In 1992, we published four retrospective studies, conducted primarily within a single California county, which found higher spontaneous abortion rates among women who drank more tapwater than bottled water in early pregnancy. The current prospective study extends that investigation to other water systems. Pregnant women from three regions in California were interviewed during their first trimester. Multivariate analyses modeled the amount and type of water consumed at 8 weeks' gestation in each region in relation to spontaneous abortion rate. In Region I, which was within the previous study area, the adjusted odds ratio (OR) comparing high (> or = 6 glasses per day) consumption of cold tapwater with none was 2.17 [95% confidence interval (CI) = 1.22-3.87]. Furthermore, when women with high cold tapwater and no bottled water consumption were compared with those with high bottled water and no cold tapwater consumption, the adjusted odds ratio was 4.58 (95% CI = 1.97-10.64). Conversely, women with high bottled water consumption and no tapwater had a reduced rate of spontaneous abortion compared with those drinking tapwater and no bottled water (adjusted OR = 0.22; 95% CI = 0.09-0.51). Neither tap nor bottled water consumption altered the risk of spontaneous abortion in Regions II and III. Although controlling for age, prior spontaneous abortion, race, gestational age at interview, and weight somewhat strengthened the association in Region I, the distribution of these confounders did not vary appreciably across regions. This study confirms the association between cold tapwater and spontaneous abortion first seen in this county in 1980. If causal, the agent(s) is not ubiquitous but is likely to have been present in Region I for some time.