CHESHIRE, Mass. — First the Cheshire Mammoth Cheese went to Washington, now the water.
The Cheshire Water Department will represent the Bay State next week at Washington, D.C.'s Rural Water Rally Great American Taste Test.
"I feel good, and I think we are going to do all right," Water Department Superintendent Travis Delratez said Thursday. "We have just as good of a chance as anyone else and I have always thought we have great tasting water."
Last September, the town's water won the state competition, which catapulted it to the national stage. Although the department has participated in the state taste competition in the past, last year was its first year winning and this will be the town's debut in DC.
Jon Tibbetts of the Mass Rural Water Association said the competition is part of a three-day Rural Water convention in which water departments from throughout the country will not only lobby and network but see whose water is No. 1.
Tibbetts said there is typically representation from at least 40 states and judges from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and similar organizations conduct a smell taste, clarity test and, most importantly, a taste test.
He said in a way it mimics a wine tasting.
"They will do a taste test behind the scenes and narrow it down to the top five and then do a live test with the top five," Tibbetts said. "It's like wine tasting and they actually have it in wine glasses."
Water Commissioner Francis "Bigs" Waterman, who has been a member of the Water Commission for over 20 years, said it has been a long road for the Cheshire water system. When he first joined the commission, it was a challenge just to stay in compliance with water regulations.
"If we back up like 20 years ago like most small water systems, it's tough. It is tough to be in compliance," he said. "We became more efficient and more ahead of the curb compliance-wise. It takes a long time though because everything you do in a water system it is a 100-year plan."
Waterman said the department has continued to improve the system and actually received a state Department of Environmental Protection award for being in the top 5 percent of small water systems in the state less than 10 years ago.
Cheshire has continued to stay ahead of regulations and when the state started pressuring the department to hire a full-time water superintendent, the commissioners made their plea to the town and the water users and hired Delratez in 2015.
Waterman said this not only brought them into compliance but freed up time for the department to compete in such competitions.
"We never focused really on the state taste tests because we didn't have Travis then. It was basically I was the licensed operator and we had a part-time superintendent," Waterman said. "It has been nice having Travis because it allows us the ability to enter into things like this instead of just keeping the system in compliance."
Delratez said the secret to Cheshire water is the mountain.
"I think it is Mount Greylock and it comes down and filters through," he said. "We don't add anything to it so it is a really clean source."
Tibbetts said this is a luxury many departments don't have.
"It's pretty funny to go and watch the taste test. West Springfield brought their water down and you could smell the chlorine right away," he said. "It's funny to watch the judges' reactions."
Delratez said a water sample has already been packaged and sent to the Capitol and if Cheshire wins, it will be presented a trophy and will be able to say it has the best water in the country.
Delratez added that the title not only gives the town bragging rights but could potentially bring in new businesses. When Easthampton won, it launched a promotional campaign that attracted bottling facilities and even a brewery, he said.
"Clean water is important," he said. "I guess if you have good water you have good beer."
He added whenever water makes the news it is usually for a bad reason such as when a system fails or breaks. He said it's nice to take a second and celebrate water.
"It's good stuff and you always hear bad stuff about water so it is nice to have this," Delratez said. "We take water for granted, we always do, and ... it's nice to be able to have this opportunity."
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