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Filtered Water: Tastes Great, Less Land-Filling

Instead of reaching for a plastic bottle, check out the filtering options.

Bottled water is so last year.

Tap is back in style.

But what if swilling municipal water still gives you the willies? Is there a way to make sure what comes out of your tap is crystal clean?

The mayors of major cities like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and San Francisco are

urging citizens to go back to the tap and even trend-setting restaurateurs like Alice Waters and Mario Batali are

eschewing bottled water, all of which can make it seem like tap water is the new black.

With good reason.

We know that major brands like

PepsiCo

's

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Aquafina and

Coca-Cola

's

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Dasani are pretty much plain old tap water that's been filtered. And the Natural Resources Defense Council has

testedbottled water extensively, only to determine that it's no better than tap and might not even be quite as good, depending on the brand and municipality in question.

Moreover, various

taste tests have shown that a lot of people actually prefer tap water to the store-bought stuff.

And there is a use-or-lose-it aspect to tap water. The best way to ensure that we continue to have potable water -- when so many around the world don't -- is to keep drinking it. Relying on public water spurs us to care about it and to keep tabs on the municipal authorities that monitor both it and the pipes it travels through to our homes.

Of course, tap water isn't perfect.

Impuritiescan find their way into it from time to time, despite diligent monitoring. And the EPA's idea of

acceptablelevels of contaminants might be more liberal than yours. In addition, if old

pipescarry water across your town or city, or even through your house, they can leach metals and other things into your water. Or your local water authority might add chemicals like chlorine or fluoride, which, as

Enviroblog points out, not everyone wants to drink.

The good news is that municipal water authorities responsible for testing and protecting their local supplies also have to issue an annual consumer confidence report about them. For example, the New York City Department of Environmental Protection makes its

reports available online -- and it goes back a few years.

The EPA provides

linksto reports for municipalities around the country, and Consumer Reports even has

guidelines to help you make quick sense of what is not a particularly juicy read.

If your water comes from a private well, or you have an older home with pipes that might leach lead or other undesirables, you can buy a home-test

kitfor a few dollars. Or you can send your water to a commercial lab--the EPA has a

list of state health departments, which can put you in touch with a certified lab near you.

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If your water isn't as pure as a natural spring in Fiji, or you don't like the taste of added chlorine, don't automatically assume that you're back on the bottled water wagon. Water-filter systems come in all shapes, sizes and price levels and are fashioned to target different water nuisances.

If chlorine is your primary concern, filtering carafes that you can keep in the refrigerator, such as those from Brita, made by

Clorox

(CLX) - Get Clorox Company Report

, or Pur, made by

Procter & Gamble

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, will do the trick. So will faucet-mounted filter systems from those companies or

General Electric

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, among others. These systems typically use activated carbon and might also remove mercury, heavy metals like lead and copper, and chemicals such as pesticides and herbicides.

According to

Consumer Reports, you'll lay out $20 to $40 for the pitcher or faucet mount and up to $80 or so a year on replaceable filters -- far less than you'd spend on a bottle-a-day spring water habit for yourself.

Countertop or under-the-counter systems (the latter filter water before it reaches your faucet) tend to be even better at eliminating chlorine and lead and might also remove things like arsenic, algae, mold or

volatile organic compounds (chemicals that easily evaporate and can be inhaled). They're made by companies like GE,

Sears

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(under the Kenmore brand),

Whirlpool

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, and Pentair, which makes Everpure products, and mostly use carbon filters.

Some of these companies also sell under-mounts that use reverse osmosis. According to the Green Guide, which has a handy filter

roundup, reverse osmosis removes nitrates and perchlorate better than carbon but isn't as good at getting rid of pesticides.

Regardless of the system they use, countertop and under-mounted filters will cost from $50 to more than $300 for the system and from $20 to $300 and up annually for filters. Consumer Reports rates one

Kenmore model a "best buy" at $55 for the system and roughly $34 a year in filters.

At the other end of the spectrum, one GE

reverse-osmosis system sells for $260 plus $100 a year on filters. This option might not save you money over your bottled water habit, but it probably won't cost much more, especially if you've been buying water for a family.

No matter what filter you choose -- if you decide you need one at all -- returning to the tap will make room in your recycling bin. And you'll know exactly what you're drinking, which isn't necessarily the case with

bottled water.

Just think how devastatingly hip you'll look by accessorizing your favorite outfits with a stylin' reusable

water bottle.

Eileen P. Gunn writes about the business of life and is the author of "Your Career Is An Extreme Sport." You can learn more about her at

her Web site.