On the side of the road in rural Puslinch, a steady stream of people can be found kneeling at the edge of a creek, filling large containers with spring water. With clean drinking water just a tap turn away, it might seem strange to search for spring water off the beaten path, but spring water drinkers will tell you that water from the earth is cleaner, healthier and more natural than what comes out of their taps.

Springs occurs when water from within the ground swells to the surface of the earth. Sometimes, this is caused by a difference in elevation, such as water that springs out the side of an escarpment or at the base of a hill. Other times, pressure from within the ground pushes the water up to the surface and out of the earth.

There are many groundwater springs that can be found in the area but there are two in particular that are often used for drinking water. The first one, found in Carlisle, is located at the base of a hill, where a pipe can be found sticking out of the hillside. The other spring, known as Maddaugh Spring and found in Puslinch, is located within a creek. In order to collect the water, a corrugated culvert has been placed around the spring, separating the spring water from the rest of the creek water. Most of the water from this spring flows into the creek but some of the water remains within the culvert and can be collected.

This is where Halton resident, Jesse Turton, often collects spring water, filling his car with enough large containers of spring water to last him about a month.

“There are some intangible reasons for drinking spring water, such as connection to the earth, but I mostly do it for my health,” Turton says.

Turton and most other spring water seekers choose to drink from the springs because of concerns that the chlorine and fluoride found in municipal drinking water may have some negative health effects. Chlorine, which is used to kill bacteria found in drinking water, has been linked to an increased risk of bladder and colorectal cancers. Flouride, which is added to municipal water in order to prevent tooth decay, has been linked to an increased risk of bone cancer, bone fractures and thyroid conditions.

Those who are concerned about chlorine and fluoride in their water might choose to drink distilled water or reverse osmosis water but these present issues of their own. Distillation is the process of boiling water and then condensing the steam, leaving contaminants behind. Reverse osmosis is the process of passing water through a semipermeable membrane that remove contaminants. Though both of these processes result in clean water without the use of chemicals, the processes strip the water of its minerals. Not only does this mean that the water is now lacking in minerals but some claim that this kind of water actually absorbs minerals from the body and causes mineral deficiencies.

Spring water, on the other hand, is quite high in minerals. As water travels through the many layers of earth, sand and rock, the water dissolves minerals, such as iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium and sodium, from these layers. This is one of the reasons that some choose to drink spring water but it could also be a reason not to, as harmful minerals, such as mercury and lead, can also be dissolved.

Other spring water seekers insist that, because spring water is stored deep within the earth, it is protected from contaminants, such as pesticides, pharmaceuticals and other chemicals that tap water can come in contact with. However, just because water comes from underground, doesn’t mean that it has come from deep underground or that it’s clean and safe to drink.

When you’re dealing with ground water, you also need to look at what’s happening on the surface of the earth. Pesticides and other chemicals are often used by agriculture and industries in the area and, in the past, there were different standards regarding waste disposal. It used to be common practice for people to bury their garbage and, even today, many people still dump trash in the areas surrounding the springs. As water travels through the surface of the earth, these contaminants are picked up and may or may not be filtered out by the other layers of earth, sand and rock. 

Another possible source of contamination is the outlet from which the spring water flows. At Maddaugh, for instance, rain fall could cause the stream to overflow into the corrugated culvert of spring water and introduce bacteria, such as E.coli and coliform, which can cause an upset stomach, vomiting and fever or even be fatal.

“We don’t recommend using spring water as a water source as it’s an unprotected water source with unknown water quality,” says Nicole Mathews, Environmental Health Manager for the Halton Region.

Unless a chemical and bacterial analysis is conducted on a regular basis, there is no way to know for sure that the water is safe to drink. The problem is that most spring water drinkers don’t test their water at all. Instead, most base their decision on the taste or appearance of the water or assume that someone else is testing the water. Not to mention, even if spring water is tested on a regular basis, risk of water contamination can change from day to day. 

“Most of the people that use the springs in the area will just assume that it’s safe or they’re willing to take that risk,” says Brenda Van Ryswyk, Natural Heritage Ecologist at Conservation Halton.

But health and safety aren’t the only concerns surrounding the use of springs for drinking water. It is also important to consider the environmental functions of the springs and the impact that drinking from them has. Maddaugh Spring is located at the head of Bronte Creek, which is a cold water creek. Fish, such as brook trout, that live in the creek need cold water to survive and the cold water that springs out of ground and into creek is critical habitat for those fish.

“The water in Bronte are warming to beyond a healthy temperature. This is primarily due to human alterations to the creek, such as digging the creek to make it wider, digging ponds on the creek and removing the plants that grow along it and shade the water. Groundwater springs that feed into Bronte Creek help to mitigate the negative effects of these human alterations by cooling the temperature of the creeks water,” says Beth Anne Fischer, Watershed Restoration Technician at Conservation Halton. “When people collect spring water, which would otherwise end up in the creek, they’re removing some of that cold water and reducing the volume of water available for fish to live in”.

As with most natural resource use, there isn’t much of an impact if a small number of people are drinking the spring water from the creek but, if everyone did it, there could be a serious impact on this habitat. For drinking spring water to be environmentally sustainable, spring water collection would need to be regulated, which would be difficult, if not impossible, to do.

“You want to make sure that there is a balance and you don’t want to overuse that resource,” Van Ryswyk says. “Each spring is different, so you would have to do an assessment for each and put a cap on it, depending on how much water is coming out and how much water the stream needs to remain healthy, which is a pretty difficult thing to do”.

For those who are concerned about drinking tap water but don’t want to assume the risks of drinking spring water, there are other options. One of the best options is to use a charcoal filter. Charcoal filters are made using activated charcoal, which is carbon that has been treated with oxygen to open up the many tiny pores found on the surface of the carbon. The activated charcoal is then able to attract and adsorb impurities, such as chlorine, pesticides, pharmaceuticals and many other organic chemicals that water can come in contact with. Other impurities, such as fluoride, are not attracted to carbon and will pass through the filter. This means that, unlike distillation or reverse osmosis, a charcoal filter will leave the minerals that most want in their water but it also means that some contaminants, such as bacteria, cannot be removed.

From tap water to well water to spring water to all kinds of filtered water, there is no shortage of options drinking water in Halton. Which kind of water is best for your health? As with most health issues, the kind of water you choose to drink is a personal choice, but the best way to ensure safe, clean, healthy drinking water is to do your research and understand the risks, whether you’re drinking right from the tap or sipping straight from a natural spring.

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Last modified: September 5, 2017

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