Monday, March 2, 2009

Assessing Dihydrogen Monoxide

Anne Janette Johnson had an interesting task; judge water.

Every year the town of Berkeley Springs, West Virginia hosts an international water tasting competition......The brainchild of city boosters, it has been held annually in February for the last 18 years. While failing to attract throngs of eager out-of-towners, the competition has been a roaring success for Berkeley Springs. Jay Leno and Keith Olbermann have poked fun at it on their shows, increasing brand recognition for the town. More important, this water tasting competition — the largest of its kind held anywhere — affords bragging rights to its winners, and that can translate into increased sales. Many gold and silver medal-winning waters incorporate the competition logo onto their packaging, as if they have received some sort of Olympic-caliber cachet.

The overall assessment?

Municipal tap water is judged in one flight, bottled spring water in another. I’ll be candid: The very best municipal water just cannot compete with spring water, or even purified tap water like Aquafina, when taste is the only criterion. People who say they can’t taste the difference between bottled water and tap water are lucky indeed. There is a difference, and usually it’s not even subtle.

The water in my hometown - from an artesian well - was so mineral-laden that it was hard on metal plumbing; I remember Dad having to replace the bathtub faucet after a relatively short time because it corroded away. I think it provided extra motivation (or perhaps another excuse) for local beer drinking.

Water in Pierre isn't a great deal better; One of the first things I noticed when I moved here was the devotion of significant shelf space at local hardware stores to Iron Out. Water softeners are a thriving business here, almost a necessity if you want to avoid rust buildup in your water-using appliances. Quite a few houses develop rust stains on siding from casually aimed sprinklers.