As the judges took their places, and sparkling glasses were placed before them, Carlie Hucul, CEO of the BC Water and Waste Association opened the fourth annual tap-water taste test at the Victoria Conference Centre on Tuesday.
Part of the associations’ annual conference, the event attracted more than 1,200 water professionals from across B.C. and the Yukon and served as a venue to expose a few myths about what flows from our taps.
The challenge pitted nine municipal water systems against one another to determine the “best of the best” where drinking water is concerned and, although the mood was light, the judging was deadly serious.
The three judges used crackers and distilled water to cleanse their palette with the intensity of the most distinguished sommeliers, before sampling water from each of the municipalities. They then scored each water sample on five criteria: aroma, taste, mouth-feel, aftertaste and overall impression.
“It’s a sort of strange competition where the best taste is no taste at all,” joked Robert Haller, executive director of Canadian Water and Wastewater and one of the event’s judges, adding that all of the water samples were of extraordinary quality.
“The truth is we can have full confidence in municipal water supplies. We get up in the middle of the night and drink from the tap without even turning on the light, and well we should,” he said. “That water is subjected to around the clock testing, seven days a week, which is more than you can say about bottled water that doesn’t have the same level of testing, often sits on shelves for extended periods, and is frequently filled from municipal sources in the first place.”
The taste test was an opportunity for event organizers to offer a series of observations on the low cost of municipal water and highlight a few facts to explode some common misconceptions about the municipal water supplies.
For example, said Hucul, a recent survey of BC residents showed that less than one-third of people actually know the origin of their tap water and, on average, people believe the cost of tap water to be three times what they actually pay.
Mathew McCrank, senior manager of infrastructure operations for the Capital Region District, acknowledged it can be a bit frustrating to see people purchase bottled water, but said he knows it’s a personal choice, even if it’s one he wouldn’t recommend.
“We try to educate people about the high quality of our water,” he said. “And of course, we have the added concern at the CRD for the waste involved in relation to all those plastic bottles that, too often, still find their way to the landfill, despite some very good re-cycling initiatives.”
Hucul and Haller both feel the tide may be turning, as younger generations, increasingly concerned about the environment, are opting to fill their personal water bottles from fill stations that are becoming a common addition to water fountains everywhere.
In case you’re wondering, this year’s winner of the best municipal water amongst 10 entries from around B.C. was the Vancouver Island Village of Zeballos.
Bottled vs. tap water: some fast facts
• Tap water in Victoria is subjected to constant testing and is of extremely high quality.
• No government body is in charge of testing bottled water. It’s classified as a food and subject to the Food and Drugs Act. Processing plants are inspected annually by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and additional testing is voluntary.
• The total annual cost in the CRD of drinking eight glasses of water a day from the tap is 75 cents. The same amount of bottled water is about $1,400.
• Canadians still purchase about 2.4 billion litres of bottled water a year (Euromonitor International, 2014)
• In Canada, three out of 10 households drink bottled water at home (Stats Canada).
• Bottled water does not necessarily come from pristine springs or snowy glaciers. The source is as likely to be the same tap water available in your kitchen. (Canadian Food Inspection Agency).