Edible Geography: Wellington Water Tasting

Wellington is blessed with relatively abundant water, and therefore most people take it for granted and spare it little thought. I just returned from the Sonoran Desert, where it is always top of mind that water equals life, and started to wonder about the water sources in my new home. Where does it come from? How does it get to us? What happens in between? I was excited to discover a municipal water tasting as part of the Wellington on a Plate Festival, and that it was moderated by Simon Woolley, whose Antipodes Water was a happy discovery on a reconnaissance trip through New Zealand to decide whether I’d want to live here. Abundantly wonderful water was one of the reasons I did.

Where does it come from?

Wellington draws water from different sources for delivery throughout the region, using waters from the Tararuas and also the Pakuratahi Forest catchment in the Rimutakas via a tunnel through Wainuiomata. The Kapiti Coast is supplied from bores and rivers.

Petone’s untreated artesian water is a source of pride for its residents, and Te Puna Wai Ora (Spring of Life), the Petone municipal public bore, is used night and day by people who lug 20 litre containers to fill for domestic use.

Spring water bore at Moore Wilson on Tory St

Sculpture fountain over spring water bore at Moore Wilson store on Tory Street, Wellington, New Zealand

Tory Street in central Wellington features a 470 feet bore that was once used as the basis for a soft drink factory. A magnificent bronze fish and tree sculpture marks the spot where the bore has been reopened for public use at Moore Wilson’s. (Water carrying vessels may be found upstairs for purchase in the variety store.)

How does it get here?

The Greater Wellington Regional Council collects and treats drinking water and sells it to the city councils that supply water to homes and businesses in each city. Water, wastewater and stormwater services are actively managed by Capacity Infrastructure Services Ltd, a CCTO (Council Controlled Trading Organization) jointly owned by Wellington City Council and Hutt City Council. Homeowners pay a targeted rate annually for water based on property capital value but can choose to install a water meter and pay for actual usage.

How does it taste?

I had heard that Wellington has the best tap water in New Zealand, Petone has the best tap water in Wellington and the Buick St fountain has the best artesian water in Petone. Is all our regional water the same? We blind-tasted 12 waters at room temperature, all gathered within a day in glass tester bottles and served in wine glasses at the lovely Osteria del Toro. We were provided with helpful tasting notes on what to look for:

  1. Clarity. Is it bright and sparkling? Are there any particulates in suspension? When swirled does the clarity change?
  2. Aroma. Are there any obvious chemical odours? Some can be introduced for purification process. Some are innate such as hydrogen Sulphide – which can indicate volcanic activity.
  3. Taste – Mouth feel. Does it coat the mouth evenly or are there sharp notes in the water?
  4. Flavour. We taste sweet, sour, bitter, salty and umami. What flavours can you taste? Are there flavours of chemicals or is there a metallic taste?
  5. Natural flavour. Is there any indication of the presence of these flavours – such as what you experience when you drink from a stream in the bush?
  6. Length of the flavour. Can we taste the flavour long after we have swallowed? Does it linger or does it disappear immediately?

Wellington Water Tasting

Though I had hoped to suss out subtle differences in terroir, feeling the variations in pH and mineral components, my palate’s vocabulary consisted mostly of lovely, nasty, burning, soft, heavy, salty and furry. Our wonderful host Simon found a leathery note with many of them, but I didn’t get that either. The unanimous winner was a selection from the untreated private bore at Ruth Pretty‘s home property in Te Horo, Waikanae. This may be the secret to her successful catering and food business — it definitely makes me want to attend one of the Wellington on a Plate events or cooking school at her place.

Nice (the top 3 are the picks from the whole group tasting… My personal order was 1,3,5,4,2):
1. Spring at Ruth Pretty’s home in Te Horo, Waikanae untreated. Notes: mild, alkaline, soft
2. Lower Hutt tap – aquifer, ph adjusted slightly with lime, unfiltered. Notes: heavier water, sweet aftertaste
3. Tory St bore at Moore Wilson’s. Notes: soft, lovely
4. Petone Buick St bore. Notes: no nose, lab-like, distilled water
5. Brooklyn Spring, untreated private spring. Notes: nice, syrupy

Neutral:
6. Pump bottled water, a wild card selection Coca-cola from Blue Springs in Putaruru Notes: not clean, unpleasing
7. Upper Hutt – collected surface water, treated. Notes: crisp chlorine nose, gentle taste, something not so nice at the the end note.

Nasty:
8. Karori, Wellington treated tap water. Notes: salty, heavily treated
9. Otaki, Kapiti Coast treated tap water. Notes: chlorine nose, burns my nose, unanimously disliked
10. Waikanae, Kapiti Coast – highly treated tap water. Notes: chemical sweetness, universally disliked
11. Whakatane – Braemar Springs – another wild card selection of treated tap water from up North. Notes: furry on the palate, chlorine nose
12. Carterton, Wairarapa – treated tap water. Notes: Janola nose but mild on the palate

Why so nasty?

The chemical smell and taste of the treated tap water comes from chlorine, which the Greater Wellington Council typically adds at 0.6 to 0.8 mg/L, acknowledging the aesthetic guideline value for adversely affecting the taste and odour is 0.6 mg/L. Lucky Lower Hutt has chosen to opt out of treatment as the water comes from a secure underground aquifer. While chlorine’s effectiveness in killing bacteria that cause water-borne diseases like typhoid and cholera has saved lives, chlorine also attacks our beneficial internal bacteria, disrupting our digestive and immune systems. When chlorine interacts with organic matter, it creates disinfection byproducts which are associated with bladder and colorectal cancer (the most frequently diagnosed and second most common cause of cancer death in NZ) and linked to artherosclerosis.

Another troubling component that you can’t smell or taste is fluoride, which gets added at the GWRC water treatment facilities Te Marua, Wainuiomata and Waterloo treatment plants. Only Petone and Korokoro, supplied from Hutt City Council’s Rahui reservoir receive unfluoridated water. New Zealand was the second country to begin fluoridating their water to improve dental health, but scientific evidence now points to swallowed fluoride causing harm and providing no benefits. (A rational compliation of research is available at Second Look.) Many dentists who once advocated for fluoridation now oppose it.

Wellington’s mayoral election is coming up in October, 2010, and I have read each candidate’s reassuring positions against water privatization. The folks from Capacity I talked with at the event said privatization of water here was simply a non-starter, there was no mandate for it. I’d love to know if any support ending spending taxpayer money on mass medication with fluoride and exploring healthier alternatives to chlorine treatment (such as ozone or UV).

Until that happens, the best options for health and taste are to collect your water from a private or public bore, live in Petone or Korokoro to receive untreated water, or install a reverse osmosis or distillation system to the water coming into your home. I was surprised to see Kapiti voted to continue fluoridating water in June, and that it’s become such an emotive issue rather than one based on scientific evidence. I’d love to read your comments on Wellington water quality and policies.

    Other interesting droplets from discussion with Simon and the table while tasting:

  • With sparkling water, the amount of bubbles are usually more an indication of how clean the glass is rather than how much carbonation the water has. If the glass is truly clean, you won’t see many bubbles at all.
  • Even more than the total amount of dissolved solids, water flavor is affected by how much salt. Fiji and Evian have about the same amount of solids, but Evian tastes much saltier and heavier.
  • Old pipes and fittings can leach heavy metals into your water. Let it flow for about 60 seconds to flush them or at least enough to fill up a mug before using to drink or in food.
  • Heat is the major factor in delaminating plastic containers, therefore the concern of water bottles sitting in cars. Many pasteurized products are also heat treated in their plastic packaging – what are the effects? And will plastic water pipes turn out to be better or even more problematic than metal over time?
12 Responses to “Edible Geography: Wellington Water Tasting”
  1. loveplantlife 21 August 2010 at 6:11 pm #

    Excellent notes – thanks so much!

  2. lainie 5 September 2010 at 1:14 pm #

    Great article! Really interesting, comprehensive and educational!
    I actually bought a bottle of New Zealand water at Hen House in Overland Park this summer.
    I don't remember the brand (or source), but it really was delicious, much superior to the usual US bottle of water.
    love and lots of healthy refreshing Wellington agua,
    lainie laguna niguel

  3. Will Moore 17 November 2010 at 12:46 am #

    Kia ora Emily ,

    I gutted I missed this water tasting extravaganza, I would have loved it. I ran in the Southern Ward here in Wellington, and was strongly advocating the removal of Fluoride from our water supply.

    Thanks for this Article I will post a link of it to my blog and Fbook.

    Cheers,

    Will

  4. Emily Davidow 17 November 2010 at 10:22 am #

    Kia ora Will,
    Thank you for your comments and pointing me to your blog http://willmoore4council.wordpress.com/ and documentary about water: http://vimeo.com/13989687
    Raising my glass to fluoride free water flowing from our taps for the benefit of humans, animals and our environment!
    Cheers, Emily

  5. Guest 19 December 2010 at 1:51 am #

    Kia ora Emily,
    Thank you for the very interesting information! To very partially repay the favour… I was reading about distilled water earlier today on Mercola.com. Mercola has many interesting health related articles, of which I have confidence in the majority. See this article re distilled water: http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archiv…. If the article is accurate (haven't done any further research myself, so who knows) distilled water may be worth omitting from recommended long term drinking water sources.
    Oh and by the way, for people who don't live in NZ, I recommend the brand Waiwera for NZ bottled water. It's lovely, it's artesian and it was recently voted 'World's Best Bottled Water' by a UK wine magazine.
    Cheers, Nicola

    • Emily Davidow 20 December 2010 at 3:51 pm #

      Thanks, Nicola!

      Appreciate your note and link.

      There's another toxic tasteless additive I'm now aware of that I wasn't when I wrote the post. I went on a guided hike around the Wainuiomata Water Catchment area a couple of weekends ago (pix) which was both amazing and disturbing. The old growth forest is wondrous - and poisoned. I was surprised to learn how much 1080 is aerially dropped over the entire 7,350-hectare catchment area, contaminating the water supply and entire ecosystem. We do not know what chronic sublethal doses do to humans, but research shows infertility, hormonal dysfunction and mutations in several vertebrate species.*
      Sad also that AgResearch has discontinued research on alternatives to 1080 this past week. But happy to see that 92.5% of people from Kumara to Harihari opposed 1080 drops and the Westland Council is seeking a ban on the use of 1080.

      And in other good news, the enzyme that breaks down plaque that causes tooth decay has been deciphered, so another good reason to stop adding fluoride to the water.

      I love Waiwera water too! And their glass bottle. (And excited to try Antipodes' new Waiwera rose raspberry mamaku black fern toner, Ananda.)

  6. walter 17 February 2011 at 11:41 am #

    Very interesting article..living in auckland, you can see how bad it is, the tap water is pretty low grade, with ORP
    of about +568 and the taste of chlorine is shocking..but have found this wonderful product called H20, that can
    transform this tap water into alkali, ionized, and mineralized mineral water..Even manukau tap water becomes
    a beautiful tasting mineral water..even gets rid of chlorine too..no smell and nor taste…with this, no need buying
    bottled water…Even tried it with PUMP, and enhanced the quality of PUMP to a higher degree…and all this with
    all natural ores, and ceramics made from ores..best thing is that it transformed auckland water into a smooth,
    mild, and yummy tasting water..

  7. Pete 16 April 2011 at 1:49 pm #

    Very interesting article … Can you tell me where the Brooklyn Spring is?

  8. RO filters India 30 September 2012 at 2:39 am #

    It is good to know that Wellington has been blessed with abundant water resources. In countries such as Bangladesh, fresh water supply is very less and the water is mixed up with lead and arsenic! Therefore the natural and clean water resource is the real gift of God.

  9. Brittany Yeager 15 October 2012 at 8:10 pm #

    Water tasting is quite new to me but it sounds interesting. To think that what you're tasting is from the Perth water treatment, then on to the next is from the water desalination from another country–it seems fun! Maybe I should register for next year's event so I'll know how this really feels like.

  10. Susan 23 February 2013 at 8:57 pm #

    Over the past couple of weeks, I've noticed our tap water–we live in Lower Hutt–tends to form bubbles on the inside of glasses when they sit out even for a fairly short time. I wondered if it was the dishwasher powder, so I've taken to hand washing glasses just to check, but that doesn't seem to make a difference. Bottled water doesn't do it. These aren't just tiny, little bubbles either, but quite large ones. The water tastes okay, but I'm sure this is a new phenomenon that makes me wonder what's going on. We've had a long (and remarkable) run of warm, dry summer weather…don't know if that might be significant. Just thought I'd share. Enjoyed your article!

  11. Susan 26 February 2013 at 3:34 pm #

    Enjoyed the read. Glad I live in the Hutt with "good" water. 🙂 I've just mentioned this article in my latest blog post. http://susan-thrasher.blogspot.co.nz/2013/02/1080

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