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An Unquenchable Thirst


Americans drank $15 bln worth of bottled water last year, with Aquafina and Dasani leading the pack.


A 20-inch Con Edison (ED) steampipe blew a 15-by-25 foot hole in midtown Manhattan yesterday.

Mayor Bloomberg said the explosion appeared to have been caused by cold water entering the pipe, causing the pressure to skyrocket (a condition known as a "water hammer").

The pipe that blew was pretty old-it was installed in 1924.

In fact, all of New York City's infrastructure is quite old.

City residents get their daily 1.2 bln gallons of water via a system that dates back to 1837. As some people are aware, New York City's water quality is consistently rated among the best in the country. It's been described as "the champagne of the municipal water system" and is one of only five cities in the nation that has a federal waiver not to filter its water because it is so fresh.

In June, the city launched a $700,000 ad campaign to promote its tap water as "delicious," "fat-free" and "refreshing."

1,400 glossy advertisements for NYC tap water began appearing on subways and buses and will remain there until the end of July.

The bottled water industry isn't thrilled about a campaign steering people away from their products.

Americans drank $15 bln worth of bottled water last year; this year, it will be $16 bln. The category was up 18.8% in 2006, with Pepsico's (PEP) Aquafina accounting for 13% of the market and Coca-Cola's (KO) Dasani with 11%.

But does bottled water actually taste better than water from the tap?

When Good Morning America conducted a taste test of its studio audience, New York City tap water was chosen as the heavy favorite over the oxygenated water 02, Poland Spring, and Evian.

In a blind taste test administered by the Berkeley School of Public Health, most people were not able to tell the difference between bottled and tap water.

A lot of bottled water actually is tap water.

Alaska Premium Glacier Drinking Water (no longer on the market), billed itself as "Pure Glacier Water from the Last Unpolluted Frontier". In reality, it was drawn from Public Water System #111241 in Juneau, according to an investigation by environmental group Co-op America.

Consumer Reports wrote that Aquafina is drawn from municipal water systems in cities, including Wichita and Fresno.

U.S. News & World Report pointed out that "Dasani (with minerals added) is taken from the taps of Queens, New York, Jacksonville, Florida, and elsewhere."

And in 2003, a lawsuit was filed against Nestlé (NSRGY), charging that the company duped consumers by advertising that Poland Spring water comes from "some of the most pristine and protected sources deep in the woods of Maine."

The lawsuit alleged that ever since the original Poland Spring dried up in 1967, the water is now drawn from manmade wells as far as 30 miles away from the original site, with some wells located in parking lots.

Google (GOOG) likes New York City tap water so much, the company serves it in its Manhattan cafeteria:

NYC Health Commissioner Thomas Frieden says, "New Yorkers will be better off it they drink more water. And if promoting water consumption results in a reduction in obesity and diabetes, it's actually going to save the city a lot of money."

Drinking tap water will certainly help consumers save money.

Bling H20 costs $55 for 3/4 of a liter, or $277.78 per gallon.

But, tap water will not only help consumers save money: it'll help them save the Earth, too.

More than 5 trln gallons of bottled water are shipped internationally each year. Just supplying Americans with 12 months of plastic water bottles consumes more than 47 mln gallons of oil, enough to take 100,000 cars off the road, and 1 bln pounds of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, according to the Container Recycling Institute.

In bottle production alone, the more than 70 mln bottles of water consumed each day in the U.S. drain 1.5 mln barrels of oil over the course of one year.

Besides, it takes more water to manufacture a water bottle than that bottle will ultimately hold.

An analysis by says:

The total mass of an empty 1 liter bottle is around 0.025kg and it is made from PET (polyethylene terephthalate.) Plastics of this type use around 6.45kg of oil per kg, 294.2kg of water per kg, and result in 3.723kg of greenhouse gas emissions per kg. So, with a quick check (200kg/kg x 0.025kg = 5kg of water) one finds that a bottle that holds 1 liter requires 5 liters of water in its manufacturing process (this includes power plant cooling water).

Whatever type of water you choose to drink, just make sure you don't drink too much of it.

This past January, 28-year-old Jennifer Strange of Rancho Cordova, California participated in a KDND 107.9 FM "Hold Your Wee for a Wii" contest, which challenged contestants to drink as much water as they could without relieving themselves.

The winner would take home a new Nintendo (NTDOY) Wii video game system.

Hours later, having taken in almost two gallons of water, Strange was found dead in her home.

Sacramento County assistant coroner Ed Smith said autopsy results were "consistent with a water intoxication death."

Had she survived, Strange would have still been Wii-free.

Someone else out-drank her.

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