(This article previously appeared on Grandparents.com.)
Americans gulp down 1 billion-plus glasses of tap water each day, so most of us likely know: All tap water is not created equal (as the residents of Toledo, Ohio have sadly seen).
Some mouthfuls taste mountain-spring fresh; others are all-out unsavory.
While government agencies regulate the safety of our public drinking water supply, the flavor profile is affected by various factors, mostly relating to the water's source and the treatment it receives. So whose H20 earns top honors for its thirst-quenching quaffability? Read on for the water taste-test winners from competitions across the country.
(MORE: Top 9 Places for Healing Waters)
Great American Taste Test
For over a decade, the National Rural Water Association (NRWA) has ranked tap waters from around the country. Its Great American Taste Test awards the top three for their overall taste, clarity and bouquet. "Judges tell me that the best-tasting water tastes 'pure,'" says water analyst Mike Keegan, of the Oklahoma-based NRWA. Other descriptors include "refreshing," "satisfying" and "tasty." Typical winners are also often characterized as "tasting good versus tasteless," he adds.
1st: Curtis, Neb.
2nd: Stansbury Park, Utah
3rd: Callaway County, Mo.
4th: Point Sebago Resort in Casco, Maine
5th: Shenandoah, Va.
All the winners boast long-time reputations as having excellent water. Keegan says their water comes from "deep, pristine and very old ground water sources."
Of the finalists, Curtis, Neb. was the only one that does not add chlorine to the water. "But they're all below the very rigorous federal standards for chemicals in their water," says Keegan. When a Utah Senator heard of Stansbury Park's win, he is reported to have asked for a shipment delivered to the U.S. Senate so he could make Jell-o from it.
Berkeley Springs International Water Tasting
Referred to as the "granddaddy of water tastings" by its perennial "Watermaster" Arthur von Wiesenberger, the Berkeley Springs competition accepts entrants from around the globe, which are rated for their appearance (it should be clear, or slightly opaque for glacial waters), aroma (there should be none), taste (it should taste clean), mouth feel (it should feel light), and aftertaste (it should leave you thirsty for more).
2014 Winners for Best Municipal Water:
Best in the World: Clearbrook, BC, Canada
Best in USA: Santa Ana, Calif.
2nd: Hamilton, Ohio
3rd: Greenwood, BC, Canada
4th (tie): Dickinson, N.D. and Montpelier, Ohio
5th: Emporia, Kansas
"Best of the Best" Tap Water Taste Test
Hosted by the American Water Works Association, this annual competition judges regional municipal water system winners from across the U.S. This year, Boston, Mass. nabbed first and second place honors.
1st: Boston Water and Sewer Commission (Boston, Mass.)
2nd: Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (Boston, Mass.)
3rd: City of Kalama, Wash. (which also won The People's Choice award, as determined by competition attendees)
What are they doing in Boston to make such delicious water? According to a NationalGeographic.com article, the secret lies in the city's watershed protection. As a result of legislation passed in 1985, the forest and preserved land that ring Beantown's source water are so stringently protected that the water requires minimal filtering and treatment before it hits municipal taps.
National Purdex Awards
Looking for a more objective evaluation of your tap water that goes beyond mere taste? Purdex is an independent research company focused on gathering and disseminating data on water purity. Using a proprietary algorithm known as the Purdex Score, the organization compares drinking-water test samples from more than 50,000 community water systems in the U.S. to the EPA's water-quality standards. The National Purdex Awards list the top three purest water systems in each of 41 U.S. states. Water is rated on a scale from 0 (the lowest) to 1,000 (the highest). Here are the cities on the leaderboard:
2013 Award Winners:
1st: Kaunakakai and Hilo, Hawaii (tied with a Purdex score of 933)
2nd: Carmichael and Grass Valley, Calif. and Portland and Caribou, Maine (tied at 929)
3rd: Oregon City and Mount Angel, Ore. (tied at 927)
4th: Fair Oaks, Calif. (922)
5th: Hudson and South Farmingdale, N.Y. (tied at 921)
How the Source And Treatment Affect Flavor
Unless you have your own well, tap water comes from two sources: surface water or ground water. Surface water comes from sources open to the atmosphere, like rivers, lakes and reservoirs; ground water originates from wells drilled into underground aquifers (which are geologic formations containing water). Smaller water systems are more likely to use ground water, while large-scale water supply systems depend more on surface water resources.
All tap water is treated to various extents, says Keegan, but that doesn't necessarily affect how people perceive the taste. Preferences "are very subjective," says Keegan.
Treatment processes can result in a unique taste or odor noticeable to some, but not to others. People whose water is not chlorinated claim it tastes better, "but it's really just an interesting observation, not any type of scientific correlation. Much of how people think and feel about the taste and quality of their water is mysterious," he admits.
Things like the type, age and condition of the infrastructure as well as the distribution system — the longer the water has to travel, the more it has to be treated — can impact taste as well. Plus, small amounts of some naturally occurring minerals improve the taste of drinking water and possibly offer some nutritional value.
Want to know about the drinking water quality where you live? Visit EPA.gov.
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