17 samples of Texas drinking water is served up to judges.
Judges taste 17 samples of Texas drinking water. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

When it came to flavor, judges at a water utility conference in downtown San Antonio preferred drinking water from North Texas to water from other parts of the state.

The five judges, four of whom are San Antonio journalists, ranked their favorites from 17 drinking water samples at a blind taste test competition at the Texas Water 2018 conference at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center on Wednesday.

The Water Environment Association of Texas and the Texas Section of the American Water Works Association organize the annual conference.

“Its taste, and its odor, and what it feels like,” said Mike Howe, Texas Section executive director. “The taste of water is very subjective.”

San Antonio Business Journal reporter Sergio Chapa, Univision weather anchor and reporter Prissila Sanchez, San Antonio Express-News editor Emily Spicer, KSAT 12 reporter and meteorologist Justin Horne, and Eleanor Allen, CEO of international nonprofit Water For People, served as judges.

Handed plastic cups of water marked only with numbers, they nodded their approval after some sips and grimaced after others.

“Some had a distinct odor, and some had an aftertaste,” said Allen, who said she was proud of her palate for being able to distinguish among the samples.

For first place, the judges picked City of Denton water drawn from Lake Ray Roberts, a reservoir on the Elm Fork of the Trinity River just north of the North Texas college town of around 133,000.

Denton’s water beat out others from the San Antonio Water System; New Braunfels Utilities; the cities of Shavano Park, Universal City, Corpus Christi, and Round Rock; the Guadalupe River; the Upper Trinity Regional Water District; the San Jacinto River Authority; the Trinity River Authority; the San Patricio Municipal Water District; and Jonah Water Special Utility District.

Denton also took third place for water from Lewisville Lake, which lies downriver from Lake Ray Roberts. The Trinity River Authority came in second for its water supply in Tarrant County.

The win gives Denton officials a chance to have their water face off against others in a nationwide taste test at the American Water Works Association’s Las Vegas conference in June.

The Dentonians credited their lake’s location for the stand-out flavor.

“It’s got to be the source,” said Randy Markham, water production superintendent for the City of Denton.

“It’s not much of a developed area,” added his colleague, Mamun Yusuf, a senior engineer, who pointed out that Lake Ray Roberts lies upstream of the northern suburbs surrounding Dallas and Fort Worth.

Judges test samples of municipal drinking water from across Texas.
Judges test samples of drinking water from municipalities across Texas. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

All the water samples had been purified to drinking water quality. Denton uses ozone purification for Lake Ray Roberts water on top of more basic methods, Markham said.

The “just for fun” drinking water taste test happens every year at what organizers say is the largest regional water utility conference in the U.S., according to Howe. This year’s drew around 4,000 attendees, he said.

The conference, organized with help from SAWS, also featured training sessions, pipe-tapping and meter assembly competitions, and chances for people in the water and sanitation fields to connect and share their knowledge with each other.

Such dialogue is crucial in Texas, where the statewide drought of 2010 to 2015 forced water utilities to think differently about supplies, Howe said.

Many are looking toward San Antonio, which taps multiple different groundwater and surface water sources and can store them underground through aquifer storage and recovery technology, he said.

“H2O is the simplest molecule there is, but after that, everything gets complicated,” Howe said. “It is not something you can always expect to be there and not pay the full price.”

Brendan Gibbons is a former senior reporter at the San Antonio Report. He is an environmental journalist for Oil & Gas Watch.