Is It Safe to Drink Water From a Waterfall?

When out in the wilderness, it can often be tempting to drink cold water coming from a nearby waterfall. Water is water, right? There should be no harm in drinking from the falls, right? 

Water from a waterfall is not safe to drink until it has been purified. Until the water is purified it’s often contaminated with dangerous bacteria, viruses, and even parasites. These can lead to very serious ailments such as cryptosporidiosis.

So why exactly are waterfalls unsafe to drink from, and is it possible to make them drinking safe? Keep reading below, and we will look over some of those questions.

Why Is Waterfall Water Unsafe to Drink?

Out in the wilderness, waterfalls are always a pretty sight and can be very tempting to thirsty hikers. But drinking this water can cause some serious problems for the drinker. 

The water in a waterfall comes from some other source of water, like a river or lake. These sources are often unfiltered water sources, meaning any nasty bacteria in them are still present at the waterfall. 

The water we drink in our homes is different because it has been filtered several times, so there should never be any harmful bacteria or parasites still present, making it completely safe to drink. Since the water that runs into the waterfall has not been filtered, there is still bacteria inside of it, and if you drink the water, those things will then be inside of you.

These bacteria can cause some very dangerous ailments, such as cryptosporidiosis and giardiasis among others, which can be even more dangerous for children or anyone with a weakened immune system.

Unsavory things can also enter these outdoor water sources through things like landfill leakage, chemical pollution, animal urine, and feces, or roadkill too close to the water. In a waterfall, bacteria from any of these are likely to be present in the water and can cause any number of problems.

Can You Make Waterfall Water Safe to Drink?

Like other water in the wild, yes, you can make it safe to drink. All you need to do is purify the water, which can be very simple if you have the right materials on hand.

One method to purify outdoor water is to cut the bottom off a plastic water bottle and fill it with rocks of various sizes as well as plenty of sand. Put the water bottle top inside another container after poking a hole in it, and then slowly pour water into the opened bottom of the bottle. The water will run through the rocks and sand before dripping into the separate container.

This method purifies water by trapping bacteria and parasites in the sand while large debris gets stuck on the rocks. The water that comes out at the bottom should be safe to drink then.

Another method of making waterfall water safe to drink is simply by boiling it. When you boil water, it kills any bacteria, virus, or parasite lurking inside it, thus making it safe to consume.

You can boil water in the wilderness if you have any kind of fire pit or a camp stove. Once you have your heat source going safely, all you need to do is place a pot filled with waterfall water over the heat source, then sit back and wait for it to boil.

Just be sure to let the hot water cool back down before drinking, otherwise, you could end up with a burnt tongue.

What Contaminants Can Be Found In Waterfall Water?

Like any other outdoor water, the water in a waterfall can be contaminated with a variety of harmful things. Some of the specific kinds include:

  • E. Coli
  • Hepatitis A
  • Salmonella
  • Polioviruses
  • Giardia

From these contaminants, there are a variety of ailments, illnesses, and diseases that someone can get from unpurified outdoor water sources like waterfalls. Some of these are:

  • Typhoid Fever
  • Diarrhea
  • Meningitis
  • Cholera
  • Polio

While some of these are less severe and need only some rest and over-the-counter medication to clear up, some of them can be life-threatening, requiring doctor visits or even hospital stays to clear up.

If you are ever unsure whether or not you or someone you know is suffering from one of these ailments after drinking unfiltered water, and whether it is life-threatening or not, it is always best to seek a doctor’s professional help. 

If the potentially sick person is a child or someone who is immune compromised, then taking them to the doctor before they even show symptoms of sickness is never a bad idea either.

What to Do If You Do Drink Waterfall Water

If you or someone you know does end up drinking water from a waterfall or other outdoor water source, there is no need to immediately panic. There is always the chance that the water was not contaminated with anything, or that the amount ingested was too small to cause any problems.

The best thing to do is monitor whoever drank the water. If they begin to feel unwell, take them to a doctor for a check-up, then follow the doctor’s instructions for further care.  

While drinking water from an outdoor source can be dangerous, you are not guaranteed to get sick from drinking from, say, a waterfall. As such, there is no need to panic. There is always the chance that you will not get sick, or will only get some mild ailments that will not cause much or any harm.

But while there is no guarantee of sickness, it is still always best to avoid drinking from an outdoor water source unless it has been purified, as there is still always a chance that you could get sick. And if you do have to drink water from a waterfall, lake, or river, make sure to purify the water as best as you can first.  

Is All Water Outdoors Unsafe to Drink?

Just like waterfall water, any other type of outdoor water source can be just as, if not more, contaminated. 

Slow-moving or still bodies of water, such as ponds, lakes, or smaller rivers, are sources that are likely to be more contaminated than waterfalls. When water moves slower, it becomes a breeding ground for insects, bacteria, and more, because the slow water is easier for these contaminants to live in. The slow water also does not run through rocks and sand as fast, which helps remove some of those bacteria from the water.

Fast-moving water, such as large rivers or waterfalls, is less likely to be contaminated by as many things as slow-moving water, thanks to the fast water making it hard for some parasites to live, and impossible for insects to lay eggs in or around. This does not mean these water sources are completely safe to drink from, however. They can still contain bacteria and viruses.   

The most dangerous outdoor water sources are any that have been contaminated by chemicals or fuels. These things cannot be purified by the methods mentioned earlier and can be extremely toxic to ingest.

If you suspect a water source has been contaminated by chemicals, then you should never attempt to drink from it, even if you have purified the water.

Here’s the Verdict…

In the end, even if a water source looks crystal clear and completely safe, you can never be certain that it is. Parasites and bacteria too small to see can still be lurking beneath the surface, ones that can have deadly consequences if they are ingested by humans.

Even waterfalls in all of their beauty can still contain these nasty contaminants inside them and are never worth the risk to drink from.

Instead, bring plenty of bottled or filtered water from home the next time you head outdoors for a hike or bike ride. If you find yourself running short of water in the middle of your outdoor activities, then the best option would be to head back early, to make sure no one suffers from bad water, or lack of water if you were to run out. 

If you do have to drink water from an outdoor source, make sure to purify it thoroughly to ensure your health and safety, and if you ever worry you or someone else has ingested potentially contaminated water, contact a doctor to get a professional’s help and the care you need.

While water sources out in the wilderness are always a beautiful sight, the water running through them is unsafe for human consumption without purification. So keep yourself and others safe. 

Look all you want at the gorgeous waterfall next to your hiking trail, but do not drink from it.