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Published January 05, 2010, 08:38 AM

2 ND contests agree: Valley City has best water

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Judges at two North Dakota contests agree: Valley City has the state's best-tasting water and it deserves the opportunity to compete for recognition at a national level.

By: DALE WETZEL, Associated Press

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Judges at two North Dakota contests agree: Valley City has the state's best-tasting water and it deserves the opportunity to compete for recognition at a national level.

Wade Hesch, the superintendent of Valley City's water treatment plant, said Tuesday that the city has a good source of ground water — and that some careful handling helps.

For competitions, Hesch said, he draws water from a water cooler at the plant into a chilled glass jug, while being careful not to leave any space for air. "It's almost like a secret," he said of his ritual.

"I try to keep it as cold as I can," he said. "Cold water will stay fresher. The warmer it gets, the more stagnant it is going to get."

Tasters at meetings of the North Dakota Rural Water Systems Association and the North Dakota section of the American Water Works Association recently judged Valley City's water as the state's best.

Their verdicts gave Valley City a ticket to the National Rural Water Association's national taste-testing competition, to be held in February in Washington, D.C., and a June taste-off in Chicago sponsored by the American Water Works Association.

Entrants qualify by winning a state or sectional contest. The rural water group expects to have more than 40 entries, said Chris Wilson, a spokesman for the Duncan, Okla.-based organization. Last year more than 20 challengers entered the American Water Works Association's contest.

No North Dakota community has ever won either contest, spokesmen for the two groups said. In 2005, the Cass Rural Water District of Kindred was one of five finalists in the National Rural Water Association's contest, which it calls the Great American Water Taste Test.

Choosing a winner is extremely difficult, because "all of it is really, really good. It's better than bottled water," said Melanie Rhinehart Van Tassell, who was one of three judges for last year's rural water association contest. Van Tassell is legislative director for Rep. Earl Pomeroy, D-N.D., who is a native of Valley City.

Valley City's good water fortune comes during a time of intense debate about its supply. Residents are concerned about high-sulfate water that is being diverted into the Sheyenne River from Devils Lake, about 120 miles north, as officials try to reduce the level of the swollen lake.

The Sheyenne, which flows through the city, has been used for municipal drinking water, although Hesch said the treatment plant was taking its supply from underground aquifers when the winning water samples were drawn.

Valley City's existing water plant is more than 30 years old, and the city is planning to build a new, $15.6 million plant that would use a different treatment method.

Hesch said he would be trying to keep the municipal water's existing taste, but that he was concerned the Devils Lake water could be blamed if the city fails to win subsequent contests.

"Maybe we'll be lucky enough to win it again with that (Devils Lake) water coming down," he said. "But we could lose because of other stuff, besides what happens with the Devils Lake water."

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