years ago. Very little difference to almost none at all. Bottled "spring water" is from what spring?

Reverse Osmosis and Distilled Water is a different story. Bottled "Smart Water" is distilled.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 11 years, 8 months ago

If the choice is between dehydration and drinking tap water, then the choice is pretty easy. Primarily because of the chlorine, but also because of other contaminants not removed by the city's purification, I don't drink tap water when I have a choice.

I usually get distilled water from the Merc (yes, that den of evil communists) at 45 cents a gallon. Their purification system is the most thorough in town, as far as I know, and the cost is a fraction of the cost of "bottled" waters, which for some reason are portrayed as the only alternative to tap water.

Richard Heckler 11 years, 8 months ago

The Merc water is run through a soft water unit then through a reverse osmosis unit then the distiller. This same water is used for misting the veggie rack.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 11 years, 8 months ago

I believe it also goes through charcoal filtration, as well.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 11 years, 8 months ago

"The water tastes just fine."

It's better than Coors, with slighly more body.

sourpuss 11 years, 8 months ago

Boy are we all lucky to live in a country where we can be this snotty and picky about what water we drink. When I was little, people would joke about buying water. Now some people are religious about it.

Tap water is okay with me, and I've already paid for it. Lawrence water is, if anything, a little heavy on the chlorine, but letting it sit in a glass for a few minutes seems to help a little.

Richard Ballard 11 years, 8 months ago

I really worry about all the healthy people in Lawrence who live on bottled water.

Where I'm from, everyone only drank pure well water because they had too.

Now, all my friends from back home have no teeth, or false teeth.

Without their daily healty dose of Floride from the city water, all their teeth rotted out by middle age.

Lawrence is going to be a truly Ugly place to live, one of these days!

:) rcmodel

pooter 11 years, 8 months ago

Funny how the Alzheimer's epidemic started after most cities began fluoridating their water.

I think I'd rather have rotten teeth.


bthom37 11 years, 8 months ago

Pooter: Funny how life expectancies went up around the same time, huh? Maybe since people were living longer, more cases of Alzheimer's showed up.

Larryville water is fine. Not great, but not bad either.

bthom37 11 years, 8 months ago

Asbestos; you can pretty much have that if you really want it. UV sterilizers are sold for aquarium setups, but I'm sure you could build one for your own water if you wanted to.

matahari 11 years, 3 months ago

I think there are more federally mandated legal guidelines to regulate tap water than there are for it could be that tap is safer than bottled..but still, my cat won't drink tap but happily drinks bottled, go figure (could be the chlorine) Also, could be my imagination, but Baldwins' water tastes better to me than Lawrences' ..of course I am on the east side and get the river not the nice lake water the west siders' drink..does it make a difference? Probably not, but if I think it does, then it does..

Bob-RJ Burkhart 10 years, 2 months ago

This global sequel appeared in LJWorld's print edition on 10-March-2008 ... What's behind the lag in addressing this global ecochallenge?

Online NewsHour: Update | Medicines found in U.S. Water | March 10 ...JEFF DONN: Of course, drinking water is regulated and rather heavily regulated, ... March 10, 2008 Lesson Plan: Chemicals in our Environment ... @

Commenting has been disabled for this item.