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New report washes away uncertainty about LA's tap water

Maywood resident Robert Taylor fills a bottle with tap water in his home on Sept. 26.
Maywood resident Robert Taylor fills a bottle with tap water in his home on Sept. 26.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC

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Now here's something everyone who has ever eaten in a restaurant has heard.

"Good evening, may I bring you some water? Bottled or tap?"

For as long as most of us can remember, there's been suspicion about Los Angeles' tap water. Transplanted New Yorkers LOVE to diss it. And lots of native Angelenos would NEVER think about drinking from the tap — at least not unless they've installed a super-expensive double osmosis water filter.

And a lot of us have. Or we buy our water in bottles.

Now the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power says forget all that — L.A. water is as clean and pure as anything you can buy in a fancy bottle.

OK, but how about the "experience" of drinking it? We did a taste test to judge for ourselves. More on that later.

But first, let's break down this report with Mark Gold, associate vice chancellor of environment and sustainability at UCLA.

Nothing to worry about

 "I think this year's annual report from LADWP really emphasizes the fact that you can guarantee that the city of L.A. provides clean, high-quality water to its customers, which is great. I know sometimes DWP gets a bad rap for a bunch of other things. Reliable, safe drinking water supply should never be one of them, and they come through on that front."

Do people need more convincing?

"DWP's water meets drinking-water standards all the time — really great safety record over time. We don't have a Flint, Michigan, problem. We don't have a Corpus Christie problem. Any of the sorts of things that really puts fear in the hearts of customers. But there is a little bit of that chlorine chaser taste.

"It's required under the Safe Drinking Water Act that you have to put chlorine, and in this case they also put a little bit of ammonia in the water, which leaves a little bit of a taste. The reason they do that is to make sure they can guarantee that the water is pathogen free ... it's actually a federal requirement...."

A brief overview of what was found?

"...It was a little bit boring, right? Because it was all good news. From the standpoint that they're really looking at the water quality, you know, tens of thousands of different samples. The compliance record with the Safe Drinking Water Act was nothing short of exemplary...

"If people do have a concern that they have older pipes, it's not a bad thing just for peace of mind to have that sampled. Or maybe you want to call DWP and say, 'Hey, is it OK to add your faucet as part of their lead and copper rule sampling program.' You have to do that because, over time, these older pipes that used keep the pipes together, you do occasionally get some leaching and that's something you have to be vigilant about in making sure that that doesn't become a problem...."

With all this great news, we did a blind taste test at Take Two. Producer Julia Paskin and A Martinez sampled bottled, filtered and tap water. Without knowing which was which, they tried the water samples and guessed which type they were drinking.

When asked how he would fare, Mark Gold said, "I think I would've been like you, A. I don't have the refined palate that Julia has or my brother, Jonathan Gold has."

That's right, Jonathan Gold, restaurant critic for the Los Angeles Times, is Mark's brother. Who knew?

To listen to the blind taste test and hear more about the report, click the blue play button above.