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Tap water: A twist of chlorine
Vicky Norman Eddy, Nina Frisby, and Robyn Blakenship take the water taste test. - photo by HIME ROMERO

Can you really taste the difference between bottled water and tap water?

When it’s all ice-cold and poured in a paper cup, is it really that easy to identify which of those cups contains the treated drinking water that comes simply from turning on the faucet?

Apparently, yes.

On Thursday afternoon The Bulletin gathered three of its office employees from different departments and put them through the paces in an attempt to determine which of the five mystery samples wasn’t bought just hours before and carried into the building.

The staffers – Nina Frisby, Vicky Norman-Eddy and Robyn Blankenship – were each presented with two sample cups from each of the five specimens that had been poured into the paper cups.

The options: 16.9 ounce bottles of Fiji artesian water, Voss artesian water, Nestle Pure Life purified drinking water enhanced with minerals, Arrowhead mountain springwater and a 1-liter bottle of Dasani purified drinking water.

But one of the bottles wasn’t what it claimed to be.

Shortly before going into the conference room and putting everything together I dumped one of the bottles and replaced it with water from the tap and put in the refrigerator with all of the other samples. Nobody knew which one was switched, and nobody watched which were poured into which cups.

Here’s where things get interesting.

When it comes to bottled water, even those who said that they had a preference couldn’t pick out the ones that they thought were their favorites. Apparently cold, non-tap water all tastes the same – like water.

But the second that each of the three testers picked up the fourth cup, they immediately identified it as tap water. The chlorine smell actually did permeate as you brought the cup up to your mouth to drink it. And while maybe a palate cleanser (for a water test?) that would brought have everything back to a baseline should have been the best way to go, everybody picked the right cup as containing tap water.

So what does that mean?

Well, if you don’t have a well that draws fresh groundwater from a purified aquifer (my grandmother’s house uses a well and is at the elevation where red clay is prevalent and the tap water is delicious) odds are that the slight taste changes and additives – namely chlorine – will chase out to the store to buy bottled water.

And Americans buy an awful lot of bottled water.

In 2012 it was an $11.8 billion industry, and much has been made lately about where the empty bottles are actually ending up – landfills instead of recycling plants, the growing spiral patch of trash in the middle of the Pacific Ocean instead of a place that was designed to accommodate it.

Yes, spring water is delicious. Up at Mt. Shasta City Park the headwaters of the Sacramento River come straight out of the ground and at any point during the summer you’ll see a line of people waiting to fill up bottles with the 40-degree water that is as pure as it can possibly get.

But that’s Mother Nature’s beauty. Have you seen a spring water bottling plant with massive plastic tanks?

Nothing about drinking Manteca’s tap water will kill you (at least that I know of).

It’s just the most identifiable against its bland counterparts. That doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a bad thing.