Industry: Away from the Tap

Before Cape Kennedy technicians fire a space vehicle at the moon nowadays, much of its inner workings has been washed in distilled water. Southern California orchid growers give their plants water supplied by bottlers because the chlorinated stuff that comes out of taps wilts the delicate flowers. Across the U.S., the growing pollution of water supplies and the increasing sophistication of manufacturing processes have uncorked a surprising industrial market for companies whose traditional field is supplying bottled water for homes and office coolers.

A decade ago, industrial uses provided almost no income for the nation's 500 water bottlers. Today, jet...