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Water Treatments Working?

How can I be sure my water treatment equipment is doing it job. Is there a way to test this?

Question:

How can I be sure my water treatment equipment is doing it job. Is there a way to test this?

Submitted by - Dr - Antwerp, Belgium

Answer:

It’s a bit of a leap of faith. Unless you pay a lab to analyze the output (which is big bucks—trust me I’ve looked into it!) the only way you know is to wait and see. If you don’t get sick, then a) the water was safe to begin with or b) the water was unsafe and your treatment method did its job.

All of the filters and purifiers on the market today have gone through extensive lab testing and EPA certification (paid for by the company, of course) to ensure that it’s removing or immobilizing the cooties it claims to.

The only 100% foolproof method of sterilization is boiling, but that’s not always practical for backpackers due to the amount of fuel it requires, not to mention the time and energy it takes to boil all your water.

People all have different levels of comfort when it comes to water treatment. I know some people who are mighty cavalier about the water they glug without any treatment at all. I know others who are downright paranoid. I subscribe to an in-between philosophy. If I’m hiking anywhere there’s livestock around, I’m purifying my water, either with a UV treatment, a filter and/or chemicals. (check out this review of some great treatment options.)

If I’m high in the mountains and the water’s is melting right off a peak, I’m less concerned and often just add chemicals (like Potable Aqua or Aquamira.) Sometimes I just drink the water straight, like on my recent trip to Iceland, where the water was literally melting off the snowfields into creeks before my eyes, and animals are scarce.

Bottom line: assess the level of risk and do what you’re most comfortable with.

1 Comment

  1. Steve C

    One previous poster states it’s not the water that’s bad, it’s “poor sanitation practices that is the culprit.” Actually, it’s both. I deal with water quality every day for a living for a County in the mid-west. Many people make the assumption that water bubbling up out of the ground is from a spring. Here in the mid-west and most other places that are (or were) agriculture, those “springs” are nothing more than 100 year old clay field tiles that have broken down and water is blubbling to the surface. The County office where I work, often deals with homeowners that improperly have their sewage tied directly into a field tile. These field tiles usually drain straight to a creek or ditch. Since I make drainage inspections along creeks, I am required to have a whole series of shots to prevent diseases. So, when I backpack? Yes, I boil. Yes, I filter. Yes, I treat. Yes, I’m selective about my water source. This is not paranoid. It’s just using good wisdom. Most states and counties have a list of impaired streams. Usually the culprit is Ecoli. My advice is don’t be ignorant, don’t be paranoid, be informed and be wise. But if you are going to err on one side, go with the clean water.

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