“Without water treatment, there’s acute and then chronic risks,” said Dr. Donald Hensrud, the director of the Healthy Living Program at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. These risks include E.coli bacteria, viruses, parasites and carcinogenic compounds that are found in raw water. “There’s evidence all over the world of this, and the reason we don’t have those conditions is because of our very efficient water treatment.”
Bill Marler, a food-safety advocate and a lawyer, agreed. “Almost everything conceivable that can make you sick can be found in water,” he said. For instance, unfiltered water can contain animal feces, which spreads Giardia—an illness characterized by vomiting and diarrhea that results in about 4,600 hospitalizations a year. Hepatitis A can also be spread through untreated water. Hepatitis A resulted in 20 deaths in California alone in 2017.
However, raw water devotees remain devoted—if uncommitted on the proper name for the stuff. “I don’t like ‘raw water’ because it sort of makes people think of raw sewage,” said Daniel Vitalis, host of the podcast, “ReWild Yourself,” which promotes gathering water and hunting for food. “When you say ‘live water,’ that’s going to trigger a lot of people who are into physics and biology.”
Marler is more pointed. “You can’t stop consenting adults from being stupid,” he said. “But we should at least try.”