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When Tap Water Tastes Like Lightning: The Invisible Chemistry of Drinking Water That Explains Why It Tastes How It Tastes (and Why It’s One of the World’s Best Inventions)

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The water is colorless, odorless and tasteless. We learned that in school; traveling through the country we learned that it is true as long as you do not change cities. There are places with fresh, delicious and crystalline water. And there are places where, well, the water tastes like Lightning.

In a country where 5,331 million liters of bottled water are sold each year (growing at more than 2.5% per year), in EuroXlivewe have decided to look at the most vintage: tap water. Why does it taste bad in some places? And most importantly, does that mean we shouldn’t take it?

Is water really tasteless?

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There is only one being in the universe that feeds on pure water (from the famous HtwoO): the plates. The rest of us never drink pure water but a solution of minerals, some chemical compounds and, yes, HtwoO. And thank goodness, because there is various minerals necessary for the body that would be difficult to consume if not for water.

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Those minerals (and perhaps some organic compounds like algae) are what give the water its flavor – which itself is tasteless per se. At the mineral level of the water we call it ‘hardness‘.

There is also other factors that affect the taste of the water such as temperature (as with any drink, cold water does not taste the same as hot water), chlorine levels (by habit and habit we have specific levels of chlorine associated with fresh water) or time that it carries in the container (haven’t you noticed that if we leave a glass of water all night, it tastes bad the next morning?). All of this is important, but mineralization is more important.

Does the tap water carry things?

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In reality, all waters carry things. For a reason, bottled waters are also called ‘mineral water’. And as I said, you need to take it.

In fact, “tap water is the food product that passes the most controls”, Commented Fernando Morcillo, current president of the Spanish Association of Water Supply and Sanitation (AEAS) to Sinc. To get an idea, only in Madrid a control is carried out every five seconds, more than 6 million every year.

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Directive 98/83 / EU of the European Union and Royal Decree 140/2003 are the regulations that establish the minimum requirements for water for human consumption (except natural mineral water and medicinal waters).

Only in Madrid a control is carried out every five seconds, more than 6 million each year

These requirements are microbiological (possible fecal or other contamination), chemical (industrial, agricultural, urban contamination or problems in purification), and radioactive (natural or artificial contamination by radioactive elements).

So if it’s so controlled why does it have different flavors?

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European and Spanish regulations being very demanding it only establishes, as is logical, a series of maximum and minimum levels of minerals for the composition of the water.

Although the most varied procedures are followed for small amounts of water (distillation, rain collection, etc.), they are not effective in the process of making large amounts of water drinkable. That limits (expensive and unfeasible) our real ability to define the composition of water.

The final flavor of each water depends a lot on the terrain through which the water has flowed and on the purification process

In general, water is collected locally (or regionally) in dams and swamps, filtered and chlorinated. In this way, the final result of each water it depends a lot on the terrain through which the water has run before reaching the taps.

That (in addition to desalination plants, of course) is the reason why the water in coastal cities traditionally ‘was bad’: on its journey from the mountains it carries much more sediment.

According to the Technical Report on the Quality of Water for Human Consumption, Madrid, San Sebastián, Bilbao, La Coruña, Orense or Pamplona are the cities with the best water in the country. On the contrary, in the Levante and the islands the quality leaves much to be desired.

Sometimes things go wrong

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Beyond slight flavors, and despite great controls, problems can occur during water treatment, storage or distribution. It is unusual, but not impossible. Without going any further, last year the Junta de Andalucía ordered to cut the water in the Loreto neighborhood (Cádiz) for sanitary problems. The most common problems:

  • Problems in the water purification process.
  • Problems in the distribution networks (pipelines) either due to the state of conservation (for example, corrosion) or due to the recontamination of the water due to some problem in the network.
  • Problems with the interior installations, either due to bad practices, maintenance problems or simply the age of the property.
  • Problems with private tanks and domestic water treatment devices.

However, we are talking about strong flavors and unpleasant odors. As a general rule, water, although it may taste bad, has all sanitary guarantees.

Claiming tap water

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Very often we forget the technical miracle which is to open a tap and drink drinking water. Until the mid-twentieth century, the vast majority of Spain had to take the pitcher to the source to have fresh water.

Today in Spain there are more than 1,200 large dams and more than 100,000 kilometers of distribution network to supply almost 50 million thirsty mouths. 99.3% of this water meets all sanitary requirements. Also, in general, it’s good.

But as our colleague Sergio Parra said five years ago “water is becoming a more profitable business: people have simply adopted the belief that water is health and that bottled or filtered water is better than tap water”. A business worth more than a billion euros that is making it seem like we have to claim tap water.

As I grew up near Lanjarón, in Granada, I will not be the one to say that it is wrong to consume bottled water, on the contrary. What is clear is that we must not forget that, without half measures, running water is one of the great treasures of humanity.

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