Schenectady County

Schenectady’s water judged county’s best

Schenectady edged its opponents by a small margin, advancing the city to the competition’s next stag
Kim Sage and David Gran taste water samples from four Schenectady County municipalities with their daughters Amaya, 5, and Ella, 3, on July 2, 2015.
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Kim Sage and David Gran taste water samples from four Schenectady County municipalities with their daughters Amaya, 5, and Ella, 3, on July 2, 2015.

Keep them cold.

That’s Jason Pelton’s best advice for water operators competing in New York’s Best Tasting Drinking Water competition.

Four Schenectady County municipalities competed in the first round of the event Thursday afternoon outside City Hall, offering samples of their tap water at the farmers market and encouraging residents to choose their two favorites. The competitors were Schenectady, Scotia, Glenville and Rotterdam.

In the end, Schenectady edged its opponents by a small margin, advancing the city to the competition’s next stage.

Pelton is the groundwater management planner for Schenectady County. He said he enjoys coordinating the event every year.

“It’s just a fun opportunity for the guys that provide high-quality drinking water every day to our residents to get some recognition for

their day-to-day hard work,” he said. “The county is really blessed for that.”

Thursday’s competition was also scheduled to include Niskayuna and Princetown, but neither made an appearance.

Princetown town Supervisor Mike Joyce said his water supervisor was notified of the event via voicemail late Wednesday night, and didn’t get the message until it was too late.

“I think we should cry foul because we would’ve been in the running if we had the chance,” Joyce joked. “We’ve participated before and hope to do so again in the future.”

For Niskayuna, it was a scheduling error, according to Town Board member Denise Murphy McGraw. She said town officials mistakenly had it on the calender for next week. She noted Niskayuna’s past success in the competition as an indicator of the quality of the town’s water: Niskayuna won best in the state in 2012 and best in the region in 2013.

The competition doesn’t end at the county level. Schenectady water operator Steve Garbe and samples of the city’s tap water will move on to the regional stage in early August. The venue for this part of the competition is Alive at Five, an outdoor concert series in Albany. Finally, regional winners from across the state will put their water to the test at the New York State Fair in Syracuse from Aug. 27 to Sept. 7.

Winning at the fair isn’t unfamiliar territory to the county. Last year, Rotterdam won the state title for a second time. Schenectady has also won the top prize once before.

“Schenectady County consistently sends representatives to the state-level competition,” Pelton said. “That’s because we have a really productive, high-quality aquifer system here.”

However, in the history of the competition, no municipality has ever been able to defend its title.

Still, for the operators, the event is a friendly competition, primarily for the fun of going for the prestigious title.

“It’s bragging rights, or at least that’s how we treat it as operators,” said Rotterdam senior water operator Ian Bonthron. “We’ve all either gone to school or worked together professionally at some point, so it’s friendships on top of being coworkers.”

Bonthron said all four municipalities draw from the same source, the Great Flats Aquifer in Rotterdam. The aquifer is one of the largest operating in the world, he said.

He also said there’s no secret to making the best-tasting water, but each town has a slightly different approach. Participants said these differences were notable.

“It was very easy to pick out the two that had a little more of a chemical taste,” said participant Helen Macdonald of Schenectady.

Maxine Borom of Scotia agreed but said she could still pick a winner.

“Two of the choices were very neutral-tasting,” Borom said. “Still, for no other way to say it, one had a little more of a nothing taste than the other. That’s the one I picked.”

People of all ages were encouraged to participate in the competition. Five-year-old Amaya Gran was outspoken about which samples she didn’t like. Her father, David Gran, had a more difficult time choosing the best water.

“My daughter really liked sample A [Scotia], but I’m torn between that and D [Schenectady],” he said.

Gran is on vacation, visiting family with Kim Sage, who grew up in Delmar. For the couple and their two daughters, the competition was an exciting experience.

“We live in China now, and all the water there is bottled,” Sage said. “This is a unique experience for us because tap water just doesn’t exist where we live. That’s probably why the girls can tell the difference between them all.”

In the United States, though, water operators say consumers should pick the faucet over bottles for their drinking water.

“We have many more standards that we have to meet than bottle companies do, especially when it comes to safety regulations for contaminations,” Bonthron said, citing Niagara Bottling’s recent voluntary recall of more than a dozen brands of water that may have had traces of E. Coli. “What’s coming out of people’s sink is actually safer, not to mention free.”

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