Wellsprings: A Natural History of Bottled Spring Waters

Wellsprings: A Natural History of Bottled Spring Waters

Wellsprings: A Natural History of Bottled Spring Waters

Wellsprings: A Natural History of Bottled Spring Waters


Bottled water is a part of everyday life for millions of Americans. Per capita consumption in the United States now tops fifteen gallons per year with sales over $5 billion in 2002. Even as fuel prices climb, many people are still willing to pay more for a gallon of bottled water than they are for the equivalent in gasoline. At the same time, bottled water has become a symbol of refined taste and a healthy lifestyle. But despite its growing popularity, many people cannot quite put their finger on just why they prefer bottled water to the much less expensive tap variety. Some have a vague notion that bottled water is "healthier," some prefer the convenience and more consistent taste, and others are simply content to follow the trend. The fact is most people know very little about the natural beverage that they drink and enjoy. It is reasonable to wonder, therefore, just what differentiates bottled water from other water? Is it really better or healthier than tap water? Why is it that different brands seem to have subtle variations in taste?

As Francis H. Chapelle reveals in this delightful and informative volume, a complex story of geology, hydrology, and history lies behind every bottle of spring water. The book chronicles the history of the bottled water industry in America from its beginnings in Europe hundreds of years ago to the present day. Subsequent chapters describe the chemical characteristics that make some waters desirable, and provide an overview of the geologic circumstances that produce them. Wellsprings explains how these geologic conditions vary throughout the country, and how this affects the kinds and quality of bottled water that are available. Finally, Chapelle shows how the bottled water industry uses this natural history, together with the perceived health benefits of spring waters, to market their products.

Accessibly written and well illustrated, Wellsprings is both a revealing account and a user’s guide to natural spring waters. Regardless of your drinking preference, this timely exploration will make your next drink of water refreshingly informed.


The young woman, dressed in a sharp-looking business suit, paused as she strode by the airport concession stand. Her eyes passed swiftly over the rows of fruit juice, soda, and bottled water arranged neatly on the cooler shelf. She frowned a bit, as if impatient with herself, and then picked out a brightly labeled bottle of spring water. Moving to the checkout line, she paid for it quickly and stepped out into the terminal to join her fellow travelers, wasting no time.

Although this particular businesswoman spent very little time procuring her bottled water, the water itself took a considerable amount of time getting to her. It all started fifteen thousand years ago when the glaciers covering most of North America began to melt. Much of the meltwater simply ran off into streams, rivers, and lakes. Some, however, percolated deep into the earth and began a long journey though the glacial sediments and sandstones underlying what was to become Pennsylvania. As the water filtered slowly through the ground over the millennia, it was cleansed of particulate matter and microorganisms. In addition, small amounts of rock were dissolved, giving the water just enough calcium, magnesium, and bicarbonate to produce a clean, crisp taste. Finally, thousands of years after the water first seeped into the ground, it reached a gushing spring. Here, some of the water was diverted to a nearby bottling plant, run through a series of progressively finer filters, dosed with ozone to kill any lurking microorganisms, and placed into individual 16-ounce plastic bottles. Within days, this fifteen-thousand-year-old spring water, with its pleasant, clean taste carefully intact, was shipped to market and to the impatient hands of our time-strapped businesswoman.

This is the reality of bottled water in the United States today. On one hand, it often serves people in a hurry, people who have no time to contemplate the source of the water they are drinking. On the other hand . . .

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