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On Tuesday, a panel of judges from the American Water Works Association assembled to determine which city’s tap water tastes best in 2011. Sampling our nation’s finest waters were four water-quality experts, and, serving as local celebrity judge, WTOP reporter Neil Augustine.

Among the thousands of samples battling it out, the District’s water—which, not long ago, was found to contain dangerous levels of lead—somehow managed to crack the top 25.

“We’re very proud,” says Sarah Neiderer, water outreach specialist for the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority.”We have a very strong drinking water division we monitor daily and whenever we have an issue [with a consumer] we try and follow up immediately.”

Suspiciously absent from this year’s top honorees was New York City tap water, so famously delicious that it’s been bottled and sold. Last year, the same water wonks gave the Big Apple its highest-ever ranking, as runner-up in a contest of thousands. But this year, they weren’t even in the top 25. Why the precipitous drop?

“There’s no one part of the country that’s particularly better or worse. It’s a personal preference. To coin a phrase, ‘Your mother’s cooking is always the best’,” says judge Russel Ford, a drinking water technologist.

So whose tap water reigns supreme this time around?

For a really good glass taken straight from the tap, it turns out, head to Greenville, South Carolina.

UPDATE: In an email, Neiderer takes issue with Y&H’s point about previously elevated lead levels in D.C. tap water and clarifies the current health of the city water supply thusly:

“Lead levels in the District are below the EPA Lead Action Level and have been since 2005. Furthermore, DC tap water meets all EPA drinking water standards.

Drinking water is essentially lead-free in the District’s distribution system and prior to entering individual water service pipes. Lead can enter water that travels through an individual household lead service pipe, lead solder or household plumbing containing lead. We routinely conduct regulatory and voluntary lead testing to ensure drinking water treatment is effective in minimizing lead release in households with these sources. DC Water also offers free lead test kits to residents.

We provide high-quality, affordable and reliable tap water and encourage customers to contact us directly if they have specific concerns or questions about their tap water.”

Photo by Flickr user G. Bremer/Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommerical 2.0 Generic License

DC Water outreach specialist