- The Washington Times - Monday, February 28, 2000

The District of Columbia's tap water isn't a prize winner, but the city did finish in the top 20 in a contest among the best-tasting waters in the country.
Bragging rights go to Yucca Valley, Calif., toasted by judges at the International Water Tasting competition Saturday as the nation's most drinkable. Yucca Valley beat out more than 50 competitors from more than two dozen states and the District in the municipal water category, at the world's largest water-tasting contest.
"Things have changed a little bit, but it's still a lot of fun," said judge Colleen Anderson, who was a judge at the inaugural event 10 years ago. "The differences [in taste] were much more subtle."
By placing as a finalist, the District's water also holds its own bragging rights over two suburban authorities from Maryland and Virginia. The Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission in Maryland and the Fairfax County, Va., Water Authority didn't finish in the final 20, said Libby Lawson, spokeswoman for the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority.
"We're just pleased about it," Miss Lawson said. "We're disappointed we didn't take top honors … but we did make a good showing."
However, the District faced stiff competition from towns in California, which had the top three finishers at the tasting Saturday in Berkeley Springs, W.Va. Their sources are all ground water and need less chemical treatment than water that comes from a source like the Potomac River.
"Water that comes out of springs and wells needs less chemistry," said Arthur von Wiesenberger, an author and trained water master from Santa Barbara, Calif.
Generally, the more natural a water is, the better it will taste. The more chemicals added and the more processes used, the greater the chance that there will be some residual tastes.
Potassium, for example, makes it sweeter; calcium and magnesium give it fullness. Ideally, no one flavor should overpower the palate.
Some municipal water systems use as many as 30 chemicals to clarify, treat and flavor their water. They generally don't fare as well in the contest.
"Since the first time [judging the competition], I've never tasted water the same I'm very picky now," said Ms. Anderson, of Charleston, W.Va., and an editor for a West Virginia travel guide.
Mr. von Wiesenberger helped train the panel of amateur judges just hours before Saturday's competition at the Coolfont resort and spa.
The judges looked at each sample's color or any foreign objects floating in the water. Mr. von Wiesenberger trained them to take three short sniffs to detect the odor of iron, sulfur or mustiness.
"If you lift it up to your nose and you smell chlorine, it's not going to attract me," Ms. Anderson said.
The judges were also taught to run a little bit of air into their mouths while drinking making a slurping sound as is done at a wine tasting. Then they roll it around their palate before swallowing. Finally, they look for a clean, refreshing aftertaste before eating crackers water crackers, of course to clean their palate for the next sample.
Competition officials would release only the place of the top five finishers.

This story is based in part on wire service reports.

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