Caroline Shugart column mug

“Water is life” is a phrase that exists in some form throughout the world, both in language and culture. Few would deny the fundamental importance of water to people, and indeed, to all living organisms.

We need water. Actually, we are water. As far as our cells are concerned, we are walking, talking bags of very warm water. Without the water, we would not be walking, talking, running or living at all.

Water is an essential nutrient, and the human body is about 60% water. Every moment of your life, water molecules are lubricating your joints, protecting and cushioning your spinal cord and brain and bringing nutrients to your 37 trillion cells while removing wastes. It is indispensable for maintaining the body’s temperature and chemical homeostasis. Oh, and the 39 trillion bacteria living inside us need some of that water as well!

When the body is stressed with dehydration, the results can be catastrophic. Extreme thirst is followed by irritability, confusion, dizziness and seizures. If untreated, this can be followed by organ failure and even death, all within a span of hours or days depending on an individual’s health, level of exertion and temperature. The recipe for avoiding dehydration is simple… drink when you are thirsty and drink with your meals. And if you choose water, then you avoid empty calories.

In many parts of the world, finding and maintaining access to clean, drinkable water is a significant and laborious daily task. When clean water is scarce or expensive, the use of contaminated water leads to major health issues, ranging from chronic diarrhea to poisoning. For most of us, we are extraordinarily lucky to have fresh, clean and reliable water straight out of our taps. Just imagine if you turned on your kitchen faucet and nothing came out. Or, imagine having to avoid water contaminated with toxic lead or coliform bacteria. Imagine the effort of boiling or disinfecting your water before each use.

My son, Wesley, recently returned to Logan after serving as a water and sanitation engineer volunteer for the Peace Corps in northern Peru (Amazonas). He watched people use contaminated water every day and worked to improve the quality and quantity of clean water for the families living there. Through diligence and by consistently boiling and chlorinating his own water, he remained healthy in the country for four years. Now, he laughs that the best part of being home is drinking clean water from the tap (and hot showers, of course). I take clean and abundant water for granted, but I shouldn’t. In the West, water is a limited natural resource, and we should be mindful of how we use and conserve it.

When we have a choice of tap water or bottled water, many people think that bottled water is superior. Bottled water often is advertised as being “fresh spring water” captured from glaciers, crystal clear rivers, or springs originating in the mountains. Tap water is often marginalized as being the inferior option. While it is unknown how many of the major bottled water suppliers are sourcing their water from “fresh mountain springs,” in 2009 the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported that roughly half of bottled water comes from public water sources. Aquafina, for example, had to go so far as to change its labeling to indicate they simply bottle from a “public water source.” What is a public water source, you may ask? The municipal water system… tap water.

Packaged neatly in a plastic bottle, water costs on average $1.45 for a 16 oz. bottle. Out of the tap and into your glass, it costs $0.002 per gallon. That’s the national average for both, and while it may change a bit depending on where you live, the difference in cost is enormous. What are you getting for your money? Branding, advertising, false promises and often the same water. The GAO even noted for bottled waters that “the information provided to consumers is less than what the EPA requires of public water systems under the Safe Drinking Water Act.” What is this beautiful planet receiving in return? Billions of empty plastic bottles end up in landfills and pollute her oceans and shores. And to produce that plastic trash, the Pacific Institute estimates that the industry uses over 17 million barrels of oil, producing 2.5 million tons of carbon dioxide that goes into the atmosphere every year. Yikes!

Be mindful of where your water comes from, use your reusable container and Be Well!

Caroline Shugart is a nurse, dietitian, and personal trainer. Her new grandson gives her even more reason to live a long and healthy life.

Caroline Shugart is a nurse, dietitian, and personal trainer. She can be reached at caroline.shugart@gmail.com.

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