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Get your water fix ... without the bottle

Cutting back on the plastic? TODAY food editor Phil Lempert offers tips on how to get good H2O and some healthy, environmentally friendly ways to carry it.
/ Source: TODAY contributor

While there is some controversy about whether we all need eight glasses of fluid a day, the popularity of bottled water isn't slowing. It's healthful, it's refreshing, and bottles are easy to carry. Despite the benefits of this trend, an increasing number of cities have enacted a ban on bottled waters not because of the water, but to avoid the tremendous costs of eliminating the bottles. This, in turn, has many consumers looking for different ways to carry drinking water to their daily activities.

Where's the good water?
Truth be told, at school or at work, the water fountain may be all you need to get a steady, refreshing source of fine drinking water. This is filtered municipal water that is refrigerated by a unit in the fountain container and generally considered to be good tasting and healthful. But before you take a sip, make sure that you carefully inspect that drinking fountain to make sure it's sparkling clean — many public places have replaced the old-style fountains with new ones that insure no one’s lips or hands touch the area that dispenses the water.

At home, depending upon your municipal source, tap water may be just fine. If it's not the best, consider at-home water filters. They're inexpensive, readily available, and they work! Each method uses carbon filters that absorb lead, chlorine byproducts, certain parasites, radon, solvents, and organic chemicals in addition to odors and off tastes. They cannot remove arsenic, nitrites, bacteria, or microbes. All filters need replacement, some as often as once a month, others only two or three times per year.

Water pitcher, faucet-mount or under-the-sink
Among the most popular, and certainly the most inexpensive method for at-home use is the water pitcher, which can remove chlorine, sediment, metals, and cysts such as cryptosporidium and giardia, which are from animal waste. PUR is the highest rated, with Brita close behind. The pitchers come in various sizes and filter up to 40 gallons of water over a two-month period. There is some waiting time while the water filters through to the bottom of the pitcher, and refilling the pitcher is necessary for households of two or more people. Cost is about $30; $9 for replacement filters. Larger multi-gallon-sized counter-top containers are available with serving spigot. Prices vary from $50 to $80; filters are about $9.

Water-faucet-mount filters are the better choice if you need large quantities of water for both cooking and drinking for people and pets. The PUR3-stage faucet-mount filter has a double-layer filtration system and eliminates chloroform, industrial and agricultural pollutants, cysts, metals and off-tastes for about 60 to 100 gallons before the filter needs to be replaced. It has a bypass mechanism to switch to unfiltered water for cleaning, watering plants, or other non-food applications. Cost is about $40; replacement filters, $15. It rated top place in three Internet surveys.

Under-the-sink filters only need a change of filter twice a year, but they do require professional installation and they can take up a bit of room. The filter is attached to the cold water pipe and a separate small faucet is installed for the filtered water and filters out most impurities. This is the ideal solution for a large family so that clean water is available for cooking and for drinking by family members and pets. Sears' Kenmore Dual Undersink Water Filter 3460 is highly rated by consumers' groups and costs $85 with replacement filters priced at $20 each.

How to transport water
All you need to take advantage of the steady source of at-home water is a carrier to take water wherever you go. Consider that old standby, the thermos: it comes in stainless-steel or traditional glass-lined containers and has the extra bonus of keeping liquids hot or cold.

While plastic bottles are legion, they're well known for giving off a "plastic taste" because plastic is an unstable substance and heat will actually cause the plastic to migrate into the water. If you're buying a plastic bottle, opt for one of the colorful new ones and look at the number on the bottom — choose those made with #4 plastics. They come in a variety of sizes and styles, and keep the water fresh tasting all day long. 

Thermos, or plastic bottle, each priced under $20. Fill them up at home, drink during the day, refill when you return home. They're safe, clean, and lightweight enough to carry in your backpack, briefcase or purse.

What's in your water?
The United States has an excellent safety record for quality drinking water, yet about 7 million of us get sick each year from drinking contaminated water. The cause of contamination can be anything from animal and human waste to industrial waste. Know your source! If water looks bad (unclear, yellow or orange in color) and smells bad (you know bad smell), do not drink it.

To test the water in your home or apartment, check out the National Testing Laboratories, one of many labs that test water for a fee. Call 800-458-3330. Your local city government should also have a record of water quality in your neighborhood; check your local department of water and power or call your local mayor's office, which will direct you to the correct department. Another source is: .

One caveat: There are 75,000 known toxic chemicals but, in general, only 86 are typically tested in our water systems and most filter system manufacturers address 10-12 of the most prevalent of these. The U.S. EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) is a federal program that governs water safety.

Phil Lempert is food editor of the TODAY show. He welcomes questions and comments, which can be sent to or by using the mail box below. For more about the latest trends on the supermarket shelves, visit Phil’s Web site at .