Throughout history, water has been crucial for sustaining life, both for humans and other organisms, making it a significant part of the world. There are many areas of the world where humans do not have access to sufficient potable water or rely on water sources that are contaminated with toxins, suspended solids, pathogens, or disease vectors.

Either drinking this water or using it to cook can lead to both chronic and acute illnesses, which is one of the major causes of suffering and even death around the world. Therefore, reducing waterborne diseases with developing safe water sources has become a major goal for public health, particularly in developing countries.

What Is Potable Water?


You may be asking yourself what is potable water, but the answer is fairly simple. Potable water has been filtered, cleaned, or treated to meet the standards for drinking water, meaning that it is reasonably clear of contaminants and harmful bacteria. This makes the water safe for drinking and cooking. Water purified via reverse osmosis, distilled, or UV filtered and water treated within municipal water systems all qualify as potable water.

Most non-potable water will be raw water from ground wells, springs, ground water, rivers, or lakes that is not treated. It is not safe to drink as there are unknown contaminants in untested water. It is possible for non-potable water to taste normal, but carry health risks.

Potable water access is crucial and people in developed countries may not consider where they get their water from. These countries are frequently able to simply turn on their faucet and get potable, fresh water that may even be enriched. Developing countries, however, particularly those in Africa, feature very limited access to potable or safe water.

How to Purify Water to Potable Water in the Wild



Perhaps the easiest way to purify water is by boiling water. Although this will not remove all heavy contaminants, it will neutralize the majority of viruses and bacteria within the supply. You can also treat water using bleach or other chemicals and these may be found in tablets designed for use while camping.



There are two types of filters that you can find on the market: those that rely on ceramic or carbon filters to remove bacteria and gross items or those that use chemicals like iodine to treat the water. Filters can be expensive, complicated, and heavy as well as require frequent replacement. You should consider filtering water before boiling it or using chemicals. The ideal method would be with a paper coffee filter, but you can also use a sock or T-shirt if necessary.



Distilling your water will create the safest potable water in some respects, but not in others. Distillation involves boiling the water so you can collect the vapor, leaving bacteria and contaminants behind. The issue, however, is that gases like pesticides and chlorine stay in the water.

Despite this, distilled water is some of the purest you can find. In fact, many home distillation systems will remove 98% of contaminants, giving you water purer than that from filters.


Running the Water

Remember that when you drink the “first draw” water, the water may contain lead due to sitting in the pipes all night. To avoid this, let it run a minute before you drink your tap water.

FAQs About Potable Water


How Does Potable Water Relate to Our Health?

Water with contaminants can lead to various health issues, such as neurological disorders, reproductive problems, and gastrointestinal issues. Those who at a higher risk of developing an illness following consumption of contaminated water include people who are immune-compromised, the elderly, pregnant women, young children, and infants.

An example would be high lead levels leading to serious health complications, particularly in young children and pregnant women. As such, there are Federal laws in place that require systems to reduce specific contaminants so they fall under set levels, protecting the health of the general population.


Is Drinking Bottled Water Better Than Tap Water?

It is common to worry about getting sick after drinking tap water, particularly because of news stories, such as those related to the Legionella outbreaks. These people will choose to install a water purification system (which is frequently expensive) or simply drink bottled water. In reality, however, there have been various studies that show that people who take these steps are actually wasting their money.

Bottled water is an expensive item to purchase and it can actually be dirtier than the tap water, depending on where you live and the bottled water you buy. To remain safe, ensure that what you buy is potable water by making sure that the company supplying the water is part of the IBWA (International Bottled Water Association) as this ensures that they live up to the rigorous testing requirements for drinking water. Every year the IBWA sends inspectors to visit each of their companies, ensuring that the water produced by the plant is potable and safe.

You can also spare yourself the additional cost of bottled water by having a private lab or your local health authorities test your tap water. If you discover contaminants, then simply purchase a unit that removes this specific contaminant. In most cases, however, you will not need to make this additional investment as you will get potable water from your tap.


How Does Potable Water Become Contaminated?

There are various contamination sources for water systems. The most common sources which lead to contamination include:

  • Malfunctions in wastewater treatment systems (such as nearby septic systems)

  • Sewer overflows

  • Manufacturing processes

  • Use practices on local land (such as concentrated animal feeding, livestock, pesticides, and fertilizers)

  • Chemicals and minerals which occur naturally (such as uranium, radon, and arsenic)

The EPA (United States Environmental Protection Agency) regulates many of the contaminants that are known to cause human health risks. The EPA is responsible for ensuring that water is potable and meets specific standards. This lets you be certain that you are not consuming water with high contamination levels.


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