Let’s talk a little about drinking water safety in Exuma. While generally safe, there are some considerations to be aware of, and I’ll share my recommendations as well.
Can you drink the tap water in Exuma?
The answer is; the water in Exuma is generally safe to drink, although it does depend on the source. Just because the water comes from a tap in a house or restaurant, does not mean it comes from a water treatment plant or municipal utility.
This is especially true in Exuma, where water may come from various sources such as well (often somewhat brackish) or a cistern that was filled via rain catchment or water delivery, or the municipal water supply, where available. Sometimes it may be a combination of the above, with or without additional treatment.
A number of rental properties outside the service area of the municipal systems have wells and water catchment and may or may not have an RO (reverse-osmosis) system to purify the water or remove salt from brackish wells. Even if an RO is in place, it may not be after the cistern that holds the water for the property, but before it just for the purpose of removing salt from the brackish well. Some properties may have the RO installed in a way that all or part of the water into the house (often just the kitchen sink) is treated after the cistern. The only way to know is to ask when you’re renting.
Restaurants and bars generally have bottled water, municipal water, or otherwise purified water, and make their own ice or purchase it bagged.
My experience & recommendation for drinking water:
This is just my own personal experience and observation of many others over the years. If you have concerns, please take your own precautions that you feel are appropriate.
Municipal water in Exuma is generally safe to drink. However, when there are breaks in the water lines, boil notices are not issued so there is a chance that the water may be contaminated and nobody is told. That said, I have drank plenty of municipal water or had ice in drinks made from it and never had any problems other than very much disliking the strongly chlorinated taste.
I have drank water from various wells with different levels of brackishness and not had any problems other than it tasting somewhat salty. Some of the locals will call this “sweet water.” The level of brackishness in many of these wells is not extremely high. However, I notice when drinking this water over longer periods that I feel more dehydrated and then there’s the somewhat salty taste.
RO Purified Water:
The reverse-osmosis process of purifying or desalinating water removes almost everything from the water, making it very pure and safe to drink, with one caveat. Consuming RO water for longer periods can actually deplete your body of nutrients, because it “leaches” the nutrients out of your body. This is generally not a major concern (in my opinion, but if you’re concerned then ask your doctor) for the majority of people on a short vacation of a week or two. The solution to this problem is to make sure you get enough nutrients to replace the leached amount from diet or mineral supplements that can be added to RO water.
Many locals, long term residents, and vacation home owners fill or purchase 5-gallon water-cooler style containers of water from vendors on the island. These vendors generally have RO water, or more recently Alkaline water which I’ll touch next. My guess is that very few of these people (myself included) add back lost minerals to RO water without any significant concerns. Given the choice, I would rather risk drinking RO water for a while than something more likely to give me dysentery, especially in another country while on vacation. Just trust me on that part.
While I do not know exactly how the alkaline water in Exuma is produced, there are a number of ways to accomplish this. One of the simpler methods is to add back certain minerals (baking soda is one) to RO water to drop the pH level. Another method is to use ionizing filters. There are others. I’ll not get into the discussion whether alkaline water is better for a person or not – this was just brought up to illustrate a couple ways that alkaline water may be produced so you can research more and make your own decision.
My verdict on the safety of Exuma’s drinking water:
Drink bottled RO or Alkaline water if possible, and preferably from the reusable 5-gallon containers. There is way too much plastic floating up on beaches in Exuma and around the world to recommend single-use plastic bottles.
What about brushing your teeth?
This random question has come up a couple times, and in my experience I have not had any noticeable negative effects with any of the water sources above in Exuma, let alone in such small quantities for brushing my teeth and not swallowing the water, because who wants to swallow toothpaste-water anyway?! If you are concerned, use bottled or purified water.