The town of Niskayuna leapfrogged the city of Schenectady for the top spot in the 2012 Schenectady County Best Tasting Drinking Water competition. The two municipalities have been trading first place in the contest since 2009.
Tasters and contest organizers alike said there were subtle differences in taste during the blind test at the downtown Schenectady Greenmarket on Thursday. The results reflected this, with a three-point margin between Niskayuna and Schenectady. Niskayuna won 42 points to Schenectady’s 39. The village of Scotia, the town of Glenville and the town of Rotterdam also competed, and came in farther down in the tally.
Each voter card had two blanks. Top choices got two points each and second choices received one point.
Niskayuna will advance to the regional competition at a future Alive at Five event in Albany. The top two finishers there will go on to the statewide contest, held at the New York State Fair in Syracuse. The winner gets bragging rights for the best drinking water in the state.
“Congratulations Town of Niskayuna for regaining your title,” said Judy Dagostino, chairwoman of the Schenectady County Legislature in a prepared statement. She added that the county has some of the best water in all of New York, proved by Schenectady and Rotterdam previously winning regional and state championships.
Roberta Steiner of Niskayuna has taken part in the blind taste test before, but said this was the first year where there wasn’t an obvious difference between the choices.
“Usually there’s one or two that’s bad and you dump it out,” she said. “This year it was harder. A lot like wine tasting because it’s subtle.” The one she chose as her favorite turned out to be Niskayuna.
She wasn’t the only one who had difficulties. Yi-Mei Han of Schenectady said it was a difficult decision.
“Of course I hope Schenectady wins, but this year it was subtle. This year was hard,” said Han, who judged for the contest previously.
The subtleties causing the harder-than-usual decision for voters could be the temperature of the water being served and the amount of chlorine present, said competition organizer Jason Pelton, the Schenectady County groundwater management planner. If the water is too warm or tastes too much of chlorine, most voters will put it at the bottom of their choices, he said. Each district pulls water from The Great Flats Aquifer, an underground resource that stretches about 25 miles, he said. Having the water coming from the same source offers a more neutral taste, Pelton said. “Sometimes, if you’re comparing to a private well, the shale will give the water a sulfuric taste,” he said.
Those running the competition tried to make the playing field as even as possible. Representatives from the water districts brought coolers full of ice and, of course, water.
The water was poured from glass containers into pitchers, labeled with letters A through E, which was divvied into small plastic cups. Samplers took a cup from each pitcher and made their vote based on their personal tastes.
Jon Feret hoped that the minute differences in taste wouldn’t be taken over by the smoked kielbasa he ate earlier, but said whichever water won wouldn’t make too much of a difference. To him, it’s all good.
“Best water in the country is right here,” said Feret, of Niskayuna. “Why anyone would buy bottled water is beyond me.”