Alyse Ritvo (Photo courtesy of ITT)

Editor�s Note: The winner of the inaugural award for excellence in student water journalism is Alyse Rivo, an 18-year-old senior at Head-Royce School in Oakland, Calif. She was honored April 22 at a student journalism convention in San Francisco. The competition was sponsored by water treatment technology purveyor ITT Industries Inc. The winning article was selected by a jury of environmental, science and water journalists and industry leaders. Ritvo and her faculty advisor will attend the 2006 Stockholm Water Symposium. She also receives a $1,000 cash prize. This is what she wrote:

As Americans are turning away from safe, clean tap water in record numbers, over 1 billion people across the world lack access to safe drinking water.

In America, bottled water will soon replace soft drinks as the most popular beverage. Bottled-water consumption has more than doubled in the past decade. In 2004, the average annual per capita consumption of bottled water in America was 24 gallons, and the Beverage Marketing Corporation projects that the U.S. population will spend approximately $9.8 billion on this commodity in 2005.

Some Americans say they prefer the taste of bottled to tap water; and some believe that it is healthier than its faucet counterpart. Many drink bottled water because it is convenient when they are out and about: all over America water fountains are disappearing from amusement parks and other commercial venues as companies seek greater profits from the sale of beverages.

Multiple blind tests have documented that people cannot distinguish between the taste of bottled water and tap water. In September, the Executive Director of the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority accompanied members of the Boston Globe in a taste test of various bottled waters and Massachusetts tap water. The testers could discern no significant difference in the taste of the waters.

Consistently, tests have also found that, while it is up to 10,000 times more expensive than tap water, bottled water is no healthier. In fact, a recent study published in The Archives of Family Medicine comparing tap and bottled water discovered that almost 25 percent of the bottled water samples had significantly higher levels of bacteria.

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  • Rules regulating the safety of bottled water are not as stringent as those governing the safety of tap water. All drinking water sources in the country serving more than 25 people are regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). According to the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) passed by Congress in 1974, the EPA is authorized to �set national health-based standards for drinking water to protect against both naturally-occurring and man-made contaminants that may be found in drinking water.� The �EPA, states, and water systems then work together to make sure that these standards are met.� In addition, an amendment to the SDWA passed in 1996 mandates that the public be provided with access to data on its local water sources. The EPA is required to send each customer an annual report containing information about his/her drinking water.

    Consumer protection for bottled water is weaker. The federal government, through the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), maintains an inspection authority over bottled water. However, according to a report by the FDA, because ...