Potable vs. Nonpotable Water

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Water is a precious resource. Agriculture, certain recreational activities -- think of water-based theme parks and swimming, for example -- and many businesses live or die by water, and a human being can only survive a few days without the stuff. Potable and nonpotable water have distinct characteristics and properties and are each used for very different purposes.


The definition of nonpotable water, according to the Rocky Mountain Water Environment Association, is water that is not suitable for drinking. Potable water, on the other hand, is highly drinkable. Nonpotable water can be found in stagnant puddles, wastewater effluent and toxic dumps. Potable water is often treated for taste and safety.


Potable water is safe for drinking, cooking and bathing. Potable water may also be used for other tasks that nonpotable water is used for, such as watering plants, flushing toilets and washing cars. In many places in the western United States, nonpotable water reclaimed from sewage treatment plants and other sources is often used for landscaping and irrigation purposes.

Safety Concerns

Potable water is evaluated and treated in numerous ways to ensure dangerous microbes, chemicals, heavy metals and other pollutants are removed before humans consume it. This prevents sickness and damage to the body's internal filtering systems. Consuming nonpotable water that has not been treated can lead to sickness, infection, damage to internal organs and even death.


As water resources dwindle worldwide, increased conservation of all water sources is necessary. Greater use and reuse of nonpotable water in farming, irrigation, landscaping and industrial processes is one step. Protecting sources of potable drinking water is another, but may prove more difficult to accomplish.