I-TEAM: Is Flowing Wells Spring water safe? We put it to the test.
Thursday, Feb. 6, 2020
News 12 at 6 O’Clock/NBC at 7
AUGUSTA, GA (WRDW/WAGT) -- According to an Associated Press poll, only about half of Americans trust the water coming out of their tap.
After the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, and the illegal use of a pool chemical in Denmark's water system, there's little wonder why we are wary.
You might have heard of the raw water movement where people seek out natural spring water, or pay tons of money to buy water they think is “pure.” Well, here at home, locals have been lining up for spring water at Flowing Wells Spring long before it was ever trendy.
But is it safe?
The spring is tucked out of sight – just under a bridge on Wrightsboro Road.
“I was told about it years ago when I first moved here, and they say people drive here from everywhere,” Evans resident Richard White said.
“Local legend,” resident Candice French said. “He said it, local legend.”
“I’ve been drinking this water for 60 years,” resident Delmar Pittman said.
The handwritten sign that greets you pays homage to the spring's history. It was originally used in the 1930's to provide water for Sue Reynolds Elementary.
Ninety years later, it's a steady flowing study in southern hospitality. Everyone is patient, everyone is kind, and nearly everyone is in a good mood when they come here, like they're part of a secret club.
“I come every 2 weeks and get about 10 to 15 jugs of water because that's all my family and I drink,” resident Vincent Powell said.
“I have a terminal illness,” resident Tanya Grant said. “I don’t want to tell you what it is, but that’s why I come here.”
Hundreds of thousands have drank the water, people from all walks of life -- even presidents. President William Howard Taft used to bottle it and take it abroad, believing in its healing powers to prevent illness.
Like Taft, some still swear by its healing powers.
"I am a born again Christian," Grant said. "God didn't create me with disease or illness. This is His water, I drink it.”
Others just think it’s the best water they’ve ever had.
“You can taste the difference in this water,” Pittman said.
But, instead of relying on the taste, we went straight to the experts to find out if this water is safe. Dr. Jose Vasquez is the head of the infectious diseases department at Augusta University.
“Raw water means that it hasn’t been filtered, it hasn't been chemically treated, and nothings been added to it,” Vasquez said.
“There’s a couple of possibilities, but number one is it can be contaminated by animal byproducts,” Vasquez said.
So we tested the water. We sent it to the professor at Virginia Tech who helped expose the Flint Water Crisis. His labs tested and found the water to be very pure for inorganics, so no lead, no heavy metals. Some of the problems we get when water flows through aging lead pipes.
We also had the cooperative extension service test for coliforms, things like bacteria and e-coli. The tests came back negative.
Which honestly, made me breathe a sigh of relief, because people are very attached to this water. But, experts say one test, even 40 tests, couldn't prove this water source is always a safe option.
“Developed countries, for a reason, have improved on their water supply. They filter it, they monitor for heavy metals, they monitor it for bacteria and they add flouride to it,” Vasquez said.
“It hasn’t hurt me yet,” one person said. “And there’s a lot of people that can attest to that.”
We hear that a lot, but the keyword is 'yet'. You never know when this unmonitored water source could be contaminated and cause deadly problems like e. Coli or cholera.
“If you have a weak immune system, meaning you have diabetes, or have gotten chemotherapy, or radiation therapy, or have a cancer, you really shouldn't be drinking this water at all,” Vasquez said.
We know, we know. It's a bummer. And we're not debating the taste is fresh and delicious, but taste can be a dangerous judge. Just ask Adam and Eve. Or French fries.
But it's not all bad news. We asked, what can be done for people who just love this water to make it safer? Experts say boil it before you use it for at least a minute. It won't get rid of any chemicals, but it would kill any bacteria.
You can also run it through a water filter to filter out impurities.