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All the chatter this week about the cost of water (29 cents per guest for filtered tap) at chef Enzo Fargione‘s new Penn Quarter eatery Elisir, which opens Wednesday night, left me parched for more info. I wondered, what’s the average price of tap water, anyway? You know, for the guy who is actually paying the water bill.

For some perspective, Y&H reached out to Sarah Neiderer of the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority, who first took the opportunity to shoot down the restaurant’s reasoning for the water surcharge in the first place (basically, that the quality of D.C. tap water is “notoriously bad“).

In fact, Neiderer tells me she had just gotten off the phone with the restaurant’s general manager during what I’m presuming was a very pleasant chat about water quality. Says Neiderer, “We hope, in the future, that if they are giving a justification for why they’re providing filtered tap water at a cost, that they don’t use the quality of the D.C. tap water as a reasoning for that, because our tap water is safe—-and cheaper.”

How cheap are we talking? Neiderer tells me that District residents pay around a “penny per gallon” for their water at home. That means you’re getting about 29 gallons out of your faucet for the cost of filtered tap water at Elisir.

Of course, the restaurant is filtering the stuff through some fancy machinery, specifically, a Vivreau water bottling system that purifies tap water into both still and sparkling varieties. That undoubtedly adds to the the restaurant’s aqua overhead.

Helpfully, Neiderer had already crunched the numbers on that part of the equation, too. Similar machines cost around $4,000, she tells me, meaning that a restaurant would need to charge some 15,000 customers that 29-cent rate to recoup its investment in the filtration equipment.

[Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this post identified the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority by its old acronym: WASA. The agency has abandoned that moniker and the item has been updated to reflect that change. Also: the original write-up mistakenly stated that Elisir’s 29-cent surcharge applied to each glass. To the contrary, the restaurant says the surcharge will be applied per guest, allowing for unlimited bottled water at the table. The item has been updated to correct that error, as well. The author regrets these oversights.]

Photo by Jorge Barrios