Shelburne Falls water wins ‘taste test,’ heads to national competition

  • Rebekah McDermott, superintendent of the Shelburne Falls Fire District Water Department, and Assistant Superintendent John Ferris show off their first-place award for drinking water in front of the Shelburne water tank Friday. Staff photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Rebekah McDermott, Superintendent of the Shelburne Falls Fire District Water Department and Assistant Superintendent John Ferris pour some of that award winning water over their award. September 14, 2018 Recorder Staff/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 9/15/2018 12:20:21 AM

SHELBURNE FALLS — How sweet is the drinking water produced by the Shelburne Falls Fire District? Good enough to go into national competition, according to judges of a recent taste contest for public drinking water, hosted by the Massachusetts Rural Water Association, and held this week at the Northfield Mountain Recreation and Environmental Center.

In its first time entering the annual contest, Shelburne Falls Fire District took first place for tastiest water and will compete at the national level, with drinking water from other states, in Washington, D.C., in February.

The Massachusetts Rural Water Association is an organization that helps public water supplies with training and technical assistance. Judges taste-tasted water from 14 water systems, before giving Shelburne Falls’ water top honors.

The test came down to three water “finalists:” Shelburne Falls, Gilbertville, and Amherst, which respectively placed first, second and third.

How do you taste-test water? Aroma and water clarity plays a big part, as well as taste, says George Krivda, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s state director of Southern New England. He was one of the three judges for the final water-tasting round.

“I live in Connecticut, and I’m fortunate enough to have a well situated near a spring. So I get the cleanest, clearest water you can ever imagine,” says Krivda. “The water from Shelburne Falls – in fact from all three finalists – tasted like mine.”

“I have previously done taste-testing where the range of quality in the water was much greater,” he added.

“These people work very hard ... to make sure there are no contaminants in the water that so many people take for granted,” he remarked. “It’s not by accident that people of Massachusetts have safe drinking water.”

“We’re very excited,” said Rebekah McDermott, superintendent of the Shelburne Falls Fire District Water Department.

The water department produces about 170,000 gallons a day for roughly 2,000 residents and for Shelburne Falls businesses. The water towers in Buckland and Shelburne each hold about 500,000 gallons.

Shelburne Falls water comes from two wells that draw from the North River aquifer in Colrain. The water is not treated with chlorine, but is checked monthly for bacteria levels. However, mineral salts are added to neutralize the slightly acidic water, as is required by the state. “The acidity of most New England water is capable of leaching lead and copper from pipes,” McDermott said.

According to Water Resource Planner Bruce Young of the Massachusetts Rural Water Association, the state competition has been going on for 13 years. He said communities within the Massachusetts Rural Water Association have won the national competition three times. He explained that the day of the national competition in Washington, D.C., begins with a “Rural Water Rally” in which members from each state meet with their respective Congressmen and Senators to discuss local water issues. Then each state submits water for the taste tests. The entries are narrowed to five finalists, with five judges to sample them and select their favorites.

In February 2015, Easthampton won the national drinking-water contest, and the news got a mention on the Tonight Show, with Jimmy Fallon. McDermott and a  employee at the Easthampton Town Water Division both noted that Easthampton has several breweries, possibly because of the good-quality water provided by the Barnes aquifer.

“In 2015, Easthampton’s was the unanimous choice of five judges, “ Young pointed out, “which is pretty hard to believe.”

Shelburne Falls may be hoping for its own shot at the national spotlight.




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