Judges: Sarasota County has best drinking water in the region

LAKEWOOD RANCH -- One way to cleanse the palate at a wine tasting is to eat crackers and drink unflavored water.

So how do judges cleanse the palate when tasting water, rather than wine?

They munch on unsalted crackers.

That’s how they did it Wednesday at the Region 10 Water Works Association when judges sampled water from eight utilities from across Southwest Florida.

They rated the samples for taste, clarity, color and odor.

It was a blind competition -- judges sampled unlabeled, unchilled water -- and they said there really is a difference.

Tommy Klauber, owner of the Polo Grill at Lakewood Ranch and one of the judges in the competition, said he mostly detected differences in taste and aroma, but not in color and clarity.

“Maybe it was the blue table cloth” that made it difficult to spot visual differences, Klauber said.

Tim Hyden, training officer for East Manatee Fire Rescue District and another judge, said he, too, noticed a clear difference in taste.

Allie MacLeod, wife of Bruce MacLeod, Manatee County water plant superintendent, said she had suspicions about which water came from Manatee County, but that she couldn’t be sure.

“I think I have it narrowed down to two. I have had a love-hate relationship with water. It pays the bills, but it keeps him busy,” MacLeod said.

When all the judging was done, and the tabulation completed, the Sarasota County water was judged the best. All the other utilities ranked second, including Manatee County, Englewood, the city of Sarasota, Peace River, city of Venice, Charlotte County and Punta Gorda.

James Conley of Sarasota County chalked up his utility’s win to technology, a $14 million electro-hydrolysis water treatment system.