H2O Snobbery

Everything you ever wanted to know about bottled water

Too many years ago, when I was a student at Fenster, we rode horses and sang songs as we did so.

Honestly. I was once a cherubic boy on a horse. Anyway, the refrain of "cool, clear water" oft lilted forth from our pre-changing voices. Even then, I found it somehow more personally reassuring than, "She'll be coming 'round the mountain when she comes." All pre-Brokeback, for sure.

Water, which my esteemed editor tells me this issue is about--great minds think alike, etc.--is much on my mind, because I like it so much. It always surprises me that others don't. Andrew will drink anything but water, for example, but I think that must come from him growing up in the rain-soaked Northwest. But I've observed that most of my friends never ask for it at a meal. I always do, and I drink it.

My friend Alberto, like me a child of the Southwest, drinks nothing but.

"Twelve glasses a day, and it keeps your skin flawless," he says. His skin is flawless. "You're 80 percent water, and it is vital that you replenish yourself daily." Alberto says he has fallen into the "bottled-water trap," because he fears what is in the tap. But his water of choice is Aquafina for its "pure, yet crisp taste when ice cold." This is from someone who readily confesses to being an addict in his not-distant youth to Mountain Dew/Code Red. Gotta love growth!

Aquafina is a fine water between wines, but it's not even on the boggling list of nearly 250 waters represented by the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA, of course), much less the almost 50 labels identified on

www.bottledwaterweb.com , another industry-friendly site. The IBWA site, by the way, is fun, if for nothing more than its calculus on proposed water consumption as a function of body weight, age and level of exercise. I, apparently, need to cut back on work and spend more time drinking H2O.

All puffery aside, water is the best. It is a terrific partner at any meal. A sparkling Perrier, Calistoga or Pellegrino before dinner, Evian with (though my friend David keeps reminding me that it is simply "naïve" spelled in reverse)--lemon optional, of course, a slightly salty Gerolsteiner with cheese and fruit after. You don't even have to remember vintage years.

I'm a big fan of Evian throughout the day. Sometimes I peel off the label so that no one knows what I am drinking. Or I tote along my bottle from Aqua Vita--which is the same water I use for my fish and dogs. I am also a big fan of Smartwater, in spite of its cutesy Web site and marketing. It does make me feel better, goshdarnit!

That being said, and bounded as I am between the Rillito and Finger Rock Wash, I confess to using plain-old tap water--OK, OK, filtered through PUR--for my coffee and sun tea. And I drink vast amounts of Arizona sun tea (diet green tea with ginseng, honey and "filtered" water). At the farm, I installed a reverse-osmosis system two years ago, but I have yet to fully utilize it, and it probably already needs to be replaced. But anything is better than the water out of the taps there, the wells contaminated as they are by generations of leached pesticides and crop "enhancers."

Water, by the way, is classified by the Food and Drug Administration as "bottled" or "drinking," so long as it meets a host of requirements, is sanitarily sealed and offered for us humans. Further, according to the aforementioned IBWA, are the following differentiations:

· Spring Water: Bottled water derived from an underground formation from which water flows naturally to the surface of the earth. It must be collected at the spring or through a borehole tapping the underground formation feeding the spring.

· Purified Water: Water that has been produced by distillation, deionization, reverse osmosis or "other" suitable processes while meeting the definition of purified water in the United States. Uh huh ...

· Mineral Water: Bottled water containing not less than 250 parts per million total dissolved solids may be classified as mineral water. No minerals may be added to the product. Damn!

· Sparkling Bottled Water: Water that, after treatment, and possible replacement with carbon dioxide, contains the same amount of carbon dioxide that it had as it emerged from its source. This is not the source for Mountain Dew/Code Red.

· Artesian Water/Artesian Well Water: Bottled water from a well that taps a confined aquifer in which the water level stands at some height above the same aquifer.

· Well Water: Bottled water from a hole bored, drilled or otherwise constructed on the ground which taps the water aquifer.

Tap water, by the way, is regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency, which should give all of us pause for thought.

A couple of other germane points: As of this writing, the bottled-water biz is heavily regulated on the fed and state levels--although that could change as we have to deregulate and focus our national energies on winning hearts and minds in other deserts--and imported waters must face the same scrutiny.

Two years ago, in 2004, we 'uns in the U.S.A. consumed 41 billion gallons of bottled water. That's "billion." In 1998, that figure was a mere 3.8 billion gallons. Yes, Virginia, money is being made as our thirsts are quenched. The Natural Resources Defense Council estimates that a $1.50 half-liter bottle of imported water may cost 10,000 times more per gallon than tap water costs on average.

Nonetheless, we drink, and our options are seemingly endless, judging from the supermarket shelves. The other night, I tried a taste-test with 20 different bottles of water, from Volvic and Penta to Fuji, Hawaiian Springs, Naya, Loon Country, Istana, Alhambra, Ice Mountain, Kandiyohi and Clearly Arctic. I would have paid hard eurodollars for a litre of Hog Wash, Cowboy Squeeze or Cruel Jack's Spring Water, but I couldn't find them.

It only took me three samples to realize that I wanted that '95 Rijoa.

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