While discussing a relatively low coliform and E. coli count in well water recently, a water treatment professional told me that he didn’t think drinking this water would be any worse than drinking from a stream.
[caption id="attachment_331" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Don't drink surface water"][/caption]
My initial response to this is that one must understand it’s not the E. coli and coliforms that we need to worry about. These organisms are markers for fecal contamination of water. Your guts and my guts are already full of them. It’s the other things that come with feces that make it imperative we take a low count seriously—viruses such as Hepatitis A, and parasites, such as Giardia, Cryptosporidium, and Toxoplasma. If E. coli and coliforms are in your water, these other things might be there too. Boil.
And furthermore, the days when we could safely drink from streams or other surface water are long gone. Yes, it may look crystal clear. It may be flowing through “pristine” woodland (is there such a thing any more?), but beavers and other mammals living near water carry Giardia; migrating birds carry Cryptosporidium, and wild cats can contaminate water with Toxoplasma. A lot of other things could be there too. Maybe you’ll get away with drinking from a stream, and maybe you won’t—all surface waters are contaminated.
There are seven billion people on Earth now, all defecating daily (and millions don’t have toilets). There are still municipalities that discharge untreated sewage into surface water—rivers, lakes, and coastal marine water. There are millions of cows living in feedlots, and millions of feral cats – their wastes often wash off land into surface water. There are millions of migrating Canada geese in North America, visiting surface water all along their migration route.
It has been said that if feces were fluorescent, the tropics would glow at night. Let’s face it, if we include animal feces, the entire temperate region and much of the arctic/antarctic would glow as well. Boil.