What Does 'Bottled at the Source' Mean?

Bottled water companies use lots of marketing language to try and get their brands to stand out against their competitors. After all, despite the availability of inexpensive home filtration solutions, Americans will spend over $7 Billion on bottled water in 2021. And the more we spend on bottled water, the more marketers will spend chasing after thirsty customers. But in doing so many of them bend the rules by making confusing claims about the origins of their water, trying to dupe consumers about where their water comes from. Some of the most common misinformation found in bottled water messaging is about source or origin. Brands will pull water from a tap in Florida and call it ‘spring water’ just because it came from the ground, or add in some calcium and call it ‘alkaline water’. Or, in more of the more egregious cases, filling giant containers with well water and shipping it from Hawaii on a freighter to a bottling plant in Long Beach and calling it ‘Spring water from Hawaii’. This corner cutting is deceptive and bad for a brand’s reputation. As part of a compliance settlement with the California Department of Public Health, the Waikea brand was forced to change the labeling on its bottles. This is a heavy price to pay for making false claims about the provenance of water that is available from the tap to Islanders living on the Big Island and then bottling it in California.

Why it Matters

Water that comes from artesian aquifers has a unique provenance that contributes to its naturally occurring pH and preferred taste. The organic minerals found in natural artesian spring water, like magnesium, calcium, potassium and sodium bicarbonate contribute to elevated levels of naturally occurring pH and make it taste better. So it holds that bottle water this special at the source where it comes out of the earth’s surface, preserves its high pH and great taste. This is why Fuji Water and Hawaiian Springs Water, which are both bottled at the source, taste so good. They come from natural artesian aquifers, which produce the cleanest, purest and best tasting water on earth. If you take water from an aquifer at the bottom of volcano and put it into a giant plastic container and ship it across the Pacific Ocean, the water will lose much of the characteristics that make it special. Changes in air pressure and temperature will adversely affect the taste and quality of the water, and the only reason to do it is to cut costs. The truth is, when you see ‘bottled at the source’ on the label of a mass produced bottled water brand, it only means it was bottled shortly after it was taken from the tap. But water bottled at a plant at the base of a volcano where the aquifer is, means something and you can taste the difference.

As consumers we have lots of choices, and this is especially true when it comes to drinking water. But the convenience of choice comes with the implied burden of educating ourselves about the choices we make. There is an endless supply of information about drinking water available on the internet, so why not use it?

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What Causes pH in Artesian Water?

Water drinkers and enthusiasts like to talk about the properties of their drinking water, especially bottled alkaline water, and pH is one of the most important characteristics because of how it directly affects the way water tastes. But before we get to external factors that affect the pH levels in water, it is helpful to revisit what exactly pH is and what it refers to.

What is pH and Alkalinity?

In water, pH stands for 'Power of Hydrogen'. The numerical value of pH is measured and on scale of 0 to 14, and is determined by the molar concentration of hydrogen ions (H+). This is done by taking the negative logarithm of the H+ concentration (-log(H+)). For example, if a solution has a H+ concentration of 10-3 M, the pH of the solution will be -log(10-3), which equals 3. PH is a determined value based on a defined scale, similar to temperature. This means that pH of water is not a parameter that can be measured as a concentration or a quantity. Rather, it is a figure between 0 and 14 defining how acidic or basic a body of water is along a logarithmic scale The lower the number, the more acidic the water is, and the higher the number, the more basic it is, with a pH of 7 considered to be neutral.

The word 'alkaline' or 'alkalinity' is often misused by bottled water brands in their marketing literature. While it relates to the pH levels in drinking water, it more accurately refers to the way levels pH fluctuate in drinking water. So, in other words, alkalinity technically is a measurement of water’s ability to resist changes in pH. The levels of pH in water can be impacted by external factors such as temperature, salinity and rainfall. If a body of water is high in alkalinity, it can limit or minimize the impact on pH when these naturally occurring factors occur. This is why water from unique places like Hawaii are alkaline. Because the rainfall in Hawaii is so consistent and generally created by the evaporation of cleaner water with lower levels of pollution and toxins as it enters the atmosphere, water with naturally occurring high levels of pH tend to taste better and of higher quality compared to other sources of drinking water. The alkalinity of an underground aquifer at the base of a volcano, for example, is increased by carbonate-rich soils (carbonates and bicarbonates) such as calcium-rich limestone, Because of the presence of carbonates, alkalinity is more closely related to hardness, or mineral levels, than to pH.

What Factors Impact the pH of Water?

There are many factors that can affect pH in water, both natural and man-made. Most natural changes occur due to interactions with surrounding rock (particularly carbonate forms) and other materials. pH can also fluctuate with precipitation and wastewater discharge. In addition, CO2 concentrations can influence pH levels. The alkalinity of water also plays an important role in the daily pH levels of a body of water. Photosynthesis, the process in plants that convert sunlight to carbon dioxide, by algae and plants uses hydrogen, thus increasing pH levels. Additionally, respiration and decomposition can lower pH levels. Most bodies of water are able to restrict these changes due to their alkalinity, so small fluctuations are quickly 'corrected' and may be difficult to detect with any degree of accuracy.

For the average water drinker who is primary interested in taste, this means that higher levels of pH, especially naturally occurring pH, lead to great tasting water.

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What is an Artesian Spring?

An Artesian well, or Artesian spring, is a source of ground water that is forced to the earth’s surface by of pressure caused by underground layers of rock surrounding the aquifer. It differs from a regular water well in that it doesn't require a pump to get the water to the surface. The only requirement is gravity and the pressure it creates. For this reason, Artesian springs occur at the base of a mountain or hill where the water can flow down into a well.

Why Does it Matter?

Bottled water brands like to use language specific to the manner in which the water comes to the earth’s surface. While the source of ground water may be the same, technically, water is only truly ‘artesian spring water’ if it flows naturally to the surface by pressure from non-permeable rock strata. Water trapped in the way is considered to be under artesian pressure. But gravity is also another important factor in determining what water qualifies as artesian, and how it is forced out through rocks to the earth’s surface. Typically, a mountain or hill gathers rain water which filters down into the aquifer beneath the first later of rock, and then flows underground until it can find a fissure in the rock to force its way out. The top end of the aquifer is called the ‘water table’, which unconfined water and needs to be pumped out to be accessed. Artesian water comes from trapped or confined water.

artesian well The word artesian comes from the town of Artois in France, the site of the old Roman city of Artesium, where the world’s most famous free flowing wells were drilled centuries ago during the Middle Ages.

Water brands like to promote the fact that their water is ‘artesian’, and that the natural processes that allow the water to be accessed give it a special taste or health benefit. The truth is, most artesian bottled water is the same, with the exception of the alkalinity or PH in the water. Water with naturally occurring high PH levels generally taste better because they are less acidic and have more minerals, which humans generally like to taste when they drink a nice cold glass of water. Bottled artesian water with a PH over 7.7 is considered to be alkaline water, while normal tap water has a PH of 7.

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