FORT WORTH -- If you've ever seen a beer- or wine-judging contest, you have a sense of what took place Thursday at the Fort Worth Convention Center.
The judges held cups to their noses, munched on crackers to cleanse their palates and held sheets of paper behind the samples to determine clarity. And then, of course, they took a drink.
Only this time, the judges weren't drinking alcoholic beverages. Nope, they were sampling water.
"You need good water to make a good beer, so you're really looking for the same things," said one of the judges, Fritz Rahr, founder of Fort Worth's Rahr & Sons Brewery.
In the end, Rahr and two other judges chose Arlington's drinking water as the state's best, out of 11 entries. Midlothian finished second and Jacksboro third. The order of the rest of the entries wasn't revealed.
The contest was part of the Texas Section of the American Water Works Association, which is the largest regional water conference in the nation, with 2,000 attendees. It ends today.
The contest was held in the middle of the convention center's exhibit hall, where vendors were hawking the latest in pipes, meters, valves, software and countless other devices for the water and wastewater industry.
With the honor, Arlington will go on to compete for the national title in June. No Texas entry has ever won the national competition.
Fort Worth, which won the state contest in 2007, is serving a two-year ban for a monitoring violation in 2009. Arlington claimed the prize even though a 2007 study found minute traces of prescription medications in the drinking supply. They weren't deemed harmful.
Arlington Water Utilities Director Julie Hunt hailed the win as a "great endorsement" for her department's workers and said the city is eager to compete for the national crown. She was already mulling the best way to get water to Washington, D.C., so it wouldn't lose its luster along the way.
The judges found little difference in the taste of most entries. Only a couple scored poorly in color and clarity, said judge Jim Chaffee, vice president of the water association.
"The taste was very similar," Chaffee said. "There weren't any real strong chemical or metallic tastes in the group."
Unlike beer or wine contests, he said, a water contest isn't as subjective. Panelists can usually reach a consensus on the best glass of water by using four categories: taste, odor, color and clarity.
Rahr joked about one way to liven up the contest.
"We could have had beer as a palate cleanser between entries," Rahr said.
Bill Hanna, 817-390-7698