I look at the 8.6 billion bottles of water Americans consumed in 2008 as an opportunity that many plumbing contractors should cash in on by providing their customers with clean, good-tasting drinking water right from their tap. I freely admit to being an early skeptic of the bottled-water movement.

By the time I was a teenager, I had worked several part-time jobs at my dad’s dry-cleaning shop. These included changing the 5-gallon jugs in the employees’ water cooler.

Believe me, this is an important task in a dry-cleaning plant, especially in the summer. On the rare occasions when we ran out of full jugs, my dad’s foreman would take an empty jug into the boiler room after hours and fill it from a black rubber hose.

“If they’re thirsty,” he’d say with a smile, “they won’t know the difference.”

Who knew water coming from the hose underwent more government scrutiny than water in bottles fresh off the delivery truck? At least that would be the case today, according to congressional hearings July 8.

Every year since 1999, the federal government has required municipal water systems to distribute to consumers a report that discloses the name of their water source and any contaminants found in testing; the report also details potential health effects of those contaminants. In addition, the EPA requires suppliers of tap water to notify customers within 24 hours about contaminants that exceed federal levels.

Bottled-water companies face no such obligation from the Food and Drug Administration, which regulates the industry. The FDA does not make bottled water producers test water with certified laboratories as the EPA requires tap water suppliers to do.

Separate reports from the Government Accounting Office and an environmental research group question whether oversight of bottled water quality is sufficient, which prompted the hearings. Of the 188 bottled-water companies surveyed by the Environmental Working Group, only two provided information on their water’s source, treatment and quality tests, and one-third of the producers give no information at all on their bottles’ labels.

Now, if you missed the news of these hearings, that’s because many newspapers did not report on them. As this is my first column as editor of PM, I should let you know that I believe that one of our responsibilities is to bring you news about trends that consumer media may overlook.

We’ll keep you informed and publish feature stories of successful contractors who take advantage of opportunities in their market. And, we’ll serve as a forum for ideas where you can exchange your opinions with your colleagues in our community.

Whether it’s from a faucet or a bottle, quality drinking water remains a good example of a subject you should know about. Your customers buy and drink bottled water because they believe it’s healthier and safer than their tap water. If you can install and service the systems that allow them safe, good-tasting drinking water from their tap, then you’ve saved them the hassle of buying and transporting bottled water as well as disposing of the empties.

People still care about their health even in a down economy. Let your customers know that you’re the drinking water expert, and can even save them money on their bottled water bills.