Why You Should Pass on the ‘Raw Water’ Trend

Raw water. That’s the buzz phrase that’s hitting headlines this new year, with many a health guru on both the political left and right singing its praises. But how does it differ from good old tap water?

Basically, raw water is unfiltered, untreated and unsterilized. It’s taken straight from springs, collected from rainwater or distilled from the air, and then sold back to us for a tidy profit. Proponents claim that the taste is better and that the water contains natural “probiotics” that improve our health. While there’s no scientific data to support these claims, plenty of scientific evidence highlights the health risks of untreated water.

But what’s driving this fad?

Commercial interests are one major factor influencing the movement. The Guardian notes that some companies are selling “raw water” for between $2.50 and $6 a gallon. That’s far in excess of even bottled water’s pricey markup.

And as is often the case with so-called health crazes, the raw water fad plays on some legitimate — or, at least, understandable — fears.

Water quality, fluoridation and Flint

Americans are anxious about their water supply, and that’s not entirely unfounded.

Even though most Americans enjoy high quality tap water, an Environmental Working Group study in March of 2017 found exposed some unsettling realities about our drinking water: Water supplies in 42 states contained traces of chemicals that the EPA has not established safety standards for, as well as a further 119 contaminants that the EPA does control for.

While that doesn’t mean that these chemicals pose a direct risk to human health, contamination problems clearly exist. And in the world of social media where these kinds of studies can be inflated beyond the original intent of the authors, it’s no surprise that some people feel leery of tap water.

However, the official number of deaths and illnesses related to water quality continues to be incredibly low — precisely because we treat our water, though that too proves controversial.

Fluoridation as a means of fortifying our water is one of the key innovations in human history to safeguard dental health. However, now that fluoride has been added to several other products, critics charge that we may be experiencing too much fluoride exposure. A fierce public debate over this issue has crept its way into scientific discourse – a Harvard essay on this topic prompted many letters of criticism –  but the scientific consensus based is that fluoridated water remains safe.

Then, of course, there is the Flint water crisis that began in 2014 when unacceptable levels of lead contamination were discovered in the water supply.

This specific infrastructure crisis was finally resolved — to an extent — in 2017 when Flint’s water was confirmed to be safe by federal standards. Unfortunately, due to the protracted time it took to control this issue and the ongoing burdens for Flint residents, serious mistrust still exists regarding the federal classification.

But, not only is raw water a costly and ineffective answer to these legitimate complaints, it’s also potentially dangerous.

The potential health risks of untreated water

A world of evidence shows that untreated water is, effectively, a game of Russian roulette. If we are harvesting untreated water from springs, we risk contamination from all kinds of runoff. After all, pollutants inevitably accompany water that flows from roofs, roads and farms.

The New York Times spoke to Dr. Donald Hensrud of the Mayo Clinic who outlined some of these dangers:

“Without water treatment, there’s acute and then chronic risks,” Dr. Hensrud said, including E. coli bacteria, viruses, parasites and carcinogenic compounds that can be present in untreated water. “There’s evidence all over the world of this, and the reason we don’t have those conditions is because of our very efficient water treatment.”

Animal feces, pesticides and a whole range of other contaminants could be in raw water, and there’s no way to know for sure just what you may be drinking.

Knowing your water supply

Staying away from the “raw water” fad is important, but so is investigating some of the legitimate concerns over our water supply.

If you’d like to check if you are living in a U.S. state with high quality drinking water, the EWG offers a handy zip-code based water database. More resources can be found at your water supplier’s website, or through independent watchdogs if you want to know what steps you can take to make your drinking water safer.

Photo credit: Thinkstock.


Marie W
Marie W7 months ago

thanks for sharing

Danii P
Past Member about a year ago


Sheila M
Sheila Mabout a year ago

Thank you for this article. I do not drink raw water. Everything is so contaminated now.

Patty Langford
Patty Langfordabout a year ago


Angela J
Angela Jabout a year ago

Thank you.

Amanda McConnell
Amanda McConnellabout a year ago

Thanks for sharing

Amanda McConnell
Amanda McConnellabout a year ago

Thanks for sharing

Leo Custer
Leo Cabout a year ago

Thank you for sharing!

Leanne K
Leanne Kabout a year ago

Im a fan of flouride in our water, what a incredible difference it has made for childrens teeth. Many people dont get a filling til in their 20's. Thats a darn sight better than 2 or 4 years of age

Jaime J
Jaime Jabout a year ago

Thank you!!