Why does my water taste that way?
Queensland has over 350 public water supply “schemes” spread across the state. We are both blessed and cursed with diversity in water quality with some Great Artesian Basin source waters requiring little or no treatment to meet Australian Drinking Water Guideline standards, while others from highly impacted catchments need a lot of work.
The presence of microorganisms in source water means that most water service providers need to disinfect our water to make sure it doesn’t make us sick. Before humans started using chlorine to treat drinking water, millions of people died from waterborne diseases. In 1848 a cholera outbreak in London caused 500 people to die over ten days while Hamburg lost 10,000 people over a period of six weeks due to contaminated water. The increasing commonness and impacts of such incidents led to the use of chlorine to disinfect water. Water is also commonly treated by passing it through filters and other processes to remove sediments and other contaminants. Our water service providers also have to deal with the chemicals and waste produced by agriculture and heavy industries.
Depending on the source of the water in your area, your local water service provider may use a range of different treatment processes. On some really small islands the only option is desalination. However, as reverse osmosis removes pretty much everything, desalinated water can taste really bland. Some desalinated water is so pure that salts and minerals must be re-added at the source so that the water does not corrode pipes and fittings in the distribution system.
Water from dams and aquifers have a lot of naturally occurring minerals and salts which can give it a distinct taste and often accounts for the preferred flavours of some ‘mineral waters’.
In 2011, qldwater started an annual taste test event where water samples are tasted and scored and winners earn bragging rights for the best tasting tap water in Queensland for a year. The idea has been picked up by the Water Industry Operators Association of Australia which is now running events in NSW, Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania. The battle between Queensland and NSW, known as the Water of Origin, has fuelled parochial and competitive fires between water service providers and provide great entertainment at our events.