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What's In the Water In Louisville? Not a GD Thing

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It's been a decent few days for the University of Louisville's basketball programs: Sunday night the fifth-seeded women's team pulled off its fourth straight upset when it beat two-seeded Cal in the Final Four. Last night the Cardinals men's team fulfilled its overall-number-one-seed destiny by taking down Spike Albrecht's Michigan team. And tonight, the women's team will face UConn for all the marbles, potentially making Louisville the first school to win the all-gender unified NCAA title since the men's and women's Huskies teams did it in 2004. Predictably, all that winning has compelled some Twitter users to dust off a decades-old expression:

Turns out, those lay environmental engineers need not wonder: there's almost nothing in the water in Louisville. According to Jim Brammell, the chief engineer for the Louisville Water Company, 125 million gallons of water serve 850,000 residents in the greater Louisville region each day. The primary source is the Ohio River, from which a capacity of 180 million gallons can be filtrated each day. A nearby aquifer—as Brammell explains it, "a naturally-occurring underground body of water that has been filtered through sand and gravel"—is available to kick in up to an additional 75 million gallons. A pair of filtration plants handle the cleaning duties, ensuring that there is indeed nothing in the water. But what does that mean?

The chief concern of LWC is complying with the EPA's safe drinking water guidelines—that is, knowing exactly what's in the water and ensuring that the levels of contaminants are kept below an acceptable level. As LWC's 2011 water quality report indicates, the utility performed admirably: the levels of chloramine (a disinfectant that is added to all public water) and fluoride (to help consumers ward off teeth decay), as well as such commonly-found substances as nitrate, uranium and radium, are safely below the EPA limit. (The report does note five instances of Louisville's water exceeding the "action level" for lead contaminants—but since those tests were conducted at customers' taps, and not at the LWC facility, the tainting is attributed to "corrosion of household plumbing systems," not a problem with LWC's process. And lead was below the overall testing threshold regardless.) In fact, the Louisville Water Company is so proud of its water that in 1996 it reportedly became the first utility in the nation to trademark its municipal water: The "Pure Tap" brand of Louisville water is now bottled and served at regional events. Says Brammell, "It's the water Russdiculous drinks. It's the water the Schimmel sisters drink. It's the water I drink."

But water filtration is about more than simply making grades. There's an art to it. As explained by no less a water authority than my dad, Ken Janowitz, who is a veteran bottling industry executive, the goal for any drinking water facility is to create a product "that looks clean, tastes clean and is clean". Here, too, Louisville succeeds: not only does the LWC water quality report describe an H20 that is a-ok, but in 2008, twelve years after being trademarked, Pure Tap lived up to its name by winning the "Best of the Best" tap water national title in a blind taste test  at the American Water Works Association's Annual Conference & Exhibition. (The site of that confab in 2008? Atlanta.)

Brammell says Pure Tap is again in contention for the title this year (en garde, Fremont [NE] Department of Utilities)—meaning that if the UL women's team can pull of a fifth straight upset against UConn in tonight's championship game, Louisville could become the first city to win both NCAA titles and the "Best of the Best" crown in the same year.

Taste that, Storrs.


We'll be played out by Blindside, whoever they are.

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