The waves first started when Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), a member of the Joint Congressional Committee for Inaugural Ceremonies, announced that inaugural events would serve bottled water from Saratoga Spring, a company in Schumer’s home state. D.C. officials protested, asking Schumer to consider serving D.C.’s finest instead — it’s cheaper and more environmentally friendly, they argued.
Today, George Hawkins, general manager of the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority, tells the Loop that the waters are now calm — Schumer just wrote to him explaining that attendees of the event next year will be offered tap water in addition to the bottled water. The bottled water served at the Capitol luncheon and other events will be sparkling, Hawkins said, so it represents a different beverage choice — just like any other soda or juice.
Schumer portrayed the arrangement not so much as a shift in plans but as a clearing of previously muddied waters.
“We’re glad for the change, or if it wasn’t, in fact, a change, then we’re glad for the clarification,” Hawkins tells us. “We were very pleased to get the letter.”
In the letter, Schumer went out of his way to note that Washington’s tap water goes into the teas and coffees and water fountains that keep Capitol Hill hydrated on a daily basis.
Hawkins says he’s constantly battling perceptions that D.C.’s tap water isn’t as clean or tasty as fancy bottled beverages. That has a lot to do with big beverage companies’ sales pitches, which often involved portraying what comes out of humble taps as inferior. “We didn’t respond in kind for the longest time, and we’re not going to let that happen again,” he says.
One way to do that is to do blind taste tests in public spaces pitting common tap water against its bottled cousins — so far, he says, about 67% of tasters either couldn’t tell the difference or preferred the local liquid.
Still unsettled in the inauguration flap, though, is how the D.C. water will be served. Hawkins says Schumer didn’t mention his previous offer to provide reusable water bottles to inauguration attendees. “We’d be delighted,” Hawkins says.
And now the question “sparkling or still?” is taking on some political implications.