Water is the second most important nutrient after oxygen, as we can only live a few days or so without it. There is much to be said for fresh, clean water. The general rule is to drink enough water throughout the day to keep your urine on the clear side. A fact that comes to mind concerning keeping the urine clear, is that when you do so, and you try a new multivitamin, if your urine is not so clear as usual, but bright yellow or even greenish, then you know the contents of the vitamin are being metabolized (utilized by cells)… which is what you want in a high quality multivitamin. Low quality vitamins may pass right through without much of their content being metabolized. As a side note, remember that everything that is ingested but not metabolized is waste and care should be taken to eat foods high enough in fiber that the entire length of the digestive tract enjoys optimal health. Drinking plenty of water is essential to all body functions. There are many sources of drinking water.
Well water will contain whatever pollutants the rain and soil contains as the pollutants percolate down through the ground to the aquifer. It is important to use a filter or a distiller when well water is suspect or known to be contaminated.
Municipal tap water is generally fine but may have added fluoride (as cavity prevention) and/or other added chemicals such as chlorine (as a disinfectant). It is not generally necessary to filter or distill tap water, but safe rather than sorry is always a better choice, and since the addition of fluoride is highly controversial, some people prefer to do what they can to reduce ingesting it.
Read more about Fluoridated Tapwater (coming soon).
Rainwater collected from roofs designed to provide drinking water may be acidic (caused by emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide) or may contain debris such as dust, bird droppings, radiated particulate, etc.
Read more about Acid and Radiated Rain (coming soon).
Making Water Potable (Safe To Drink)
There are a few basic ways to make water potable:
Above are shown three examples of the three basic ways of purifying water:
- Adding something to the water… such as heat (boiling); or chemicals that kill microorganisms, such as chlorine.
- Removing something from the water… by way of filtration.
- Removing the water from something… via distillation.
As you can see from the chart, distillation is the only way to truly purify water, as the other methods do not remove all possible nuisances and/or threats. Every home should have a water distiller, they are mostly impractical for carrying around in the field, such as when backpacking. There are homemade exceptions. There are people who have made portable water distillers that function on a small campfire to distill the potable water from ocean water, out of a teapot with an attached coiled copper tube that when kept cool by immersing in cold water, condenses the pure steam.
My recommendation for ‘in field’ worst case scenario (life and death, about to die of thirst and the only water available contains particulate and likely many microorganisms, and chemical contamination is suspected):
1. Prefilter (with a Millbank Bag, bandanna, sand/grass soda bottle filter, or commercially manufactured prefilter) to remove the particulate; this is usually aesthetic as bringing the water to a boil will kill whatever microorganisms are attached to the particulate, even at higher elevations where water boils at a lower temperature. Although, bits of poisonous plants or rotting animal carcass may be present in water, and even if not… particulate tends to slow down chemical purification times.
2. Boil to kill all microorganisms… OR (second choice… only if you do not have the fuel to boil the water) use iodine, chlorine or other chemical treatment to kill microorganisms; chemical treatment is second choice because iodine, for example, does not kill Cryptosporidium cysts. You have to really know what microorganisms respond favorably to what chemicals. Whereas boiling always works to kill all microorganisms.
3. Filter through a commercial filter with an attached activated carbon matrix to remove finer particulate and chemical contamination, but understand that because activated carbon filters vary in quality and even the best only absorb certain substances and also only a small amount, it is wisest to avoid all water sources that are suspected of containing any chemical contaminants. The only surely safe way to remove chemicals is by way of distillation. There are other filters available such as the osmosis bags the military uses.
More on Boiling
Boiling is only applicable when the contaminants are living organisms in the water such as Giardia, Cryptosporidium, viruses, and bacterias. Microorganisms must be killed in order to prevent them doing harm by way of their ingestion. There is no organism that can survive in boiling water, in fact, merely bringing water to a boil is sufficient heat to kill any microorganism that might be present in the water, even at higher altitudes where water boils at a lower temperature. Keep in mind that whatever chemicals might be in the water are not “deactivated” by boiling.
Boiling is usually a preferred method for ‘in field’ use, when it is anticipated that the only contaminants in the water are microorganisms. As long as any particulate in the water being boiled is not toxic, then it may be left in, but it is often better to prefilter water you intend to drink or cook with before boiling. The means to boil water outdoors is essential to any long term outing. A metal canteen cup is one of the top 5 survival items to never trek without.
More on filtration
Filtration can remove particulates down to the size rating on the pores of the filter, and certain activated carbon filters absorb certain amounts of certain chemicals into complex high surface area matrices. Filters and activated carbon filters eventually clog and will need to be replaced. I only recommend activated carbon filtration for ‘in field’ use, where a water distiller is impractical to carry. Although, there are field distillers.
More on distillation
Distillation is the only method that can truly be called ‘purification’; don’t be deceived by the various companies claiming that their water filters ‘purify’ the water; they do not. Distillation is the process by which the liquid water is heated and vaporized free of all contaminants with volatile substances being vented away from the water vapor; when the steam cools it condenses and is ‘pure’ (only H2O).
Keep in mind that the only way to remove ALL contaminants is by way of distillation that is vented prior to the boiling of the water to allow for the release of volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) which typically have a lower boiling temperature than water.
Some people try to argue that the downside of distilled water is that it lacks minerals. The consensus concerning minerals is that they are more than sufficiently supplied by eating food, especially a variety of plants.
What about those alkaline and “ionized” water making devices?
I am not a pseudoscientist, so I rely on science… not quackery. Simply put, those water devices offer easy pseudoscientific solutions to imaginary problems by way of outright lies concerning the physical properties of water and the human body. Sadly, the people involved in those multi-level marketing schemes selling those devices were themselves suckered and then sold on the pseudoscience, so they naturally have the desire to pass the buck, so to speak, on to new prospective pseudoscientifically deceived suckers (I mean customers) just like they were. Those devices cost less than $100 to make and yet the sellers charge thousands of dollars for them. The sellers of those water devices (Kangen, etc.) are lacking in morals in more ways than one, but ultimately they are relying on your lack of scientific education, trying to separate you from your money via hype and false testimonials based on placebo and ignorant speculations. You will achieve none of their claimed health benefits. All you will really be doing by drinking alkaline water is minimally diluting the acidity of your stomach, perhaps resulting in a less than ideal environment for the acid-loving gastric bacteria that live there. If you are considering purchasing an alkaline water or ionized water device, first ask a Ph.D chemist or liscensed and certified nutritionist who has absolutely zero affiliation with the selling of those devices about those water devices’ supposed scientific claims, and also ask a medical doctor about the water devices’ medical claims. You’ll find the sellers of those water devices to be all quacks. Here is a very informative page, written by a Physical Chemistry Professor (Ph. D.) Emeritus of Simon Fraser University, that thoroughly debunks alkaline, "ionized", and other lies and myths about water. Whether it is called pseudoscience, junk science, bad science, hoax science, fraudulant science or defective science, it is important to know how to recognize and deal with pseudoscience… its only aim is to defraud you of your money.
Here’s an actual quote from the site of a pseudoscientist, where he is trying to sell Kangen water:
I told her all animals and creature love kangen water. There is no placebo factor in animals and if given the choice between regular water or bottled water and Kangen Water… they choose Kangen Water every time.
Note: the misspelling “creature” is his not mine; and I have removed the affiliate link he had on the words “Kangen water”, and I’m not linking to his site because I don’t want to increase his Google search ranking. This quakster is obviously trying to profit from the scientifically ignorant by making an assumptive and unsubstantiated statement which deceptively might also appeal to the assumed love the potential customer places on personal pets. Snakeoil salesmen are infamous for their ability to subtly manipulate the emotions of those who listen to their lies; they are not called silver tongued for nothing! I looked into the Kangen device affiliate program… and indeed it is only available to those who have purchased one of their machines… and thus the incentive to make back the money spent on quackery.
But if those pH water devices are quackery, then what CAN I do about my body pH? What about those acid/alkaline balanced diets I see all over the internet?
As far as maintaining blood pH is concerned, you don’t need to worry at all about the pH of the water you drink or the foods you eat. In order to maintain cellular functions, your body has elaborate mechanisms that maintain its blood H+ (hydrogen ion) concentration within the typical range of 37 to 43 nmol (nanomoles)/L (liter) [usually shown as pH 7.37 to 7.43, where pH = blood H+ concentration] and ideally 40 nmol/L [pH = 7.40]. Your healthy body will have no problem maintaining a healthy blood pH, just as long as you provide it with the nutrients it needs in order to do so. For instance, when the blood pH starts getting low, the body will use minerals in the bones to buffer the pH up; so, it is essential to make sure you eat enough foods that contain enough nutrients like potassium and calcium so that your body can buffer pH and maintain strong bones. This is just one of the many reasons complete nutrition is very important. There is nothing wrong with selecting for foods that are alkaline or that produce alkaline metabolites, but unless you are suffering from a specific malady the treatment of which calls for said selectivity, then I wouldn’t worry about it. If you do have a specific malady that might be treated with eating certain foods that have an alkaline effect on the body, you should consult your doctor or a liscensed and certified dietician or nutritionist, because certain acidic foods have alkaline effects once metabolised and vice versa. There is much confusion concerning this fact among laymen masquerading as internet “nutrition experts”.
A typical reason to select for alkaline foods is an overly acidic stomach, the symptom of which can be acid reflux or agitated stomach ulcers; so in that case it might be wise to eat foods that are low in acids. But remember that the healthy body is the result of balanced nutrition, whether you are playing the pH game or not, inside the body, it generally all comes down to available nutrients.
Interestingly enough, if you want to quickly and temporarily increase (make more alkaline) your blood pH, hyperventilate; and if you want to quickly and temporarily decrease (make more acidic) your blood pH, hypoventilate (hold your breathe). This has to do with releasing or retaining blood CO2 concentration. And as much as the “miracle water machine” snakeoil salesmen might want you to believe otherwise, you aren’t going to get cancer from holding your breath! Just ask a freediver!
Bottom line: don’t buy the lie!
About me… Troy Boylan
Ecoculture Village Founder & President, Anthropology BA, Interdisciplinary Studies: Ethnobotany BS. Two things I think are worth anything at all… all things wilderness and ecoculture… and well, RPGs… and skateboarding!
So, what’s up!?