This article, written by the American Ground Water Trust was originally published in THE AMERICAN WELL OWNER, 2002, Number 4]


In the late 1800’s through the early 1900’s mineral water spas such Saratoga Springs, NY and Colorado Springs, Colorado were popular resort and health therapy destinations for the wealth of the United States. Part of the attraction for “taking the waters” was the taste of the mineral water and natural carbonation of many of the springs. Pure water – H2O – does not have a “flavor.” Water obtains tastes from the substances it comes in contact with during its travel through the Hydrologic Cycle. These substances can be rocks, minerals, organic (plant and animal) debris and residues, anthropogenic (human-made) materials and waste products, air-borne particles (for snow and rain) or other sources of water that may join and mix together in a particular aquifer zone.

Water is a natural and efficient solvent and will accept most compounds into solution. It takes time for water to dissolve a substance. Substances that dissolve and increase in concentration in a relatively short time are said to have a high solubility. Low solubility substances take a longer time to dissolve. The amount of time that is required to dissolve a certain amount of a material depends on many variables such as water temperature, pH, oxygen concentration of the water, physical structure of the substance (molecular structure), chemical composition of the substance and pressure.

The longer a water droplet remains in the ground water regime, the more “flavors” it is likely to contain and the stronger the taste may become. For this reason spring waters, which typically have short residence times beneath the ground, have lower concentrations of dissolved solids and consequently milder tastes in comparison to water from deeper aquifers.

Common water tastes and their sources:

Rotten egg – Hydrogen sulfide gas Metallic or Bitter – Dissolved metals (e.g., iron, manganese, copper, zinc, lead), Salty – Chloride or in general high Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) levels Septic, musty, earthy – Bacteria Bleach-like – Chlorine Bitter – Tannins

Treatments with granular activated carbon or reverse osmosis are two effective methods to remove objectionable tastes and odors from a drinking water supply. However, the next time you ask for a glass of water consider that the taste is the signature of the local aquifer. In most cases, it has a unique and pleasant “flavor.” Enjoy!

[© American Ground Water Trust. This article may be reprinted for non-commercial educational purposes provided it is used in its entirety and that reference is made to its source as an article in THE AMERICAN WELL OWNER, 2002, Number 4]