It's a pretty common notion that water tastes like nothing, but 24 providers from across North America had fingers crossed Tuesday that their nothing tasted the best.
Greenville Water System, in South Carolina, took the top prize at the American Water Works Association's Best of the Best seventh-annual competition, held this year at the Washington Convention Center.
"Wahoo, all right," cheered K.C. Price, manager of water resources for the South Carolina municipality, a first-time winner that supplies water to more than 350,000 residents.
Mr. Price later explained more calmly that the system's preserved watersheds and lake resources contributed to the water's "clean, crisp taste."
Judge Monique Durand agreed with Mr. Price's assessment that the winning water was refreshing, saying she "just wanted to drink more."
Agencies and companies that provide water to Baltimore and Washington were among those competing in this year's preliminary rounds.
The association's 42 chapters hold regional taste test competitions to winnow the field of water providers to a managable preliminary group.
Only five companies made it to the final round of judging and neither of the D.C. area utilties made it through.
Denver Water, in Colorado, and the Glenco Water Utility, in Illinois, tied for second place. New Hampshire-based City of Manchester Waterworks and the Anchorage Water and Wastewater Utility, in Alaska, were also in the top five.
"We're looking for a balance, nothing extremely hard or soft," said taste-test judge Andrea Dietrich, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Virginia Tech.
A water's taste, odor and feel depends on a range of factors including minerals that are present, the source of the water and in the case of the taste test, how it is shipped.
Glass bottles of all shapes and sizes lined a table adjacent to the judge's table on the lower level of the convention center. All 24 bottles were generically labled with numbers hand drawn in black marker. Some bottles were clear while others were dark brown to reduce light penetration. Several water samples had been shipped in plastic, which the judges advised could create an aftertaste.
Association spokeswoman Deirdre Mueller said last year's champion hailed from Wisconsin. She said the best water can come from anywhere in the United States.
"There's no region that has dominated," she said, before acknowledging that surface water has taken the top spot over the past few years.
Asked whether she could pinpoint a state or region that boasts the best water, Ms. Dietrich, a New Jersey native, said the judges have their own opinions outside the competition, "but typicallly people like what they grew up with."
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