- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Boasting no color, no taste and no smell, the tap water from the Mount View-Edgewood Water Co. in Edgewood, Wash. (pop. 9,387) made a big splash, taking top honors Wednesday at the 13th annual national taste-test competition sponsored by the National Rural Water Association.

“The taste was far superior - really, the absence of taste,” said judge Cheryl Cook.

The competition is a highlight of the trade group’s annual Washington rally. NRWA represents about 28,000 rural water companies that have, on average, 10,000 customers each, while lobbying and helping member water services obtain federal funds.

When asked how he treats his water to obtain its award-winning taste, Edgewood General Manager Marc Marcantonio replied, “We don’t.”

The water coming out of the aquifer is so pure through natural filtering that “we don’t even have to add chlorine,” he said. The challenge for the company is preserving its purity.

For the taste test, held at Washington’s Hyatt Regency Hotel, guest judges sat in white lab coats and sipped, slurped and swished the entries to find the purest water in the nation.

NRWA Marketing Director Michael Harris conceded that the taste test is subjective. The water companies comply with quality standards stipulated by the federal government and “at that point, it’s purely up to the judges,” he said.

NRWA picked four judges for the event, including staffers from the House, Senate and Department of Agriculture.

According to Mike Keegan, an analyst for NRWA, the trade group does not have any hard guidelines in picking judges. “We had gourmet experts in the past,” said Mr. Keegan, but more recently, the judges have been experts in water policy.

After Mr. Harris outlined the three judging criteria - clarity, bouquet and taste - association CFO Claudette Atwood approached the judging table with a tray of five water-filled wine glasses.

“This is sample No. 1. Go.” said Mr. Harris.

The judges raised their glasses to the light, sniffed the entry and drank. Ms. Cook, whose day job is deputy undersecretary for rural development in the Agriculture Department, remarked, “This tastes better than the tap at my home.”

Unlike beer or wine tastings, water testing comes down to the absence of senses. “Here, they’re looking for no taste, no smell and perfect clarity,” said Charles Hilton, general manager for Breezy Hill Water & Sewer Co. in Graniteville, S.C.

A water company’s goal is to produce pure, healthy drinking water, but Mr. Hilton said there is another benefit for rural communities providing water and septic services. Water brings business, said Mr. Hilton. When water companies provide water and sewerage, businesses obtain fire protection and a steady source of water for their facilities. “They simply cannot exist without that.”

Breezy Hill Water and Sewer Co. was founded in 1968 to serve about 300 customers, he noted. In 1996, a Bridgestone/Firestone factory moved to the area, and the tire giant is now building a $1.2 billion expansion there.