How Well Do You Know Your H20?

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By John Senn

I drink a lot of tap water – a glass in the morning before I leave for work, three or four throughout the work day and several more from the time I get home until I go to bed. So when I came upon a booth from the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority (aka DC Water) featuring a taste test between tap water and bottled water, which I virtually never drink, I thought I would surely be able to tell the difference. But I could not; the two samples I tried tasted virtually identical.

This summer, DC Water is asking Washington residents whether they can taste the difference between tap water and bottled water. Photo credit: Courtesy of DC Water

This summer, DC Water is asking Washington residents whether they can taste the difference between tap water and bottled water. Photo credit: Courtesy of DC Water

I was heartened to learn that I was not alone in flunking the taste test. Last year, only about half of participants who took DC Water’s taste test were able to identify the correct sample as tap water and more than half ranked tap water as better tasting or did not taste a difference between the two.

Despite the fact that tap water is virtually free – a gallon costs consumers about a penny – many people still prefer to drink bottled water. DC Water says that figure is about 50 percent in Washington. Admittedly, tap water, especially in big cities like Washington, gets a bad rap due to incidents where public health has been compromised because of excessive pollution in the water supply. Those incidents, while well-publicized, are relatively rare and in the case of an immediate public health threat, your drinking water provided is required by law to alert its customers. In 2011, 93 percent of Americans that got their water from a public water supply received water that met federal standards for drinking water every day of the year, evidence that the U.S. enjoys one of best drinking water systems in the world.

Tap water is also regulated by EPA and local public water systems are required to provide their customers with a report about the quality of their drinking water each summer. Soon, that report will be available by email. But bottled water, which is regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, is important to have stockpiled in case of an emergency situations or natural disasters when your tap water may be unavailable or compromised for several days.

And regardless of whether you can tell the difference between tap water and bottled water, you can get more information about your drinking water on our website or by contacting your local provider.

About the author: John Senn is the deputy communications director in EPA’s Office of Water and also serves as a member of the Agency’s emergency response team.

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