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Cool, Clear Water

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Crystal clear lake water! Side effects include:
stomach cramps, diarrhea, parasites, and death.

"I won't drink water. Fish fuck in it."

The clear running mountain stream is an iconic image of purity. Think of every advertisement for bottled water you've ever seen. So naturally when our heroes are hiking through the wilderness and they come across a babbling brook, it's time to dive right in and drink their fill without a second's thought right after filling the canteens.

Those of you who are regular campers or have attended any form of survival training know where this is going.

In Fictionland, water that's unsafe to drink will look unsafe to drink. It will be brackish. It will smell bad. There will be dead fish floating on top. Maybe a cigarette butt or used condom if it's in a populated area. So if that mountain stream is crystal clear and Bambi and his pals are all drinking happily from it, then no problem.

Except, of course, for the myriad waterborne parasites and diseases that sicken and kill thousands in the real world. Wild animals have immunity to all sorts of microscopic nasties that humans removed from that environment don't (and they still get sick fairly often). There's a reason water purification kits are standard issue for hikers, campers and survival kits worldwide. Not to mention the billions of dollars governments pour into building and maintaining municipal water facilities and sewage treatment plants.

Also, in some deserts, water that is beautifully clear and fresh looking (i.e., nothing lives in it) may be caused by natural arsenic deposits that turn up in some rocky areas. Drinking water that looks green and mossy and full of gunk may result in dysentery at worst, but drinking perfectly clear death water might just end your hike for good. In the Mountain West of the US or other areas where there is mining activity, cyanide and cyanide-based chemicals can have the same effect, as can pesticide runoff in heavily farmed/agricultural areas. In other deserts, water that is perfectly clear with nothing in it and isn't running may well be irradiated. Different means, same ends. Or perhaps different ends...

This trope is often found in historical fiction, where characters will be shown drinking and bathing in fresh water without a worry or concern. This is especially true of the Princess Classic, whose natural beauty is made only more radiant by the amount of time she spends bathing. Time travelers might also take the opportunity to sneer at the filthy beasts they meet who are simply too stupid to keep themselves clean and too debauched to drink cool, clear water instead of alcohol. All nonsense, of course; people in the old days might not have known about germ theory, but they were well aware that drinking water straight from the stream could cause illness. The reason many people of historical times preferred beer or tea to pure water was that fermentation and boiling were some of the earliest methods of water purification.

Some writers take the trope to eleven and give their special royal characters hot and cold running water and showers. In Norman castles. We'd like to claim that this is more common in fan fiction, but sadly it's a common mistake in professionally published fiction.note 

It's best to assume that untreated water is unsafe to drink, particularly if it's passed a road, a village, or a forest. There are streams that have been filtered by mineral layers (more in some countries than in others), but generally they shouldn't be trusted without confirmation, preferably from a local who has drunk from it for many years. Even then, those people may have simply built up certain immunities. Even the purest-seeming mountain stream may be tainted with parasites like Giardia lamblia, also known in Western Canada and the US as "beaver fever". No, not even the First World is immune.

See also I Ate WHAT?! and Water Source Tampering. For tropes related to this trope's symbolism, see Heal It with Water and Water Is Womanly.


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  • A commercial for Brita water filters used this trope completely straight. We see a wonderful mountain stream in the woods, while the voice-over says "If we all lived here, we wouldn't have to worry about what's in our water." Cut to a bustling freeway, and the narrator continues, "But most of us live here." Yes, because water running straight through underground pipes from state-of-the-art water treatment facilities to your apartment is SO susceptible to air pollution.
  • Another water filter commercial subverts this trope; it starts as a fake commercial for bottled mountain stream water, with a rugged outdoorsman waxing poetic about the "cool, clear, pure mountain stream" he's walking alongside... until he happens upon a pair of mountain men straight out of Deliverance washing their long johns in the "pure mountain stream".
  • Yet another commercial (for bottled water) has a guy in a bear costume standing in front of a stream saying "Me? Drink from that stream? Are you nuts? Do you have any idea what animals do in that stream?"
  • Subverted in an old Sprite commercial where the spokesman goes to a stream to see what the fuss for water is all about. He sees a bear walk into the stream, squat, and... "Whoa! I thought y'all did that in the woods!"
  • A billboard for a beer attempted to invoke this by comparing their product to glacial meltwater. Unlike melting snow, however, glacial meltwater has a great deal of powdered rock suspended in it, making for a substance that is bitterly cold, foul-tasting, milky white, and a powerful laxative. Hardly the "clear, cool, and refreshing" they were going for.

    Anime & Manga 
  • Subverted in the anime Belle and Sebastian. The boy Sebastian drinks from an apparently crystal clear stream despite the warnings and misgivings of his dog Belle (he also failed to notice a symbol carved on a rock nearby that warned people against drinking from such stream). He falls terribly ill, making Belle go to great lengths to protect him and causing her to get captured.
  • There's a few Doraemon strips featuring this gag.
    • One of the stories, for instance, have Suneo's cousin bringing Suneo, Gian and Shizuka on a picnic outing. While setting up camp, Suneo suddenly feels the need to let go, so he does it upstream... and suddenly recalls that they're making soup from the water downstream. Cue dinnertime, and everyone's asking why Suneo is insisting on eating canned food when they have fresh soup.
    • In the long story, Doraemon: Nobita's the Legend of the Sun King the gang ends up in the Amazonian jungle. Reaching the Amazon River and thirsty for a drink, Doraemon then takes out one of his gadgets, a purifier that converts water into fruit juice. Everyone's enjoying a cup of juice made from the gadget, until Gian noticed Nobita taking a pee upstream roughly a few meters away. (PFFFFT!!!)
  • Inuyasha: Played straight. Not only do the characters native to time period freely top up every time they encounter a pool of fresh water, but even the girl from the future (whose modern living would likely make her much more prone to illness) does so. On top of this, the story is set during the feudal era where death, disease and rotting bodies on battlefields are commonplace. And that's before we get to the Youkai that live in, and use, pools of water as well. The only time we ever see a character avoid drinking water from a pond, it's because there's a dangerous Youkai living there, not because the water itself might not be safe to drink.
  • Played completely straight in Japan Sinks 2020. After fleeing Tokyo, the family runs out of water (because they tried to share theirs with some elderly survivors who promptly took all of it). So the father decides that they should head into the mountains, then declares that the water in the first stream they come across is "good" after simply looking at it.
  • In one storyline in Love Hina, Keitaro, Naru, and Nyamo are wandering a desert. Just when all hope seems lost, they find a lush oasis with a waterfall and lake. All three quickly slake their thirst. It's later subverted when Naru suffers a bad bout of diarrhea because of it and risks her and Keitaro's chances of sending their applications to Tokyo University on time just to keep this from Keitaro. Keitaro later points out that her condition is nothing to be ashamed of and even points out that it might have been caused by something in the water. One of the more justified cases, since they were close to dying of thirst at the time.
  • Averted in an episode of Machine Robo Rescue. When Ace, Taiyou, and the Victim of the Week get lost in the jungle, Ace makes a point of putting the water they find through a makeshift purifier, noting the potential dangers of drinking "natural" water.


    Comic Books 
  • Alison Bechdel's auto-bio comic Fun Home mentions a river near her family's house whose sparkling beauty is due to pollution preventing any life in it. Similarly, sunsets at home were much more impressive before the clean air act.
  • The trope is subverted in the Marvel war comic The Nam where the lead character on his first patrol in the bush of Vietnam is about to drink from a river and his experienced comrade stops and shows what he has to do to properly treat the water to make it fit for drinking. The end result is not palatable mind you, but safe enough.

    Fan Works 
  • Averted in Breath of the Wild, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild adapted to novel form. As such, it follows the nature of a survival story, only without the Acceptable Breaks from Reality necessary to make a game playable. This includes Link's need to have water. It's not given much focus, but the narration mentions one time that Link needs to purify it in different ways in order for him to use it for drinking.
  • In Coming Back, Broken, Toby, Barbara, and the Nunez's bath Jim and Claire in Hearthstone water - water magically enhanced by the heartstone - to magically clean them.
  • In the Adam-12 fic Into The Forest, Pete Malloy and his ranger girlfriend are caught by a group of criminals. When Pete and the guys need to drink, the girlfriend, Jenny attempts to invoke this by slipping a purification tablet into Pete's water but not putting any in the water for the bad guys. It doesn't work, though, they don't get sick.
  • Luna, in the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fanfic Luna's Power and Rainbow's Love, points out that it's not safe to drink right out of the river, and makes a point of boiling the water first.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • In the 2008 film Australia, the cattle drivers attempt to stop at a river to refill their water and let the herd of cattle they are bringing to the city of Darwin have a drink of water. Three or more die at the river, which is tinted off-colour. As one of the drovers says to the leads, "The water's no good, boss." Of course, this doesn't stop them from freely drinking out of public fountains and streams that look clear.
  • Averted in Cabin Fever. It sure looks nice but if you drink the water in this town, you're dead. Just like in Mexico.
  • In all the chaos of the final action sequence of Casino Royale (2006), it's easy to overlook that the water is as clear as in a swimming pool, when in reality, given that a building just collapsed into it, it should be murky.
  • Dances with Wolves has a scene of John Dunbar going to fetch a bucket of water from a nearby lake for the first time, but he stops just as he sees the corpses of some deer in and around the area. He spends several days cleaning it up as best he can by himself, and he even notes that he took pains to see if they had been poisoned.
  • The early western film Hells Heroes (later remade as 3 Godfathers) has this as a major plot-point; the only water in a particularly ferocious stretch of desert looks OK, but as noted above it's laced with arsenic. (A sign is posted warning this.) At the end the last surviving protagonist drinks the water anyway because it's the only way to stay alive long enough to get the baby he's trying to save to the nearest town.
  • Averted in IO. Micah balks at drinking the cup of discolored water Sam offers him, but she explains the color is because it's been filtered through sand and charcoal to remove toxins.
  • Averted in the TV movie Kidz In The Wood. At one point two characters stuck in a scorching valley stumble upon a pond, and one of them suggests they get a drink. The other one says not to, noticing the bleached white steer skull laying right next to it.
  • The Man Who Would be King. The Mighty Whitey conmen use their military skill and advanced weaponry to help one of the local tribes attack another tribe, one of their grievances being that they are pissing upstream from their village. When that village is conquered, they're used to form another army to attack the next village up the river, whose inhabitants have also been pissing in the water...
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End: Averted when the crew comes across a fresh spring on an island, Barbossa has the good sense to test the water first. Yep, it's toxic: there's a corpse in the pool that's made the water undrinkable.
  • Subverted in Rashomon. A notorious bandit is finally captured when he takes a drink from a river and becomes violently ill. He explains "A snake must have died upriver."
  • Resident Evil: The Final Chapter. Alice drinks from filthy-looking water in the ruins of Washington D.C. Then a zombie does a Deadly Lunge at her from under the water. Yeesh! Maybe her T-virus enhancements make her immune to disease, though she's supposed to have been Brought Down to Normal at that point.
  • Parodied in The Scorpion King. When the heroes find an oasis, Cassandra asks if the water is safe. Out of nowhere, the Plucky Comic Relief sees the water and jumps in, cannonball-style. Mathias quips, "Not anymore".
  • The preview for Survival Family includes the city-dwelling father celebrating finding water for his family by taking a long drink from a river and exclaiming how wonderful it tastes. Cut to later that night, as he's crouched in the long grass suffering the results of his decision.
  • The catastrophic TV-movie Thirst averts this. The water contaminated with Cryptosporidium parasite looks no different from safe water, though symptoms and consequences are quite different from Real Life.
  • Parodied in the Jackie Chan film The Tuxedo. The film opens with a shot of a "pure" mountain stream, and then shows a deer urinating in it. We then follow the water downstream where it is bottled by a water company; the Big Bad of the movie.
  • In The Way Back (2010), the characters spend most of their time trekking through the wilderness and drink unpurified water all the time with no ill effects. Semi-justified in that they're far away from any man-made pollutants, and since most of them came from a gulag, it was probably much less contaminated than what they were used to drinking.

  • There's a story about a king who went on a hunting trip with his hunting falcon. Separated from the rest of his party, he managed to find a spot where water dripped from the rocks. He collected a cup of it, but just when he went to drink, the falcon shook his wings and knocked it from the king's hand. When this happens for the third time, the king, enraged, kills his falcon; just then, his retainers find him. Not having the patience to sit through another slow collection, the king sends one of his retainers up to collect water from upstream - but the man finds a dead serpent in the water, and comes down to offer the king water from a canteen. (Aesop says: Avoid rash action, since you probably don't see the whole picture.) Of course, this trope applies all too well: The water was assumed pure until an actual dead thing was found in it, and had that thing not been there, it is probable that harm would have befallen the drinkers.
    • There is a version in the Arabian Nights where the water was dripping from a tree, and when the retainer went to collect it he found out that the "water" was actually venom and the tree was full of live vipers. Snake venom is actually not toxic to drink, but you certainly wouldn't want to drink it thinking it was water. (Or get that close to a tree full of live vipers.)
    • You don't want to drink snake venom if you, say, have a stomach ulcer. Although the snake venom being poisonous only in the bloodstream is a relatively new scientific discovery.
    • This was also used in Between the Lions to the story "A King and His Hawk", and to make this even sadder not too long after moving on his kingdom was very close so the King killed his Hawk for nothing.
  • In Death or Glory, the Imperial aqueduct in Prosperity Wells was full of clear, cool water ... but since Prosperity Wells was full of Orks, Cain and Jurgen stick with the water in their canteens rather than risk finding out the hard way what the Orks might have dropped in the aqueduct. (Cain admits that wading hip-deep in the aqueduct to get across town might have been risky, but it provided concealment and minimised the desert heat so he was willing to take the chance.) Later in the book his party does partake in a desert oasis, but their local guide vouches for it and it was that or die of dehydration.
  • A beautiful subversion (of course) in Discworld: an explorer has spent his life (ironically) searching uncharted jungles for the Fountain of Youth, only to drink from it and die from water contamination.
    • Also a footnote in Reaper Man notes that animals living in water is no guarantee that the water is safe to drink since they probably don't get out to go to the bathroom.
    • In another subversion, Ponder Stibbons once shows the Archchancellor some water from the river Ankh under a microscope to show how much stuff is living in it. Ridcully declares that anything supporting that much life must be healthy.
    • Despite the fact that you can draw a chalk outline on the river Ankh, many of the city's residents are convinced it must be safe to drink because it's passed through so many kidneys. There are fish that have evolved to survive in the Ankh, but they tend to explode when exposed to fresh water or air.
  • Used very sadly in the The Edge Chronicles as Rook discovers when he meets Twig and discovers that his plan to save his crew at River-rise failed because a crew member got water from a still pond, killing everyone except Twig, who was sick for a week and couldn't even clear the bodies from his ship.
  • The Freeway Warrior adventure books acknowledge the need for drinking safe water. Part of Cal Phoenix's Fieldcraft skill training involves identification of safe water sources, Water Purification Tablets can be found, and Medkit supplies are often stated by the text to contain more water purification tablets. On top of that, the primary sources of water in the books are from water tanks and the surviving colonist's water supplies.
  • In The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, Trisha drinks some Cool Clear Water when she runs out of her bottled water. It causes a severe bout of vomiting and diarrhea, although she luckily manages to get over it relatively quickly. Less fortunately, that appears to be because it weakened her system enough that she got a worse illness, and her body just gave up on purging the toxins.
  • Played painfully straight in PC Cast's Goddess by Mistake, in which Shannon (a person from our world, trapped in a fantasy-esque land) drinks from a river constantly and doesn't so much as suffer an upset stomach. Of course, given what kind of place the land she's in is like, this could possibly be handwaved as A Wizard Did It.
  • Averted in The Hunger Games, Katniss always fills her water bottle, puts purifying drops in it, and waits half an hour before drinking it. Even when she was about to die from thirst.
  • Johannes Cabal the Detective: One pristine mountain spring owes its clarity to the fact that it's unholy water running from the tomb of an evil archmage. It gives some nasty soul pains to the one man foolish enough to drink it despite the total lack of plant life near its banks.
  • Downplayed in The Lord of the Rings, when Frodo and Sam are entering Mordor. Sam comments that they will not find water to drink since orcs probably drink poison as water. Frodo responds that as foul as orcs are, they surely cannot live on poison, so he fills their water packs with the brownish water the orcs drink. Although it does taste foul and sicken them a little, it also helps them on their way.
    • Averted earlier in Moria: Gandalf says that while there are water streams in Moria, some of them clean, this water is not safe for drinking, so they have to conserve water supply.
    • Also averted earlier in Ithilien, as Faramir warns Frodo and Sam of drinking from any stream that flows from Imlad Morgul, the Valley of the Living Death.
  • One The Magic School Bus book dealing with the water system specifically pointed out that a clear-looking glass of water might still have germs and other yucky stuff in it, hence the need for filtration. This includes the MSB class themselves, who have to get out and walk around the filters.
  • In Marcovaldo by Italo Calvino, Marcovaldo is tempted to go fishing in a particular stretch because it looks so beautifully blue. He later discovers the blue colour is due to contamination from the paint factory.
  • Averted in The Overstory. Douglas thinks to himself how bad an idea it is to drink from a certain natural body of water, despite it looking perfectly beautiful and clear.
  • Played straight in Redwall, where characters frequently drink from streams, and the trope name is outright used for description. Semi-justified in that the characters are anthropomorphic animals.
  • Both subverted and played straight in Running Out of Time. Jessie, feeling thirsty after escaping from her fake 1840's village, stops to take a drink from water flowing through a ditch. An environmentalist stops her in time, telling her that despite the water's pristine appearance, it's nowhere near safe to drink. However, this also implies that Jessie's been able to drink from rivers back home with no ill effect. Of course, the rivers back home had been artificial so it would have been treated anyway.
  • Averted in The Stand, where no one would drink water without boiling it for most of the book, either while they were camping in the woods or after they hit their destination due to the sanitation systems being out of commission along with everything else after the plague. The only thing attempted with the stream while Stu's party is camping is fishing.
  • Survivors:
    • Subverted in an early book. The Leashed Dogs come across a foul-smelling river covered in rainbow sludge. After it rains, it looks like all the toxicity is gone. They swim in it and Bruno drinks from it... A few moments later he's on the floor choking and foaming at the mouth because the water actually wasn't at clean as it looked.
    • In The Endless Lake, the dogs come across a huge lake. They think all their problems are solved but drinking from it proves otherwise. It's relatively clean water but it's salt water. The titular "endless lake" is actually an ocean.
  • Averted a little differently in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. The main characters happen upon a pool of clear water that just so happens to be magical and turns anything in it into gold. Including the poor schmuck who went for a swim. Caspian decides to name the place Deathwater Island.
  • In The Wolfhound's prequel novel The Ultimate Stone, set during the Wolfhound's Jewel Mountains time, a group of kinda runaway slaves (it's a long story) find the body of a boy miner, for decades a subject of the Urban Legend, on an island in a cave lake, surrounded by the incredibly clear, azure and glowing water, perfectly preserved as if he's actually alive. It is heavily implied that the lake is highly radioactive, and the blue light is a Cherenkov radiation.
  • In the Clive Cussler novel The Wrecker, set in 1907, a temperance group tries to demonstrate how dangerous alcohol is by showing how a few drops of alcohol can kill all the various microbes living in a small container of water. The audience, seeing how many things were living in their well water, resolve to never touch it again.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The 4400: Used to prove a point. One of Collier's followers uses her power to clean a local, infamously dirty river. Collier drinks out of it to demonstrate that it really is clean.
  • On Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., when Simmons is stranded on a desolate but sustaining planet, she encounters a small pool of water and gulps handfuls of it without remotely caring what might be in it. To be fair, she was dying of thirst at the time, and while something in the water does try to kill her, it was in a more direct external manner (Simmons wins and has dinner for the night).
  • Blake's 7.
  • The Daily Show with Trevor Noah had a segment on "raw water," unprocessed water collected from a spring on a trail somewhere. A public health expert states that drinking from streams risks exposure to what correspondent Desi Lydic sums up as, "All The Oregon Trail diseases." It ends with the inevitable "Desi has dysentery" graphic.
  • Played with in the Disney version of Davy Crockett. On the way to the Texas, Davy's and his companion George Russell come across a brackish pond with what looks like white algae growing on it. Crockett says to Russell that the water looks suspect, but Russell states "I don't care, it's WET."
  • In Escape at Dannemora, escaped prisoner Sweat tries to warn his fellow escapee Matt from drinking from a mountain stream to no avail: Matt later suffers crippling diarrhea.
  • Deconstructed on Good Eats. Alton explains that just because surface water looks clean (like in beer commercials, for example), doesn't mean it actually is clean. In fact, more often than not, it isn't, because animals leave droppings near the water source, runoff from farms and even people's lawns can get into the water supply, and sometimes Corrupt Corporate Executives allow chemical waste to be dumped in or near the river (whether it's legal or not). Water treatment plants usually take care of the problem. As for ground water and how clean it is, that depends on how close to the surface it is. The higher up it is, the more likely it is to be contaminated. If, however, it's under bedrock and filtered through sediment, it almost always really is this trope.
  • An episode of Hawaii Five-0 has an escaped convict with a couple of hostages stop to drink from a stream in a Hawaiian rain forest. Shortly after McGarrett and Chin come across the same stream, and McGarrett starts to take a drink, only to have Chin stop him and tell him the water is infested with parasites and will make him very sick, very quickly. Cut to convict and hostages... Normally it would be completely out of character for McGarrett, a Navy SEAL who grew up on the Island, to make such a rookie mistake. It can be explained by the writers having to rewrite the episode to include Scott Cann's real-life leg injury. Since Danno couldn't have helped chase down the escapee and hostages using a cane in the rain forest, Chin accompanied McGarrett. The writers had to explain the sudden illness of the escapee and hostages, so that was left in with Chin, correcting McGarrett.
  • Defied in Lois & Clark. Clark and Lois ended up stranded on a deserted island and Lois was about to drink from a pond. Clark used his microscopic vision on the water and saw that it had bacteria. He suggested that Lois try to drink somewhere else. The pond had been deliberately contaminated by the Villain of the Week, and Clark "finds" a better source of water by punching a hole in a nearby rock to produce an instant spring.
  • Lost plays this straight as a die. Running out of bottled water? Find the nearest available cavern with water in it. Totally safe. As the water on that specific Island turned out to have magical healing powers, it may be justified.
  • An episode of Monk had friends managing to convince a dehydrated Monk to drink from a stream. For once, Monk's paranoia may have been justified. That being said, he'd gain nothing from dying of dehydration because he was afraid of catching a waterborne disease. Kind of a damned if you do, damned if you don't situation.
  • Subversions often appear up in medical-themed reality shows. Shows like Monsters Inside Of Me and Mystery Diagnosis have more than one episode about someone swimming in a lake and contracting a deadly illness.
  • Explained in an episode of MythBusters: during Duct Tape Island, Adam and Jamie try to find water and Jamie tells Adam that the first water source they find is actually stagnant and isn't usable. Adam follows one of the safer examples of the trope later when he finds a running waterfall that goes over a large moss bed into a stream, but chooses to make the effort to collect the falling water instead of the water that's at the lower level of the stream where he is.
  • Most teams on Naked and Afraid choose a fire-making tool as one team member's single chosen survival item, and a few choose a watertight container or cooking pot as the other member's, specifically so they can boil water.
  • Being based on Real Life (sort of), this pops up in Survivor - finding water is one of the most important bits, and usually they know not to drink stagnant water.
  • Likewise, Survivorman averts this and frequently mentions this trope when in places like Montana or other areas with clear, apparently clean streams. Though sometimes he still ends up drinking muddy water with no filtration besides his bandana. Because of this, Les often wound up in the hospital being treated for illnesses or parasites he contracted while filming an episode where he did this.

  • Played straight in the Marty Robbins song "Five Brothers" which contains the line: "When first they saw the killer he was by a water hole, five rifles rang out through the night and killed the gambler cold/ The desert is their keeper now for this a traveler said, the poison lived within the well now six of them are dead"

  • Averted in The Whistler episode "Death Has a Thirst." The characters get stranded on a desert island, and when some of them go exploring for water sources, they carry a test kit to detect unsafe levels of arsenic and zinc. Every source they test turns out to be contaminated. One character, who has already exhibited paranoid behavior, is reluctant to believe that the water is poisonous (since after all, it looks fine); he thinks the others are trying to make him die of thirst.

    Video Games 
  • Played straight to an extreme in ARK: Survival Evolved: water in ponds and streams is drinkable. Water in caves full of spiders is drinkable. Water in the ocean is drinkable, and does not need desalination. Water in a murky bog full of diseased leeches is drinkable, and will not give you swamp fever. Water in the fatally-irradiated caves of Aberration is... you get the picture. The ocean case is lampshaded by Helena's notes on the Island, and is one of her clues that the Island is an artificial environment.
    • In Genesis 2, you can find a sump system at the bottom of the "ocean".
  • Averted in the Atelier Series. You can find Fresh Water everywhere... but you only get it to a usable Pure Water state (which can, among other uses, be used for food or consumed for some hit points) if processed.
  • Averted in the mod for Battlezone II: Combat Commander, Forgotten Enemies, one of the planets, Spartacus has trace amounts of arsenic in its water despite looking clear in the missions and actually, has been wearing down on the filters that the EDF relied on. Corber mentions in one of the monologues that one of his fellow infantry men drank some of the unpurified water and died about an hour later.
  • In Cataclysm, water has to be boiled or otherwise purified to avoid sickness. The water source also affects the relative odds of getting ill, with an indoor pool or even river being a cleaner source than drinking out of a toilet.
  • In Conquests of Camelot, at one point Arthur has to traverse a desert. Partway through, his guide stops at a pool and encourages him to rest and drink up. Sharp-eyed players might notice a few suspicious clues, such as an animal skeleton nearby, your mule refusing to drink, and the guide likewise abstaining. Take a drink anyway and you're treated to a Have a Nice Death scene with the guide looting Arthur's corpse.
  • The Dark Cloud and Dark Chronicle games feature Springs in the Randomly Generated Levels which can both quench the character's thirst and replenish their HP. These springs can occur in the Sewers, in the middle of a Forest, in underground grottoes, in cliffside caves, in volcanic hot springs, and in palace fountains. At least the ones in volcanoes are boiled... never mind the acidity.
  • In Dwarf Fortress, water which you can't see anything in is drinkable, but "murky" water, generally found in places without running water, isn't.
    • DF is still rather odd about this (as of 31.18). One level of standing water (or 7/7 units) will be stagnant and spread mud and can't be filtered any number of pumps, but a well over it will yield pure water. Any water level 8/7 or higher will also be pure. Also, toxins won't spread from their tile, so the corpse of a poison-bleeding creature will poison a tile for at least a game year, but the water flowing from it will still be safe.
    • Subverted in that water, while drinkable, is not an appropriate beverage for dwarves. Water is for all sorts of neat tricks, but dwarves who drink water become unhappy because it does not contain alcohol. It is a wonder that this game allows dwarves to even think of manufacturing waterskins that cannot be filled with alcoholic drink... a problem the Syrupleaf Let's Play ran into, incidentally. This has since been rectified, though you can still order your soldiers to only carry water if you really want to.
    • Incidentally, polluted water won't actually harm your dwarves if they drink it, just cause an additional morale penalty. Washing an injured dwarf's wound out with it is another matter And Armok help you if you get vampire blood in it!
  • Averted in Fallout, where a survival manual directly states that in this high-radiation, post-nuclear setting, clear water—especially if it's not running water—is most likely radioactive and should be avoided. When you consider the background radiation is high enough to produce irradiated rats the size of a man and irradiated scorpions that are bigger, this is probably good advice. Fallout 3 goes out of its way to warn you of this fact, as short of the major rivers, virtually any outdoor water pool has rising brown steam. Most still water sources like toilets and sinks are irradiated and there's even cults that consider irradiated water to be holy. Nothing stops you from drinking the water, and it does give a small amount of health back... but this game tracks your radiation poisoning (the higher it gets, the higher the stat penalties, and if it maxes out you die), and drinking the water will give you rads with each sip.
    • Averted even further by DLC Broken Steel. If you activated purifier and put Modified FEV into it given to you by the Enclave President, the water from it will look no different but the hospitals in entire Wasteland will fill with people sick from it. If you drink it, it will decrease your statistics, and big enough consumption will kill you.
  • Deconstructed in Fallout: New Vegas. You can drink the water straight out of the Colorado River, which is clean and not irradiated, with no ill effects. This, along with the Hoover Dam, makes the New Vegas stretch of the Colorado a natural resource the NCR and the Legion are willing to spend nearly any amount of money and lives to control.
  • Ponds in The Forest are filled with polluted water, which will damage your character's health and possibly make them sick. You can only obtain safe drinking water by catching rain in a water collector or boiling pond water.
  • Most water sources in Grounded, such as the koi pond and various muddy puddles, are labeled "nasty water" and will damage the player's hunger meter if drunk. The preferred alternatives are dewdrops and other condensation, or juice/soda from discarded juice boxes and soda cans.
  • Alluded to in Golden Sun; as he's leaving home Garet's siblings remind him not to drink from stagnant ponds, to which he replies indignantly that he knows that already. Subverted in that the only sources for water your characters actually drink (the oases in the Lamakan Desert are apparently just for frolicking in) are the Fountain of Hermes in the first game and the Lemurian fountain in the second, both of which explicitly have healing properties and are purified by Alchemy.
  • In Half-Life 2, you are advised against drinking the water, because the Combine put Brain Bleach in it.
  • To get through the desert in King's Quest V: Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder!, Graham will have to drink straight from the various oases scattered across the landscape (and can also get a drink from an abandoned well in the same area). The narrator comments "Ah! Life-giving water! Nectar of the gods!"
  • In Long Live the Queen, there is background lore detailing this trope if the main character chooses to invest in the Lore stat. It reads as follows: "A Lumen once tried to lift the curse from an enchanted spring whose water was poisonous and glowed green. After dispelling the magic, she tasted the water and fell dead - the green glow was a not a curse, but a spell placed by a Lumen long before to warn everyone away from the spring's natural poison."
  • In Lost in Blue, at the beginning of the game, there's a freshwater river that has fish swimming in it, and your character comments that it looks safe to drink. There's also a small hole in a temple you have to go through that is apparently safe to drink from.
  • Mass Effect: Andromeda: The pools of water on Kadara are a clear, tantalisingly inviting blue. They are also completely full of sulphur. Drinking them is not recommended, and before Ryder fixes the malfunctioning terraforming tech on the planet, even touching it burns straight through their armor.
    Nakmor Drack: I bet I could drink it...
    Dr. Lexi T'Perro: No, Drack, no.
  • Played with in Mother 3: there are hot springs scattered all over the world which automatically restore all Hit Points and Mana. There is one, however, that the party encounters while tripping on wild mushrooms that turns out to be a garbage-filled cesspool if they revisit it sober. Weird thing is, when your party thinks it's a hot spring, it functions just like a regular spring, making this a Clap Your Hands If You Believe variant on this trope.
    • Of course, while you're tripping balls, Boney will stay clear of the "hot spring" altogether, on top of regularly barking when you approach the "people". Reason? Boney didn't eat the 'shrooms.
    • In chapter three, Fassad and Salsa can visit a desert oasis guarded by a dung beetle (appropriately named Wan Sum Dung.) When the water is first approached, it's sparkling with freshness and heals Salsa up. After giving the beetle some dung... the water still sparkles, though it now smells "dung-like".
  • Though one doesn't get to do this, in The Oregon Trail series from II and on has a woman warn not to dig a waterhole, commenting her husband died because of Cholera from it. Also the draft animals often get ill from still ponds due to Alkali Poisoning - often stating if one must drink the water, it should be moving water.
    • And your party members can also get "water poisoning" as well as "alkali sickness".
  • Prince of Persia:
    • For a guy who lives in a desert, the Prince has absolutely no qualms about drinking out of ANY water supply in Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. (Semi-justified in that most of the time, he's drinking out of fountains, but still.)
    • In Prince of Persia: Warrior Within, he's drinking from fountains again, except some of those fountains are in a castle that has been abandoned for an extended period and the stone has grown old, broken down, and covered with moss and plants. Admittedly, the water is clear and running, and the castle does turn out to have an aquifer. However, he has no qualms with drinking sea water, either.
    • Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones changes it to just about any body of water, but still mostly fountains. Of course, being set in Babylon, just about all the water needs to be drinkable, and the Prince drinks from places he can reasonably assume has clean water, especially since he claims to have extensive knowledge of the city.
  • In Sunset Overdrive, You give Dirk “Bora-Bora water” a luxury water brand that includes among others dissolved solids, Pathogens, Reversed reverse osmodified goats milk, MSG, MGS, MMSGSSM, and A shot of whisky “for flavor”.
  • In We Happy Few the water in the village water supply is spiked with the powerful anti-depressant 'Joy'. It's not bad if you don't mind taking Joy, but not so good when you consider withdrawal from Joy - and the risk of overdose. However, Tea brewed with village water used to be spiked with Joy but this was altered in a patch. Water from outside of the village is fine so that the Wastrels who are allergic to Joy can still drink it.


    Web Original 
  • In “Tips To Write Better & More Believable Cover-Ups” on Springhole, Syera notes this trope is part of the reason BP was able to successfully avoid too much of a scandal after the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. With the water looking clear, it’s enough for most tourists to think it’s safe.

    Western Animation 
  • The WC Fields quote is delivered by Reggie Thistleton in a flashback from Woodhouse on Archer.
  • Directly averted in an episode of Captain Planet. Kwame at one point drinks a bottle full of river water, unaware Wheeler didn't boil the water thoroughly. Sure enough, the water is bad (Dr. Blight and Sly Sludge were operating a sewage dumping operation just upstream) and the other Planeteers have to go on a "Fantastic Voyage" Plot to blast the parasites from inside his body. The episode had an And Knowing Is Half the Battle at the end addressing this and teaching viewers how to purify water.
  • Despite her love for camping, Sam of Danny Phantom apparently doesn't know or follow this trope; as she (and Danny) easily fill their bottles with water from a lake they found.
  • Subverted and Played for Laughs in Futurama, where in an episode where everyone is camping in the woods, Leela wakes up and starts the morning by heading to the river to get a drink. While it seems like she's mentioning how there's nothing more refreshing than the fresh flowing water from the river, she reaches into the water to pull out a 6-pack of Canadian beer.
  • Stimpy from The Ren & Stimpy Show tells Ren not to drink the Cool Clear Water on a camping trip, because Ren will get beaver fever. The difference is the cartoon's version of the disease literally turns you into a beaver.
  • An aversion, find their way into Rocko's Modern Life. The gang goes on a camping trip and Filburt refuses to drink from the stream water because "fish are dating in it."

    Real Life 
  • During the The American Civil War, the civilian Sanitary Commission had a nightmare of a time trying to get volunteer units (which made up the bulk of the Union Army) to get their drinking water upstream of the latrines.
  • People have not been drinking pure water for very long. Much of the Western world drank smallbeer (high-calorie beer with very low alcohol content). The major part of the purification process when making beer, however, does not come from the alcohol, but from the first stage in brewing, which is boiling water. On a side note, most rural people who drink water nowadays draw from an aquifer, which is always cool, clear water, albeit with a mineral-y taste.
    • For this reason, beer has been the staple drink since the beginning of civilisation. One of the oldest clay tablets ever found in Mesopotamia was a payment of beer, showing its importance in the life of Mestopotamia.
    • A more recent example of beer being safer than untreated water (which in fact was documented as proof of it) occurred during the Broad Street Pump Cholera Outbreak in the 19th century, where the local brewery managed to avoid losing any workers to the disease due to the fact that their workers got an allowance of free beer as a perk and so didn't drink any water. To complete the circle, there's now a Pub close to the site of the old pump, named the John Snow in honour of the Doctor who identified the pump as being the source of the outbreak.
    • While not all cultures relied on alcohol to make drinking water safe, those that didn't generally had another method. China's tea obsession being a good example since boiling kills most things, plus tea is an antiseptic.
    • Tea, and even more, coffee, were what Muslims drank since alcohol was forbidden (although only-slightly-alcoholic beverages were often permitted, as well).
  • New York City's water supply system uses no active treatment. Protected natural watersheds supplying well-designed reservoirs allow the water to flow directly from the collection point to the tap without any additional intervention such as filtration or chlorination. Most consumer problems with NYC Water is a result of the "last mile" pipes in the local buildings, which are of uneven quality.
  • Similarly the city of Seattle takes most of its water from the Cedar River, whose watershed is fenced off from any human encroachment (the fence around the watershed encloses more land area than Seattle proper). The Cedar River system is one of a handful of water supplies certified to operate without filtration.
  • The existence of moss often means that a water supply it's in is slightly safer than one it's not. While moss is a primitive water filter at best, it will filter some of the worst contaminants (specifically visible worms such as roundworms and hookworms), and its presence as living plant material generally means the absence of the most immediately lethal poisons or extreme radioactivity.
  • In East Carpathia it is generally safe to drink any water which hasn't yet run through a pasture or other agriculturally used area. Some fountains contain a lot of sulphur and other minerals, some even have a dark rusty colour, strong smell, and funny taste, they are still very healthy.
  • While lots of water in contact with volcanic activity (not necessarily an actual volcano) tend to have too many sulphuric compounds to be safe to drink, lots are actually OK to drink and may be safer than other water in the area, since its content can limit the species able to survive there. However, this is not something to take as a good pointer towards possibly safe water - the safe ones are probably much rarer than the really, really dangerous ones.
  • The Ozark mountains are full of all kinds of stuff that can help the wise and hinder the unproven. Water flowing over 'mossy' waterfall, sometimes flowing down clumps of moss hanging 20 feet or more, is perfectly safe to drink, no matter what's up river. The river water, on the other hand, is full of leeches and rotting leaves. The well and spring water is most interesting, as it has enough sulphur to be nasty tasting, but not enough to harm you. It just gives you terrible B.O. and makes you unattractive to biting insects (and most humans) after about 3 days of regular consumption.
  • Most parasites that animals get are waterborne, like giardia which infects 98% of whitetail deer.
  • Subverted in extreme survival situations, when no alternative water source is available. Thirst can kill you even faster than contaminants, and most waterborne ailments are treatable if you make it back to civilisation. The general rule is that you should only drink unfiltered water if you are absolutely going to die without it.
  • With still water in nature, cloudy water with algae is usually much safer, particularly in deserts. If there's water that isn't moving and doesn't look like it has life in it, there's usually some poisonous reason why, particularly in regions where most life latches onto any available moisture.
  • Many ancient cultures like Rome, Greece, and Egypt knew about water purification and writings explaining various methods have been found dating back to 2000 BC (sand and gravel filtration, boiling, straining, building massive aqueducts, etc.). Several ancient civilizations even had running water (Rome, the Minoans, etc.) and bathed regularly.
  • The city of Bath in the UK was founded on a number of hot springs nearby, but even bathing was prohibited for nearly 30 years after one of the springs was found to contain a waterborne parasite.
  • Spelunkers exploring deep into "living" limestone caves often find that the water in underground pools is as pure and drinkable as it gets, provided bats haven't been roosting over it.
  • Similar to the cave entry above, the cenotes of South America (limestone sinkholes) actually do follow this trope. Since the limestone naturally filters the groundwater before it reaches the surface, it is remarkably clear and pure.
  • Near the Dainichi Temple of Japan, there is a holy spring with extremely clear water. This clear water contains arsenic! It's the reason why the sokushinbutsu, the self-mummifying (tantric/shingon-shu) Buddhists of the Dainichi Temple were so extremely successful with their mummification - unlike other locations - because arsenic can't be degraded after death, so the corpses stay free of parasites and insects.
    • In addition, arsenic (and various other heavy metals, including silver, mercury, and lead) are antibacterial, which would have helped the mummification process by killing off decomposition-causing microorganisms.
  • Many "ultralight" campers and hikers will drink water from mountain rivers and streams, forgoing the weight and inconvenience of filters and purification chemicals. Whilst it is true that most waterborne pollution and disease comes from human habitation and agriculture (especially the nastiest kinds, heavy metals and viruses that can't be simply filtered out), even small fast-flowing streams in high mountains are not guaranteed to be safe. The odds of picking up something nasty are just low enough that the trend persists, but over the years the official advice has gone from being along the lines of "clear running water above a certain altitude is probably safe" to being more like "no matter where it comes from, always filter and/or treat it, and boil it as well if you have the time". Waterborne illnesses can be very unpleasant even with full access to modern medicine; in the middle of a long hike in wild country, they can very easily take a turn for the lethal.
  • Played straight by hobby aquariums. Since algae live on the waste fish produce, if the aquarium is full of algae, it’s a sign that the tank is overstocked and the fish won’t last much longer.
    • Inverted in that sometimes algae growth helps to absorb the waste, protecting the fish. In severe cases, removing the algae without solving the root problem can cause the waste levels to spike and crash the tank. Some reef aquarists even use macroalgae as a secondary (or even primary) filter.
  • Averted in Rome. There are fountains all over the place, and even the ones that don't look like drinking fountains are perfectly safe to drink.
  • Also averted in Iceland. If you're not in an area with lots of geothermal activity, it's perfectly safe to drink directly from the rivers and lakes.
  • The Firth River (not the one in Scotland) rises from glacial melt in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, then flows across the Canadian border into Yukon's Ivvavik National Park to the Beaufort Sea. There are no human habitations anywhere near it along its entire length of approximately 120 miles. The limited amount of whitewater rafters allowed to run trips down it every short Arctic summer all drink its unfiltered water without any ill effects.
  • Most of the lakes in the Austrian and Swiss Alps have drinking water quality, and large regions of the countries draw their drinking water from alpine springs.
  • During the Gulf War, British SAS member Chris Ryan became very ill for drinking seemingly clean water contaminated by nuclear waste in Iraq, when fleeing the country alone after the death or capture of the other members of his squad.
  • Zigzagged in Sweden where in the fjällen-areas (the mountain areas in the northwest of Sweden) the clear water is most likely safe to drink. In other places, you should not drink from or even swim in clear lakes since those lakes are often sour. Healthy lakes are instead often dark/brown due to humus particles from the surrounding woods (humus-particles can't be solved in sour water and just sinks to the bottom).
  • This trope is one of the reasons The UK Armed Forces sometimes come off as a bit obsessed with procuring tea in the field; tea acts as a mild antiseptic on top of the sterilising effect of boiling the water.
  • An example of why this trope does not reflect reality is Harpur Hill quarry in Derbyshire, which, after a some decades of disuse, has filled with beautiful, clear, blue water which, due to caustic chemicals in the quarry stone has a pH of 11.3, which is roughly the level of bleach. Despite warning signs, people kept swimming in the "blue lagoon" (blue and clear due to its toxicity) and developing skin complaints and worse. Eventually, the local authority resorted to dyeing the entire place black to deter people.
  • Just like the example above, there's a beautiful lake in the mount Neme, in the northern region of Galicia in Spain. It has gained fame amongst influencers because of its intensely turquoise water. Of course, this colour is caused because the "lake" is actually a flood that covers an old tungsten mine, making the water dangerous to drink and corrosive to the touch.
  • While not (usually) life-threatening, long-term drinking of unfiltered water in the south-eastern United States (particularly Virginia and the Carolinas) is linked to the highest occurrences of Kidney Stones in the nation. It is believed to be caused by the region's mineral-rich hard water, which has earned it the nickname the "Kidney Stone Belt". People with renal disease or other kidney problems are heavily encouraged to invest in a water filter system or drink bottled water.
  • Water which is 100% clear, in other words distilled, is actually quite harmful to life including humans if drunk in excess. Small doses are safe, but drinking solely distilled water can cause a lack of necessary electrolytes and/or cause water intoxication, which may be fatal.
  • In regions without the infrastructure for clean water they often take what they can get. Lifestraw was developed by Swiss company Vestergaard as a cheaper, quicker alternative to boiling and chemical treatment; all you need to do is stick one end in a dirty-looking puddle or stream and slurp it up at the other end. While it won't remove chemical contaminants it will filter out the nasties that cause diarrhea, one of the top killers of children in developing countries.
  • Deconstructed in this Public Service Announcement from Global Health Media. Just because the water looks clean, doesn't mean it is. It's also why open defecation is not a good idea, and why purification methods (sari-filtering, boiling, chlorination) are crucial in places where running water is rare to nonexistent.
  • Inverted by glacial meltwater, which is generally safe to drink, yet looks cloudy due to particles of "rock flour": minute fragments of stone, ground to a fine powder by the glacier's slow crawl over bedrock. Filtering out such pulverized minerals is often done for aesthetic reasons, but it won't hurt you to drink the stuff.
  • At the beginning of COVID-19 Pandemic lockdowns in March 2020, people in Venice noticed that the water in the canals was not murky anymore, to the point that the riverbeds were visible. Local authorities noted that this was because the gondoliers weren't stirring up the mud in the waters with their oars — and that while the water looked clearer, it wasn't necessarily cleaner, as there were still many invisible contaminants in the canals. All that stuff merely settled on the bottom, and regardless of its opacity, it's still as salty as it's always been, hence why artesian wells are used to supply the city with fresh water.