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Water, Water Everywhere

July 1, 2009

It’s always nice to see when neighbors engage in a little healthy competition!

Tomorrow (Thursday, July 2), municipalities in Schenectady County will be competing for the title of Best Drinking Water in Schenectady County.  The Town of Rotterdam is the reigning champ, and will be defending its title against Niskayuna, Glenville, Duanesburg, Princetown, the Village of Scotia and the City of Schenectady.  The prize?  Bragging rights, and a trip to the regional competition for the chance to compete for the State finals held at the New York State Fair in Syracuse.

Last week, Albany County hosted its own contest among Albany, Latham, Bethlehem and the villages of Altamont and Green Island.  Latham emerged as the winner in that contest, and will go head to head against winners from Schenectady County and other counties in the regional semifinals.

If you want to cast your vote for the most delicious H2O in Schenectady County, head on down to the Downtown Farmers Market between the hours of 11am-1pm.  The downtown market is located on the corner of Jay Street and Liberty Street near City Hall.

Here’s my question: what taste components comprise a superior municipal water supply?

Take a sip of water; roll it over the tongue. Taste buds immediately begin firing off information to the brain about the liquid’s flavor. Is it salty? Earthy? Soft?   Listen in during a water-tasting contest and you might think that you are privy to a sampling from some of California’s best wine cellars. Clean. Silky. Brilliant. Not all drinking waters warrant these superlatives. For instance, if you had attended a recent water tasting in a southeastern city, you would have heard comments such as crude, with an edge … or like a taking a gulp from a swimming pool … while another judge remarked that a sample tasted like a guppy had swum in it.

That quote is from an article in the December 2001 issue of Aqueduct Magazine, a publication of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.  The article goes on to list a few of the things to look for in a quality drinking water:

  • The absence of sulphur or chlorine (sulphur is that rotten-egg smell, and everyone recognizes chlorine from the swimming pool)
  • For water to taste correctly on the palate, there must be certain minerals present. Potassium, magnesium, calcium and even small amounts of sodium give water its fullness. Water without these minerals (such as distilled water) tastes flat and dull
  • The right balance of those minerals: too many minerals and the water can taste metallic.  Too few, and you’ve got dull water
  • A “roundness” of flavor, again provided by those minerals.  Minerals such as potassium, magnesium, calcium and silica give water a softness.  “They give water roundness on the tongue as opposed to water produced by reverse osmosis, which oftentimes is bland tasting. Water should taste as if it had just been scooped from a running stream,” says Arthur von Wiesenberger, a Santa Barbara author of several water books and a trained water master.

There’s a lot more to water than meets the eye, apparently.  Want to conduct your own water tasting?  Here’s what you need to know.

Which brings up the larger question of our personal sources and containers for drinking water.

Of course we all know that water has of late achieved its own kind of snobbery – Evian, Fuji, SmartWater, and those restaurants that maintain “Water Lists” and employ “Water Sommeliers” (yes, I’m serious).  Municipal drinking water is most assuredly not in the same category as these upscale waters.  But why not?  There is absolutely nothing wrong with municipal drinking water – in fact, many brands of  “purified drinking water” are actually taken from municipal supplies.  Just check the bottle – you’ll see that I’m right!

Our local Coca-Cola bottling plant fills its Dasani bottles with water from that award-winning Latham water supply!  They “purify” the water through reverse osmosis (removing the minerals), and then add back a proprietary blend of minerals, so that every bottle of Dasani tastes the same, no matter where you buy it.  Don’t believe me?  Check out Dasani’s website.

This subterfuge does not apply to spring water, which is exactly what it says it is: sourced from a spring.

Personally, I have made the decision to stop using bottled water (too much PET plastic, which is a peteroleum-drived product) and instead fill my stainless-steel water bottle from my fridge.  Clifton Park water tastes just fine to me.  One small step…but others are making bigger ones.

  • Always at the cutting edge of cuisine and social change, Alice Waters stopped offering bottled water at her legendary Chez Panisse.  She was concerned about the amount of energy expended to get bottled water (Pellegrino, I’m guessing) from Italy to California.
  • Mill Valley, California (must be in the water out there) is one of a growing list of 60 American cities that have canceled bottled water contracts. Except for emergencies, Mill Valley has decided that bottled water is wasteful and largely unnecessary when we’ve invested heavily in a safe and reliable public water supply.
  • If you must use a disposable bottle: Plant It Water™ recently launched its new “un-bottled” spring water, with packaging made from more than 60 percent renewable materials. The company is one of the first in the U.S. to offer water in a recyclable carton.  Plant It Water packaging uses materials from sources like plant fibers. Tetra Pak, the maker of the package, is considered one of the most sustainable liquid food packages on the market and won the presidential medal for sustainable development in 1996 by former Vice President Al Gore.

Here’s a fact for you: Most bottled water is sold in small plastic containers.  The Container Recycling Institute (CRI) estimates Americans buy more than 28 billion single serving bottles annually. Most people assume the vast majority of plastic bottles are recycled, but that is not the case, as the market for recycling plastic is not as well developed as the infrastructure for recycling glass or paper.  Fabulous.

I seem to have digressed, but I think I’m coming to a point: let’s celebrate our municipal drinking water supplies!  They’re plentiful, tasty, and it’s good for the environment to eschew the plastic bottles and just stick a glass under the ol’ faucet.

I plan to visit the Schenectady Downtown Farmers Market tomorrow to “take the waters”.  I hope to see you there!

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