Distilled water comes next in purity, and is, in fact, identical in character with rain-water; the latter being merely steam, condensed into rain in the great alembic of the sky. But both have the curious property of taking up and dissolving lead wherever they find it; and it is for this reason that lead pipes as leaders from or to cisterns should never be allowed, unless lined with some other metal.
The most refreshing as well as most wholesome water is river or spring water, perfectly filtered so that no possible impurity can remain. It is then soft and clear; has sufficient air and carbonic acid to make it refreshing, and enough earthy salts to prevent its taking up lead, and so becoming poisonous. River-water for daily use of course requires a system of pipes, and in small places is practically unavailable; so that wells are likely, in such case, to be the chief source of supply. Such water will of course be spring-water, with the characteristics of the soil through which it rises. If the well be shallow, and fed by surface springs, all impurities of the soil will be found in it; and thus to dig deep becomes essential, for many reasons. Dr. Parker of England, in some papers on practical hygiene, gives a clear and easily understood statement of some causes affecting the purity of well-water.
“A well drains an extent of ground around it, in the shape of an inverted cone, which is in proportion to its own depth and the looseness of the soil. In very loose soils a well of sixty or eighty feet will drain a large area, perhaps as much as two hundred feet in diameter, or even more; but the exact amount is not, as far as I know, precisely determined.
“Certain trades pour their refuse water into rivers, gas-works; slaughter-houses; tripe-houses; size, horn, and isinglass manufactories; wash-houses, starch-works, and calico-printers, and many others. In houses it is astonishing how many instances occur of the water of butts, cisterns, and tanks, getting contaminated by leaking of pipes and other causes, such as the passage of sewer-gas through overflow-pipes, &c.