If you’ve ever been to Walt Disney World, you might have at one time or another gone
for a drink of water at one of the many water fountains on property.
And if you have, there’s a chance you’ve experienced the, uh, unique taste of the water.
So, why does Disney World water taste so bad?
Well if you just need a short easy answer, it’s sulfur.
Naturally occurring sulfates in the local water supply gives the drinking water its
distinct and often unpleasant taste.
That said, how do they get their water, where do the sulfates come from, is it safe, and
could Disney do anything to get rid of it?
Walt Disney World, or more specifically their governing jurisdiction, the Reedy Creek Improvement
District, pumps its drinking water from the Floridan Aquifer.
An aquifer is a layer or more commonly a series of layers of rock and other materials that
groundwater flows through.
Wells are dug into these layers, and from there the groundwater is pumped up, treated
Aquifers tend to be pretty big, but the Floridan Aquifer in particular is massive.
It encompasses the entire state of Florida as well as parts of Alabama, Georgia, and
even South Carolina.
It’s estimated to provide up to four billion gallons of water and services as many at 10
million people in the Southwestern United States every day.
So then why doesn’t water across the entire aquifer taste just as bad?
Well that taste is caused by various elements in minerals that the water picks up as it
flows through the layers of the aquifer.
The ones that generally don’t impact the safety of drinking water but do impact it’s
taste, odor, and color are considered “secondary contaminants” by the EPA.
So depending on where you are and what the geological makeup of the area is, those secondary
contaminants and their concentrations can change.
In central Florida’s case, the source of those sulfates is predominantly from the mineral gypsum.
Disney gets their water from a specific part of the aquifer, known as the Upper Floridan
Aquifer, and they do it through a series of nine wells.
For context, Florida in total has about 12,000 wells.
Reedy Creek pumps anywhere from 15 to 17 million gallons of water a day through four seperate
From there they use over 70 miles of pipe to distribute the water across property.
So how much sulfate is exactly in the water?
Looking at a secondary contaminant report from the Florida Department of Environmental
Protection, water from the four Reedy Creek pumps has an average sulfate concentration
of 8.4 milligrams per liter.
Now on it’s own that doesn’t really mean much, but for context the EPA sets the upper
limit for safe drinking water at 250 milligrams per liter.
So while it’s there enough to impact the taste, it doesn’t even come close to being
an unsafe concentration.
And that ultimately is why Reedy Creek, like most municipalities, doesn't do anything about it.
Their water treatment systems are exclusively used to disinfect water in order to meet the
state and national drinking water standards.
The technology does exist to remove sulfates from water, however they’re often either
costly or slow and so they’re not very practical on the kind of scale that would be needed
to treat all the water being used across property.
There are plenty of options for filtering a bottle or pitcher of water, and even homes
that use private wells sometimes have larger filtration systems, but Reedy Creek is pumping
and treating millions of gallons of water a day.
So ultimately the task of dealing with the taste of that Disney tap water is up to you.
Now you could pay $3.50 for a bottle of water in the parks if you want.
However you can also buy and bring one of the many brands of water bottles today that
come with a filter built into it.
They’ll usually filter the water enough to improve the taste and save you some money
in the process.
Disney’s tap water, for better or for worse, is a reminder that when we turn that sink
faucet or hit that water fountain button, we’re usually getting more than just H2O.
That's often good, because it means we’re also getting things like minerals and fluoride
which improve the water.
But every so often it also means you get that distinct sulfur taste.