High spring water quality?

2:58 a.m. on November 9, 2009 (EST)
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I carry an old hiker pur and treat all stream/creek water, but there are a few springs i've drawn from and not filtered. I read the other post about spring water treatment, but most replies seemed to deal with roadside or municipal "community" springs. I'm wondering about springs 5000 ft up in the Unicoi mtns. I've got water from these for almost 15 yrs without filtering/treating with no problems; have i just been lucky? am i rolling the dice? i don't hardly see how there would be any contaminates from human/animal waste if i'm drawing at the source. Is there a probability worth considering that there would be any contamination in spring water that high and remote.

10:26 a.m. on November 9, 2009 (EST)
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Ask 10 experienced hikers and you're likely to get 10 different answers.

When i hiked the PCT a while back I didn't filter my water for 4 months. I just drank from the best sources i could find, sometimes that meant a stagnant pool of warm water with bugs or salamanders in it. The thing is, the most sick i ever got was a few cramps for an afternoon and the occasional run to the bushes.

On the other hand i met a hiker around Yosemite that was filtering all her water and threating it with iodine. I gave her some medicine because she was so sick she could barely walk. When i met her again a week later she was just coming out of a 4-days stay at the hospital! So i guess you can get sick even if you're careful.

Maybe this has something to do with building an immunity to the bugs? I have no idea, but so far my internal water purifier system has never let me down. You know what they say: if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

11:51 a.m. on November 9, 2009 (EST)
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As I commented in my 4-article series here on Trailspace and in various threads, backcountry water, whether spring, glacial melt, lake, stream, mud puddle, or whatever, may or may not be contaminated, and even if contaminated may or may not make you sick. Spring water usually is filtered by yards if not miles of the water travelling through soil, sand, and gravel, a technique that is used by many municipal water supplies.

Years ago, the Public Health Service (a federal government agency) recommended putting your outhouse about 100 yards from your well or the stream you got your water from (that was in the days when 70-80% of the US population was rural and most people had outhouses). This was thought to be sufficient filtering, and at a time when many outhouses were right on the banks of the creek (pronounced "crik" by most country folk in those days, and still in some parts of the country).

But there can be sources of pollution, including industrial and mine waste as well as biologics, in the path of the "filtering" flow.

You mention your "internal water purifier system". Depending on where you grew up, you developed resistance to a number of the local critters. I spent a good part of my childhood in rural areas, in the woods and hills (and desert) with my outdoorsy parents, and in Central America. As a result, I seem to have a lot of resistance to a lot of bugs. According to Paul Auerbach's huge Wilderness Medicine compendium (a several thousand page summary of articles on the subject, with an accompanying DVD that allows linking directly to the articles), a fair number of regular backcountry travellers are giardia carriers (analagous to the infamous Typhoid Mary, who was a cook in the late 19th Century who was immune to the typhoid she was carrying and passing along to the families for whom she worked).

The short answer to pburse, the OP, is that it is a combination of luck, plus the springs you have used not being contaminated, and maybe resistance you have built up. You cannot assure lack of contamination without thorough testing, which is impractical for the typical backcountry traveller.

Plus, giardiasis, crypto, and most of the other problem critters require an incubation period that often is a week or more. So you may pick up the bugs, but not be connecting the dots because you don't get sick until a week or more later.

Still, again according to the studies compiled by Auerbach, the main reason people get sick in the backcountry is not the contamination of the water, but carelessness in personal sanitation - as your mommy said, wash your hands, or at least use hand sanitizer religiously (or adopt the Middle Eastern custom of religiously designating your left hand as "unclean" and keeping your right hand as the "clean" hand)

9:31 a.m. on November 10, 2009 (EST)
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But there can be sources of pollution, including industrial and mine waste as well as biologics, in the path of the "filtering" flow.

I do remember a place around the Mojave where a source was said to be contaminated with radioactive isotopes form an old mine operation. I guess there could be some advantages to be glow-in-the-dark!

Also, i wash my hands and myself everyday on the trail, that probably helped.

1:19 p.m. on November 10, 2009 (EST)
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I lived in the countryside in the hills east of Silicon Valley for two years; we drank untreated spring water every day with no ill effects. (Our landlord pumped water from a spring into a huge holding tank that supplied all our water needs).

Springwater at the source should be clean, though it strikes me as unlikely that you'd be able find water right at the source.

8:38 a.m. on November 11, 2009 (EST)
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I always filter spring water when I'm hiking. Dogs, deer, and beavers drink from the pools it collects in and that I tap into. My mantra is to always treat my water the same way regardless of source. If you make exceptions, you risk spacing out and skipping an important step.

9:39 p.m. on November 13, 2009 (EST)
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I lived in the countryside in the hills east of Silicon Valley for two years; we drank untreated spring water every day with no ill effects. (Our landlord pumped water from a spring into a huge holding tank that supplied all our water needs).

Springwater at the source should be clean, though it strikes me as unlikely that you'd be able find water right at the source.

Unlikely? if you know where they are, it's sure as sun rising in east. Congrats on move! Read where you have family in MO bootheel. I grew up just across MS river from there, maybe 1/2 hr from Caruthersville; remote and rustic, lol..... perfect description.

July 24, 2014
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