Quench your thirst

Yampa boasts Colorado's best-tasting water

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"When it hits the glass, it's just raw, clear, cold. It just tastes really good."

That's how Cindie Milway describes Yampa's water. That water, which comes out of residents' taps every day, recently won the Colorado Rural Water Association's award for best-tasting water. Granted, this was the first contest the association has held, and only five districts entered, but the win means Yampa's water will be entered in a national best-tasting water competition.

Milway reuses plastic bottles, so though she may be carrying around an Aquafina bottle, it's filled with Yampa water.

"Here we are at the shoulders of the Flat Tops Wilderness," Milway said. "Why shouldn't we have perfect water?"

Jim Remmert had a tall glass of

water with his lunch at Penny's Diner on Wednesday. He said he thought Yampa's water was pretty good.

"The only time I notice water is when it's bad," Remmert said. Remmert lives in Grand Junction, where he said the water also tastes good. Yampa's water is comparable with what he drinks each day.

"I've actually had some bottled water I think is worse than the water right here," Remmert said.

Eric Berry is Yampa's public works superintendent. He and an assistant make sure the town's water is clean, meets all regulations and tastes good. He contends that there are places even in Routt County where the water doesn't taste so good.

"I knew we had quality (water)," Berry said. "I thought it was the best in Colorado. I was just hoping that others would think so."

When Berry heard the Colo--rado Rural Water Association was sponsoring a water-tasting contest, he had to bring a gallon jug of Yampa's water to the group's annual meeting in Colorado Springs.

Berry was happy that Yampa's water won, although he was hoping for more competition.

"I was disappointed," Berry said. "Let's be honest, I wanted to have a big contest. I wanted to win against some of the big cities on the Front Range."

Rich Hayes, executive director of the Colorado Rural Water Association, said the organization hopes to have more entries next year. The three finalists in this year's competition were Yampa, Yuma and Campo. Any water district serving fewer than 10,000 people can enter, which includes about 95 percent of Colorado's water providers, Hayes said.

What makes water taste good is subjective, Hayes said.

To some extent, it depends on what type of water the taster grew up on. Most people like to taste a mixture of certain minerals that often are in water. Pristine snow water may end up tasting "flat" to people who are used to treated water, Hayes said.

Calcium, magnesium, sodium and other minerals give water its flavor, though a strong odor or taste is bad.

Yampa has an advantage over some water systems because it starts with good water. The water comes from a mesa that's about three miles wide and 15 miles long, Berry said. When snowpack melts, or rain or irrigation water hits the mesa, the water slowly trickles down through layers of soils and rock.

"The mesa makes the difference in my mind -- it's just one big filter," he said.

The water is collected by a series of pipes buried in the ground. When the water is collected, it is so clean that it does not need to be filtered.

At Yampa's water treatment plant, the water is automatically mixed with the minimum amount of chlorine needed to kill any bugs as well as a caustic soda, which prevents copper and lead in water pipes from entering the water. Berry and his assistant check the chlorine and pH levels of the water daily.

It's a very simple system that was built in 1977.

"We try to provide a quality product day in and day out," he said. "That's the job, and it has to be done. Everybody that works in water, to me, all want to have clean, good-tasting water."

He also knows that though his job may not be well-recognized, it's an important one.

"You're probably the most important person in the community, because safe drinking water ... is one of the most important things we have here in the United States," he said.

He admits that not everyone in town may like Yampa's water, and he knows some people in town who buy bottled water. The biggest complaint people have is sometimes air gets mixed in, making the water white when it comes out of the tap.

Sonja Shoemaker, owner of The Cuttin' Corral in Yampa, has a natural spring at her home and said that nothing compares to it. But she said Yampa's water isn't bad and is definitely preferable to water in Steamboat Springs.

Jessica Wall, who has lived in Yampa for seven years and works at Penny's Diner, said she didn't know the water was anything special.

"It's all right," she said. "It's water. A few times, people come in and say we have good water, but I've never really noticed."

Cinda Garcia, who works in Yampa, seemed to agree.

"It's water, as far as I'm concerned," she said. "There are places where water is not wonderful. When it's good, it's good, and you don't pay any attention. It's unfortunate that we do take it for granted."

To Berry, the water tastes good. He's lived in Northwest Colorado all his life, and in Yampa for a while. When he was going to Fort Collins for college, he looked forward to coming back to Yampa for a cold glass of water.

Berry had a friend of the family from Louisville who raved about Yampa's water.

"She always thought we had the best-tasting water," Berry said. "When they came up here fishing, they took water back with them. I always thought that was funny."

-- To reach Susan Cunningham, call 871-4203 or e-mail sbacon@steamboatpilot.com

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