Rural Water vs City Water: A Matter of Taste

By Darrell Corkal, Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration, Saskatoon

Can you tell the difference between rural dugout water and city drinking water? Last November, a taste test was conducted as part of a Mexabition exhibit of surface water treatment systems. The challenge to tasters was to select their taste preference of four different drinking water supplies:

1) Rural dugout water biologically treated, followed by reverse osmosis [+RO].

2) City of Saskatoon tap water +RO

3) City of Regina tap water

4) City of Saskatoon tap water

Nearly 200 people participated in this taste test and most did not detect any significant taste difference. Common statements made by participants included:

"I do not like the taste of chlorine"

"I can positively identify City water because I do not like it" and

I cannot taste any difference between any of them."

When comparing treated dugout water with Saskatoon tap water +RO, 40% of participants found only "some difference," 34% found "no real difference," and 26% said they "did not like the taste of chlorine" (yet many were not able to detect chlorine in the City of Saskatoon water). Additionally, 30% guessed that the Saskatoon water was the rural dugout water. All testers were asked to pick their 'number one' taste preference; results are shown in the table below.

Rural dugout water can be made as safe and palatable as city water. Proper treatment of rural surface water includes a multiple-barrier approach. For the taste test, the dugout water was treated by slow sand filter, followed by a biological carbon filter, then a reverse osmosis unit at the kitchen tap. Most rural systems would also incorporate a disinfection process such as chlorination after filtration. As indicated by the taste test, even discernable tasters can be fooled in their ability to "taste the difference"!

The taste test took place under the Surface Water Quality Initiative, a project funded by the Canada- Saskatchewan Agriculture Green Plan Agreement, PFRA, SaskWater, Saskatchewan Research Council, Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food, and ADD Board No. 37. Another taste test is set for Agribition, November 23 to 29, 1996 in Regina. Everyone is invited to come taste the water!

To contact the author, write to PFRA, 105 North Road, Saskatoon, SK S7N 4L5.

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