Bottled Water Gets the Boot

As containers and costs mount, tap water is the rule in eateries.

That's why public water passes through numerous purifying stages before getting released. "We do about 15,000 tests a year," touts Terrero, who is quick to proclaim Miami-Dade "exceeds both state and federal drinking-water standards." His boasts are backed — and itemized — by a quality data chart contained within the 2007 Water Quality Report, mailed this summer to every Miami-Dade home receiving a water bill.

WASD's two main water treatment facilities are the John E. Preston plant, which serves residents north of Flagler Street to the Miami-Dade/Broward line, and the Alexander Orr plant, which replenishes those living south to SW 248th Street. Each plant pumps water from the wells, softens it through lime treatment, filters it, disinfects it, and finally sends it through 7,000 miles of pipes (and some meticulous metering), after which it falls (with a flick of the wrist) in a final cascade into our sinks.

Ralph is so impressed with the WASD purification system that he drinks unfiltered tap in his house. "The filter people will try to sell [devices] to you, but the water is clean and soft enough that you don't need it. You shouldn't spend your money on that."

Chef Michael Schwartz isn't sold on safety.
Jacqueline Carini
Chef Michael Schwartz isn't sold on safety.

If the Environmental Protection Agency is a sturdy bowl filled to the brim with safety regulations regarding public drinking water, the Food and Drug Administration is a leaky colander of bottled-water oversight. "Their sampling is a lot less than what we do," Terrero says of the FDA. Worse, waters packaged and sold within the same state are exempt, allowing 60 to 70 percent of all bottled water purchased in America to escape FDA rules entirely.

In the case of Dasani, however, along with most other brands, the argument about underregulation doesn't hold much you-know-what. And that's because taxpayers foot the bill to filter it before the bottled-water producers ever lay their hands on it.

The City of Hollywood Water Treatment Plant undergoes the same eagle-eyed EPA monitoring as that in Miami-Dade. As a matter of fact, the Hollywood plant was a 2007 Drinking Water Treatment Plant Award winner, cited for its dedication to public health and the environment by Florida DEP's Division of Water Resource Management. So the water Dasani puts in its bottles has already been tested many times by the EPA, whether it gets a scant secondary scan by the FDA or not.

Again, just like the water from your tap.

But can anyone even taste the difference between bottled and faucet? In 2003, an NBC 6 news team gathered samples from a dozen neighborhoods served by various water systems, along with three bottled waters, and took them to STL Labs in Miramar. Each specimen was subjected to 126 different tests, and all easily surpassed the minimal government standards of purity; bottled scored better in some categories, public-sourced water in others. The TV station also conducted a blind taste test with Dasani, Zephyrhills, and plain old tap. One out of three participants could differentiate among them.

The same odds as a guess.

4. Unfiltered Opinions

Eduardo "Lalo" Durazo, managing partner of Jaguar Ceviche in Coconut Grove, was the first Miami restaurateur to kick the bottle. "I thought, Why pollute the environment when in the end, it's really just tap water inside? It doesn't make any sense." Lalo first got the idea a couple of years ago while perusing People magazine. "There was an article about a restaurant in San Francisco that served their own filtered water. I said, 'I think that's good. We should do it.' So we installed a very high-tech filtering system." He is speaking of Natura, a $6,000 European machine that not only charcoal-filters the water multiple times, purifies it, and chills it to 38 degrees, but also produces carbonation to whatever desired degree of effervescence.

While the main impetus for the move was environmental, Lalo also lauds it for providing patrons with value. "In a lot of restaurants, immediately when the customer sits down at the table, the first thing they get asked is: 'Do you want sparkling or flat?' If you ask for water, instead of bringing you a glass, they bring a $16 bottle of water. And it's just for the purpose of selling — and selling you more."

Customer reaction has been wholly positive. "We get about a dozen comments a week, but have not heard one single complaint. I feel good about it, and I'm glad that people are appreciative." Durazo has paid a price for his principled stand, though. "We're losing maybe $1,500 a month on money we were making selling bottles."

Jonathan Eismann is also sacrificing a steady stream of revenue at his new Design District establishment. "We were selling over 10,000 bottles a year," he says, referring to Pacific Time on Lincoln Road, before it closed last year. "The profit was more than three bucks a bottle, so you're looking at $30,000 or $40,000."

Like Lalo, Eismann uses the Natura system, and to equally unanimous approval among his guests. He isn't surprised. "First of all, we're not importing a product. I mean, 10,000 bottles a year from Pacific Time has gotta be a 747-load of water — or half a freighter, whatever. That's just one restaurant. And on top of that there is the waste."

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