FAIRMONT - After years of tolerating an offensive "fishy" smell every time a hot water tap was turned on in the summer, most Fairmont residents probably didn't even notice the odorless tap water this summer. Water flowing through those faucets this year bested 17 other contenders to win the 2014 Great Minnesota Tap Water Taste Test last week at the Minnesota State Fair.
Doug Rainforth took over management of Fairmont's year-old water treatment plant just three months ago, replacing long-time superintendent Butch Hybbert, who retired. Rainforth credits Hybbert, city engineer/public works director Troy Nemmers, and the Fairmont Public Utilities Commission for having the vision for the new facility and for making it a reality.
"They deserve the accolades," Rainforth said.
"We are very proud that the City of Fairmont's drinking water was awarded the best tasting water at the State Fair competition," Nemmers said. "The Public Utilities Commission and city council members that made the decisions to move this project forward should be commended. This has been a long process with years of planning, design and construciton. We are glad that all that work has paid off."
Other cities submitting samples were Apple Valley, Bloomington, Burnsville, Eagan, Eden Prairie, Grand Marais, Hastings, International Falls, Lakeville, Le Sueur, Lino Lakes, Minneapolis, North St. Paul, St. Cloud, St. Paul, St. Peter and Willmar.
During the competition, each city's sample was given a random number, with comparison matches and the eventual winners posted on a grid similar to a basketball tournament bracket. All samples were anonymous until the last two rounds.
"I didn't even realize we were still in the process until the semifinals," Rainforth said. "They didn't identify any of them."
In the semifinal round, Fairmont's water was compared to a sample from North St. Paul, with Fairmont emerging victorious. Le Sueur was ousted from the competition by International Falls, the 2013 state winner.
Water from Fairmont and International Falls were then compared, with Fairmont's sample taking first place honors.
"The water department staff works hard to operate the plant and produce safe and great-tasting water. This award shows that we are accomplishing that goal," Nemmers said.
Rainforth said the victory was even sweeter.
"In the national taste test last year, International Falls took second," he said.
Also, each level of the state competition tests three samples, so votes are often 2-1.
"But we won unanimously," Rainforth said.
He would like to take a sample from Fairmont to this year's national competition in Anaheim, Calif., but travel costs are prohibitive.
This isn't the first liquid victory for local water. Before the new plant was officially opened a year ago, a trial sample from an initial test run took top honors in regional competition for southwestern Minnesota. The taste tests were conducted by the Minnesota Department of Health Drinking Water Protection Section and the Minnesota Section of American Water Works Association.