What Does Potable Water Mean?

Written by Megan Martin
Updated: November 17, 2022
© iStock.com/megaflopp
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If you work in the food industry, you may have heard the term “potable water”. Even if you don’t work in a restaurant, however, you may still have heard the term in passing. However, what does potable water mean? If you’re not sure, don’t worry: you’re not alone.

This complete guide will walk you through everything you need to know about potable water, from what it is to why it is important. Ready to learn more? Let’s dive right in!

What is Potable Water?

Water, Distillation, Alcohol - Drink, Scientific Experiment, Examining
Potable water is clean water that is safe for consumption.


Potable water is any clean water that is safe for drinking, cooking, or even washing. With potable water, any potentially harmful contaminants or pathogens like bacteria or viruses have been filtered out. This means that it poses little to no risk to humans.

Where does Potable Water Come From?

Potable water can come from a variety of different filtration and purification techniques. This can include reverse osmosis, distillation, and other techniques. Potable water can come from any clean source that is free of contaminants, excessive heavy metals, and pathogens. 

If you drink from a private well, you’ll be surprised to learn that your water isn’t necessarily considered potable water! This is because it’s up to you to ensure that your water is safe to drink, as it isn’t monitored by the local utility authorities. You can, however, reach out and learn more about how to test your water and ensure that it is potable. 

Can you Drink Non-Potable Water?

Cascading waterfall in Amicalola Falls State Park, Georgia
Drinking non potable water is unsafe.

©iStock.com/Sean Pavone

It is not safe to drink non-potable water. This is because it can carry any number of potentially dangerous contaminants, from sediment to metals to pathogens.

There is no guaranteed potable water in nature. However, in the instances of emergencies, there are some areas that it is recommended to collect water from, such as groundwater. These water sources usually have some sort of natural filtration, such as a waterfall or soil. Although these water sources may be a last resort option in the instance of an emergency, such as being stranded, they still require boiling to destroy any harmful pathogens.

Because of the risks associated with drinking non-potable water, it is not recommended at all. Potable water is filtered and cleaned to make it safe, and it should always be the first option. 

Why is Potable Water Important?

Potable water is important because it allows humans to meet one of our number one needs without many of the risks historically associated with unclean water. Since we’ve learned more about how to create safe water for drinking and bathing, as well as many other advancements in technology, we’ve been able to minimize the impact of disease

Threats to Potable Water

Marilao River
Pollution of water sources are threats to availability of potable water.

©JFVelasquez Floro / Creative Commons – License

Although natural water is not considered potable water, potable water does come from these areas. Much of our drinking water is actually drawn from streams, rivers, and lakes. From there, it is transported to a treatment facility where it is filtered and purified for drinking. As a result, any threats to our natural water systems also pose a threat to our available potable water. 

One of the main threats is pollution. However, there is also the threat of climate change, which is resulting in certain bodies of water drying up. This is especially prevalent in the southwestern regions of the United States.

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About the Author

I'm a writer with almost five years of experience. I recently graduated from Wingate University with a Bachelor of Arts in English and a double minor in biology and professional and technical writing. I love everything animals and nature related! The American kestrel is my favorite animal, but I also like sharks and alligators. In my free time, I like to watch documentaries and explore nature.

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  1. Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, Available here: https://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/drinking/history.html