With summer in full swing, many Bay Area residents will likely be searching for something cool and clean to quench their thirst in the warm weather.
But before you reach for your favorite brand of bottled water, take a moment to consider the incredible resource available to you directly from your tap.
You may be surprised to know that tap water comes out on top in many important ways.
On average in the Bay Area, tap water costs less than a penny per gallon. In contrast, bottled water can cost upward of $11 per gallon, depending on the brand. That's more than 1,000 times more per gallon than the high-quality tap water available in your home.
That low penny-per-gallon cost covers a host of activities and services. With our area receiving much of its water from the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir and Mokelumne Aqueduct, hundreds of miles of infrastructure must be maintained to ensure safe and reliable service.
Other local sources include the Delta and groundwater basins, which require pumping, treating and delivering the water to local homes, businesses and schools. And all of this is done at a fraction of the cost of bottled water, and results in water that is safer and cleaner than bottled water.
If the cost savings aren't enough to sway you, consider the rigorous safety standards your tap water must meet before it arrives at your home.
Contrary to popular belief, studies have shown that bottled water is not necessarily purer than water from the faucet.
The Natural Resources Defense Council conducted a four-year study of bottled water that compared safety standards for bottled water and tap water and tested more than 1,000 bottles of water.
It concluded that water from a bottle is not any cleaner or safer than water from the tap. In fact, the study found an estimated 25 to 40 percent of bottled water is actually tap water in a bottle.
Local water agencies are required to meet some of the most stringent water quality standards in the nation. Tap water from your local water agency is tested about 7,000 times a year to ensure water quality and safety.
Public water suppliers are also required to publish annual water quality reports that describe any contaminants found in drinking water and their detection amounts. There is no mandatory reporting for water bottlers.
In fact, bottled water companies have fought successfully to not have to provide this critical health information.
Another aspect to consider is the carbon footprint of bottled water. The bottled water industry used nearly 900,000 tons of plastic in 2006.
According to the Pacific Institute, producing the plastic bottles used by Americans in 2006 -- not counting energy used to bottle the water or ship it to market -- required the equivalent of more than 17 million barrels of oil.
Environmental groups estimate that just 13 percent of plastic water bottles are recycled, leaving millions of bottles destined for landfills or ending up as litter.
So the next time you feel the urge to reach for bottled water, think twice and consider filling up a reusable bottle with clean, affordable water straight from your tap.
You can always add a slice of lemon or lime for refreshing flavor. Your pocketbook -- and the Earth -- will thank you.
John A. Coleman is president of the Oakland-based East Bay Municipal Utility District and vice president of the statewide Association of California Water Agencies.