Wednesday, October 22, 2014

What a taste test of Elizabethtown's water reveals

Earlier this year, the Elizabethtown Area Water Authority conducted a survey of its customers, with a vast majority (83 percent) of the 373 respondents reporting that they buy bottled water or filter the water that comes from the tap. Furthermore, 62 percent had concerns about the taste, smell and hardness of EAWA's water.
Because EAWA's water comes from five wells located throughout the Elizabethtown area and surface water treated at the water treatment plant, staff did some additional research into the location of the concerns. It turns out that the concerns are systemwide. 

So this month, the EAWA board (of which I am a member, representing the borough) decided to do a blind taste test of the water from the wells and the treatment plant. We did the test on Monday, Oct. 13, during our public board meeting.

During the day, one EAWA staff member collected 1-gallon samples of water from the wells and the water treatment plant.

The samples were stored at room temperature in identical covered plastic jugs marked A through F so the board could not identify which well the water came from. Authority Manager Mike Skelly had the location and residual chlorine results, which were relatively close in their ranges, and only revealed everything after the board finished its tasting.

We tasted each sample, and it was interesting from my perspective. Some of them tasted like what comes out of my tap at home, which tastes just fine and that I will drink without any problems or concerns. Others had a sort of "musty" taste. One tasted just fine when I sipped it, but as I swallowed it, it had a musty aftertaste. Other board members described a heavier taste from one sample or a "slightly different taste" but no other distinguishing descriptions.

Let me be clear: None of the samples tasted bad to me or had a foul odor or appearance. I worked in Harrisburg and Lancaster over the past 10 years, and Elizabethtown's water tastes much better than either of those.

Like the rest of my board member colleagues, I could not taste any chlorine in any of the samples. Staff said this is because chlorine usually dissipates after a couples of hours – and is usually a reason why people let their water run before drinking.

Here's my takeaway from the exercise: Tasting water is subjective, and I don't think 100 percent of EAWA's customers will ever be 100 percent satisfied with the taste of the water. That said, everyone should know that the water meets or exceeds the standards set for drinking water, and no one should fear getting ill from consuming our local tap water. 

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