The people of the Malvern Hills in Worcestershire are about to do battle with the bureaucrats of Brussels. The issue is water. Under a European Community directive, all water for human consumption must meet certain standards of cleanliness and purity. A letter to this effect has been sent to the Malvern Hills District Council.
But Malvern water is already widely regarded as the purest in Britain. Queen Elizabeth I drank it. Queen Victoria took it abroad with her, along with a dairy cow.
Today Queen Elizabeth II never travels overseas without copious quantities of Malvern spring water in the royal baggage. So how dare the European Community, the Malvernites are asking, call into question the purity of their water?
It is a question that is leaving the Brussels bureaucrats somewhat unmoved. A Community spokesman said standard tests of all European water will be enforced next year, and the Malvern Hills District Council will just have to come into line.
The council replies that it will cost (STR)21,000 ($33,600) a year to test the local water that has been doing nobody anything but good for centuries. The council intends to defy the directive.
It notes that Malvern water was first analyzed in 1757 by Dr. John Wall, who endorsed the product and laid the basis of Malvern's growth as a spa. His enthusiasm was immortalized in a couplet: ''The Malvern water, says Dr. John Wall, is famous for containing nothing at all.''
Britain's Department of the Environment is quietly setting out to persuade the Malvernites that it is in the interest of all to be doubly sure that the local water is pure - and remains so.
The British firm Schweppes bottles and sells Malvern water. Unless it agrees to stringent tests, the company has been told, its product may be ordered off the market.
The joust between Malvern and Brussels could not have begun under more ironic circumstances. Britain's water workers have been locked in an industrial confrontation with the government over pay. The purity of drinking water nationwide has been threatened by a strike of 29,000 workers that began Jan. 24.
While employers and union leaders wrangled, shoppers invaded supermarkets and began stripping the shelves of bottled water - Malvern water included.