The village of Fort Plain has a complicated relationship with water.
On June 28, the Otsquago Creek swelled over its banks, ripping up streets and flooding dozens of homes and businesses. The village was flooded in 2006, as well, and plenty of times before that.
But as long as village mayor and lifelong resident Guy Barton can remember, Fort Plain has enjoyed what he called “delightful” drinking water.
“It’s crystal clear,” he said, “very refreshing. I don’t know how one classifies water, but we have really good water.”
In fact, Fort Plain recently came in second in a statewide drinking water competition held at the New York State Fair in Syracuse. Roughly 250 fairgoers tasted 10 samples of water that won local competitions across the state.
Between rounds of corndogs and mini-doughnuts, they said Rochester’s was best, but liked Fort Plain’s water very nearly as well.
“This friendly competition highlights the efforts of communities and their partners who go above and beyond to deliver safe, great-tasting water to the taps of millions of homes and businesses throughout the state,” state Health Commissioner Nirav Shah said in a statement, going on to stress the importance of clean drinking water to every community.
“I’m very pleased,” Barton said. “Now people know Fort Plain for something more than terrible disasters.”
Village Public Works Superintendent George Capece detailed the award-winning water’s trip from springs in the Adirondacks south to a 15 million-gallon reservoir near Nelliston.
“We have a slow sand filtration system,” he said, “and we add in some well water.”
Capece was at the State Fair last Thursday, watching as passersby drank water samples from Dixie cups. It was close, he said, between the two leaders.
“I was heartbroken we didn’t win,” he said. “We were doing so well.”
Capece has operated the Fort Plain filtration and piping system for 24 years. He knows enough about water to offer an explanation for Rochester’s success.
“Water is sort of like coffee,” he said, “people get used to what they like.”
Rochester has a population of more than 200,000. Capece said some were probably at the fair, tipping back the little cups and voting for the water they were used to.
Even if the village didn’t land the highest award, residents still reap the benefits of a good water system. Erie Station Bar and Grill opened on Canal Street just a few weeks ago. Head cook Alannah Haig was relieved when she realized she could serve water straight from the tap.
“I used to work in a restaurant in Cobleskill,” she said. “We had to use a softener and only serve the stuff out of the pop machine. The water here is really nice.”
Erie Station was just about ready to open when the village flooded earlier this summer. Mud and wreckage stalled its grand opening, but the place is back on track.
Luckily, the drinking water supply wasn’t affected. It’s a closed system, so even as the Otsquago Creek floodwaters ripped up sewer and water lines along Abbott, Reid and Dairy streets in the village, the reservoir to the north remained pure.
It was one of Barton’s only comforts.
“Now I have something to sell in Fort Plain,” he said. “Come here. We’ll get you a house and the second-best water in the state.”