What The Heck Is

What The Heck Is… Raw Water?

By Kitty Knowles 3 January 2018
Woman smiling drinking water. Image: Getty/ Tom Merton
Woman smiling drinking water. Image: Getty/Tom Merton

Explaining the buzzwords of the moment: What is raw water, and should you drink it?

Our series What The Heck Is… exists to shed light on the strange unexplained acronyms and unfamiliar buzzwords that creep into our everyday lives.

From centaur teams to skin betting, we’re on a mission to explain the difficult to explain.

As it’s January – and you’re guaranteed to be bombarded with the latest health trends – we thought we’d bite into the latest fad the tech elite have cooked up.

It’s called ‘raw water’ and it’s as ridiculous as it sounds.

What is raw water?

‘Raw’ usually refers to uncooked food. But ‘raw water’ isn’t really related to any raw food diet – and it isn’t just about drinking unboiled water.

Raw water is completely untreated and comes with living organisms and all.

Today it’s being sold in ludicrous glass orbs (and more regular looking bottles) for around $6 a gallon (that’s around 4.5 litres, or 2-3 big bottles of coke).

“It has a vaguely mild sweetness, a nice smooth mouth feel, nothing that overwhelms the flavor profile,” described one zestful fan in a recent article in the New York Times.

What’s the problem?

While there’s nothing wrong with ‘pure’ water – the truth is the water found in nature is rarely ever ‘pure’ – it’s the natural home of all sorts of things you don’t want to ingest.

Glittery springs can be home to bugs and parasites that will make you sick (hello E. coli bacteria), while your gorgeous natural well could be laced with the arsenic or uranium that seeps through the earth’s rocks.

All this before you consider the chemicals that wash off of farmland or from building materials.

In short: any promises around the unrivalled health benefits of raw water are actually utter bollocks.

It’s advocates are putting themselves and others in danger.  

Where did raw water come from?

The raw water trend started a few years back among the ‘health-conscious’ elite on the West Coast of the US – and is apparently on the rise.

A number of small businesses now sell raw water from natural sources – like Tourmaline Spring in Maine, or Live Water in Oregon.

Trisha Kuhlmey, who owns San Diego’s very own artisan raw water shop Liquid Eden said she sells about 900 gallons of water every day as the “water consciousness movement” grows.

Who are raw water fans? Well, failed Juicero founder Doug Evans famously committed to a 10-day raw water cleanse during Burning Man last year. Make of that what you will…

How has it shaped the world?

It sounds banal, but the celebrity impact of ‘raw water’ fanatics could be extremely dangerous.

Founders like Live Water’s Mukande Singh have been drastically critical of public water supplies, even claiming that tap water is “toilet water with birth control drugs in.”

Other fans shun the “deathly toxic chemical” also hailed by dentists as fluoride.

Websites for raw water often allude to gut health and its benefits for anxiety, weight loss, reducing fatigue, et al, despite there being no proof that raw water helps with any of these conditions.

If the masses are persuaded to drink the kool-aid (so to speak) we risk not only an outbreak of illness among raw water fans, but an epidemic that could spread through the rest of society, the Mayo Clinic’s Dr. Donald Hensrud has warned.

Hensrud even says the rise of “raw water” is akin to the detrimental anti-vaccination movement in its rejection of actual science.

“Without water treatment, there’s acute and then chronic risks,” he says. “There’s evidence all over the world of this, and the reason we don’t have those conditions is because of our very efficient water treatment.”

Why should you care?

You’ve overindulged at Christmas, and because you’re human, you’re vulnerable to faddy health and wellness trends.

But we don’t want you to get sick because of a ‘raw water’ whim after yoga.

For most of the Western world, tap water is totally safe to drink, while bottling only serves to add to the earth’s environmental issues.

Beyond you, the rise of ‘raw water’ could well put even non-believers at risk.

Yes, we need to work on ensuring the whole world has the highest standards of public water.

Does that mean drinking raw water? No.