$75 Water: Worth It, or Money Down the Drain?

Feb. 17, 2007 — -- Americans spent more than $10 billion on bottled water last year. Now, a new generation of luxury bottled water, with upscale packaging and price tags to match, is flooding the marketplace.

Bling H2O is one of the new high-end breeds. Its bottle, covered in Swarovski crystals, contains spring water from Tennessee.

"People are paying $40, $55, $60, $75 a bottle for the water, depending on where you purchase it in the hospitality industry," said Kevin Boyd, Bling H2O's creator. "It's definitely worth it. It's premium water, in premium packaging, that merits a premium price tag."

King Island Cloud Juice's bottle isn't anything out of the ordinary. Its real treasure, Tasmanian rainwater, is inside. Lauquen, one of the world's lightest waters, hails from exotic Patagonia.

Le Bleu bills itself as the only "ultra pure" water on the market. Despite its French sounding name, the "premier" water is processed and packaged in North Carolina.

Dubious Health Benefits

The new trend is a far cry from the days when nothing said luxury, purity and vitality like the sparkling waters of Perrier. Machael Mascha, author of "Fine Waters," pointed out that plain old Poland Spring was once considered premium.

"Looking back, Poland Spring was a very prestigious water. Fiji, a couple of years ago, was a very prestigious water," he said.

Now, for some consumers, only the best of the best will suffice. Diane Felicissimo carries 24 brands of luxury water in her suburban New York eatery, Via Genova, to satisfy her discerning customers.

"These waters are filled with calcium, magnesium, potassium, a little hint of sodium -- whatever the body needs, they can basically open up my menu and pick it out," Felicissimo said. "I tend to drink the water with the silica, because I enjoy the water and what it will do for my hair and nails."

Dr. Mel Suffet of the UCLA School of Public Health, who has studied bottled water, said high-end waters are no better for consumers than cheaper brands, or even water from the tap.

"I don't know of any medical evidence that says there is a precise concentration of a particular mineral that you should be drinking in, in your water, to make you healthier," Suffet said.

He doesn't think spending upwards of $100 on a bottle of water makes sense.

"If municipalities can produce our drinking water for less than one cent a liter and you're spending $55 for a liter of water of the same water quality, from a health perspective, from a taste perspective, I don't see any reason to do that," Suffet said.

Wine Over Water

It's debatable whether consumers can tell the difference between high-end water and less-pricey varieties.

"Good Morning America Weekend" asked a group of self-proclaimed water connoisseurs to do a blind taste test.

The 16 tasters were given glasses of three different waters: a glacier water from Canada priced at $28.50 for under a liter, Poland Spring, which retails for about $1, and plain tap water.

They sipped, savored, and guzzled, and the majority -- 13 out of 16 tasters -- picked the high-priced glacier water as their favorite.

"It had a little vibrance to it, a little freshness to it," one taster explained. "That's the only way I can describe it. It had a little something extra."

To see if the average Joe could tell the difference, "GMA Weekend" asked its crew to take the same blind taste test. Seven out of 10 tasters couldn't pin point the luxury water.

In the end, the difference may not matter. Even those who say they can taste the difference in the high-priced water wouldn't necessarily spend the extra money to buy it.

"If I was going spend $28 on a liter of something, it would be on a bottle of wine," said one of the connoisseurs.