West Seattleite Ralph Naess, 48, drinks water straight from the faucet. As manager of the public and cultural programs at the Cedar River Watershed—the more than 90,000 acres of natural habitat and protected water near North Bend that is the source of Seattle’s tap water—Naess has been quenching the public’s thirst for knowledge about local water for more than 18 years. An Evergreen grad with a masters from Antioch University, Naess heads a program that includes Drinking Water Discovery tours of the watershed (weekends through September; see seattle.gov). Here, he reveals exactly why Seattle’s water is so wonderful. Sarai Dominguez
SM: What makes Seattle drinking water special?
RN: Our water tastes good because it comes fresh from the Cascades: natural, minimally treated—no herbicides, pesticides or chemicals—clean, tasty water. It’s not like the water from the Mississippi River or Lake Michigan, which is heavily filtered and processed (because it’s been through thousands of kidneys) and kind of tastes flat. Our protected watershed is a fundamentally different kind of system. We get the first use of this water, and everything in here is natural.
SM: What’s the water’s pathway to our faucets?
RN: From the Cedar River Watershed the water is screened, then sent on to Lake Youngs, where we use ozone (a disinfectant), chlorine and ultraviolet light to kill the organisms—naturally occurring bacteria and protozoa—in the water. It’s then stored in reservoirs. Open reservoirs have chlorination systems to re-treat the water, because once the water is opened up to the air, ducks can fly in, algae can grow. Covered reservoirs are fantastic for water quality and security.
SM: How does our tap water compare to bottled water?
RN: Water out of your tap is much more regulated than bottled water. Bottled water companies test their own product, while we test our water from the source to the tap; [Our] labs test dozens of samples a day. Bottled water has other environmental consequences, such as the bottle itself, which is made from petroleum. Also, you can get a hundred gallons of tap water for less than a dollar. It’s like the water is falling out of Cedar Falls, through the river, directly into your glass. It’s beautiful.
*This story has been updated since the print edition went to press.