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Paddlers, Hikers, Campers! Don't Drink The Water!

Our first thoughts about planning a paddling, hiking or camping trip are where to go and who will we go with or will we go solo? Is it really safe to go there? Will there be bears and mosquitos, or snakes and alligators?

At some point during the trip planning we think, ¨What about the water? Will I get sick if I drink it?¨

Even if you have access to tap water along your route it may not be really safe to drink. In Colombia, South America where I live, all the cities and most of the villages have ¨safe¨ drinking water. According to the government. It may taste funny, and look a little cloudy with a tiny bit of sediment, but the government says it is safe to drink. I don’t believe it.

Even if the off-flavor I am smelling and tasting is chlorine I still don’t trust the water. According to wikipedia ¨chlorine is a highly efficient disinfectant, and is added to public water supplies to kill disease-causing pathogens, such as bacteria, viruses, and protozoans, that commonly grow in water supply reservoirs, on the walls of water mains and in storage tanks.¨

But no matter how well intentioned, chlorine can be a major problem for our digestive system since it kills all bacteria, good and bad, in the intestinal tract. Without beneficial bacteria the stomach is not able to digest food or ward off bad bacteria.

The unease is compounded when sitting confined for hours on an airplane or bus or on a canoe or kayak seat. Without exercise, especially walking, and without the good bacteria that normally resides in our stomachs, the food just sits in the gut and rots. The result can be constipation, diarrhea or vomiting, any of which can ruin our vacation.

When we are paddling, hiking and camping we really have to worry about our water sources along the way because we are refilling as we go.

Typically we avoid this problem on our trips by buying bottled water thinking we are drinking safe, clean water. Buying water in single use plastic bottles is absolutely the worst way to do it. It is wrong on so many levels.

1. Supporting an evil industry. For example, Nestle is just one of dozens of international bottlers. They have wells all over the world and bottle billions of gallons of water each year.

In just one region of the northern United States they have 7 wells in the Muskegon River aquifer in Michigan. Residents claim these wells are pumping billions of gallons of water and draining the aquifer. Water levels in lakes and rivers are falling, wetlands are drying up and wildlife is suffering.

Nestle doesn’t pay for any of this environmental damage. They hardly even pay for the water.

At just one of their wells, White Pine Springs Well in Osceola County, Nestle is pumping out 400 gallons per minute. Over 2,000,000 gallons per year. Imagine how many 16-ounce bottles of water this amounts too? Nestle pays the Michigan Department of Natural Resources just $400 per year.

2. Discarded single use plastic bottles are littering the landscape, forming new islands in the oceans, clogging waterways and filling up landfills. Only a fraction of single use plastic bottles get recycled. In the USA alone 35,000,000 single use plastic bottles are thrown away each year.

3. These discarded bottles are manufactured from oil. Worldwide, discarded plastic bottles contain enough oil to power 1,000,000 cars for a year!

4. Bottled water is often no safer than tap water. In many cases bottled water really is just tap water. Not spring water, not filtered water, not treated water. You can find anything from arsenic to chemical residues to disease pathogens in bottled water.

Disease causing chemicals in the plastic bottle and in the water can be made even more deadly depending on age of the bottled water, temperature in storage, temperature during use, and exposure to ultraviolet rays.

5. Bottled water costs too much! One of my friends just recently reluctantly confessed he has been buying bottled water daily because he cannot stand the taste of the water where he works. He's spending over $600 annually!

Since tap water may not be safe, and bottled water is a disaster, what can we do? Filter our own water.

There are lots of ways to filter water. The one I find the most reliable and most user friendly for personal use is the Life Straw Go. It is a filter bottle you carry with you no matter where your adventure takes you. You can refill it ¨on the go¨ and enjoy safe, clean water without risk of sickness or disease.

If you are with a group and need more water, then consider one of the many gravity fed water filter systems. The Life Straw Mission comes in two sizes, 5 liter or 12 liter. When I am paddling and camping by myself I use the 5 liter in camp so I have plenty of water for cooking and cleaning, bathing, washing clothes and refilling my water bottles. When I'm with a group the better option is the 12L size.

When you come prepared to filter your water in any terrain and in any climate you can be safe in any country or any adventure in the world.


Andy Lee is a retired American writer living in Pereira, Colombia. He is the administrator of the Facebook group Adventure Canoe and Kayak Camping and the author of Five Hundred Miles to the Sea.



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