Cervantes bought her water from a vending machine. In recent years, such machines and water stores have popped up all over immigrant neighborhoods. Most consumers in these areas can't afford home delivery. Typically, the stores sell tap water purified by filtration systems that remove minute particles, including many minerals.
Customers often arrive with shopping carts loaded with empty five-gallon containers. They pay as much as 35 cents a gallon to fill them. Many customers are mothers with children who sometimes walk several blocks to fetch the water.
Water district officials express concern at these efforts to avoid drinking tap water.
They say poor immigrants spend scarce resources on something that could cost them very little.
A year's supply of drinking water for the average person--about 200 gallons--would cost about $50 if purchased in a store, said Richard Nagle, director of water quality at the Central and Western Basin Municipal Water District. The same 200 gallons from the tap, he said, costs only about 40 cents.
Officials also are concerned about misinformation spread by some unscrupulous water vendors who use scare tactics, such as telling people that tap water can place a family's health at risk.
Others point out that just because water is bottled, it isn't necessarily safe. A study in 1999 by an environmental group found that a third of 103 bottled water brands tested had impurities that exceeded some government or industry guideline.
"It's definitely buyer beware," said Eric Olson, a senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council, which produced the study.
Water filtration and bottled-water companies dispute those findings, however, and say their products are regulated and have never caused illnesses.
Will Endara, who heads Latino customer development at Chatsworth-based Multi-Pure Drinking Water Systems, said few Latinos are likely to switch to drinking tap water because they see the risks as too great.
"They care so much for their family," he said, "and they want to be sure they have the best water possible."
That's certainly the view of Garden Grove resident Guillermina Godinez, who said her family has not used tap water for drinking in at least 15 years. Her children, ages 12, 9 and 4, have never tasted tap water.
"They say it's safe to drink, but it has a chemical taste," Godinez said. "When we go to visit, if they don't have bottled water, my kids will drink soda instead if they're thirsty."
Times staff writers H.G. Reza and Robin Shulman contributed to this story.