With thousands of Australians paying top dollar for bottled water each week, a CQUni researcher is asking – why?
By PhD Researcher Adam Rose
Recently consumers have turned to bottled water as a preference to good old-fashioned tap water. It may surprise some people to hear that research is now finding that the water coming from the tap is better quality than the bottled water you pay for. Tap water has had to pass strict drinking water guidelines, whereas, bottled water is not subject to the same guidelines, rather the Food Standards Australia Guidelines, specifically the Non-Alcoholic Beverages and Brewed Soft Drinks. Interestingly, there have been reports of more people in developed countries becoming sick following consumption of contaminated bottled water than those consuming tap water.
As a general rule, developed countries’ drinking water is considered safe. For the water to be considered safe all pathogens (bacteria, protozoa, helminths, cyanobacteria and viruses), metals, toxins, pharmaceuticals and pesticides are removed or lowered to an acceptable concentration. When the final product is delivered through the tap there should be no concern over the safety of the water.
Can you imagine what our forefathers would have thought about spending more on bottled water than petrol, or even God’s nectar XXXX Gold, when there is a cheaper safer option at home? The shift away from tap water to bottled water may be linked to convenience and perception, whether it be marketing, news stories or merely a change in consumers buying habits.
The developed world has now had generations who have only ever known safe water supplies. It is, therefore, no surprise people have become apathetic to the effort from researchers to develop new techniques for monitoring and treatment and government for infrastructure development. The safety of tap water in developed countries is continually monitored with constant improvements in supplies, unlike many developing countries.
Recently, however, the World Health Organisation has identified safe drinking water as a fundamental human right. With this proclamation developed countries are enthusiastically undertaking large national projects aimed at building and upgrading water facilities to improve the safety of the water supplies, both from a health and security perspective. To complement the development, researchers from around the world have collaborated to create a working document for communities trying to achieve a safe water supply. This document identifies the need to treat individual water supplies differently and consider local solutions to safety concerns.
Drinking water supplies throughout the world are as unique as the populations they service. Comparing tap water throughout Australia and indeed the developed world is like comparing fine wines. The French coined the term ‘terroir’ meaning the complete natural environment in which a particular wine is produced, including factors such as the soil, topography, and climate which contributes to a unique characteristic taste and flavour imparted to a wine.
This is a metaphor for tap water, considering each drinking water supply is drawn from a unique area with differing environmental conditions. An additional factor in the overall ‘terroir’ of drinking water is the treatment process. Depending on the condition of the water entering the treatment plant will depend on how much disinfection and other chemicals are used to make the water safe. Water supplies may require more intensive treatment to achieve acceptable results, however with modern treatment approaches drinking water in the developed world is considered safe.
Comparing Australian tap water to other developed European and North American countries, tap water is filled with subjectivity. Each water supply in Australia is unique, my favourite is the Baffle Creek water supply, albeit I may be somewhat biased. It is still in a relatively pristine condition and you could say it is the ‘champagne’ region for drinking water in Australia. Often people become familiar with their local water supply and any other supply just won’t cut it. Simply sampling water between CQUniversity campuses can often highlight this phenomenon. Objectively, Australia has a few advantages to our European and North American friends. Firstly, we have a smaller population spread over a large continent. Secondly, we have complete control over our water supplies, leaving aside the bickering between federal, state and local governments. Finally, our water suppliers in Australia are tightly monitored and run by some of the best equipped from an expertise and technological perspective.
With the onset of climate change, the emphasis on water security for many nations is becoming the highest priority. Australia is the driest inhabited continent in the world and is certainly not isolated from these complications. It is my hope that as a region we can start to prepare for the future and begin to look seriously at environmentally, economically and socially acceptable water storages that can be strategically developed to act as the foundation for the next generation to increase our productivity and jobs in the region.