2018-04-07 / Top News

Island Water Tastes the Best

By Stephanie Fortino


Mackinac Island water filtration plant operator (from left) Roy Bessell, manager Allen Burt, and operator Eric Cowell help make the best tasting drinking water in the state of Michigan, according to a taste test at the Michigan Rural Water Conference held in March. The crew is pictured near the intricate microfiltration system at the plant Tuesday, April 3. Mackinac Island water filtration plant operator (from left) Roy Bessell, manager Allen Burt, and operator Eric Cowell help make the best tasting drinking water in the state of Michigan, according to a taste test at the Michigan Rural Water Conference held in March. The crew is pictured near the intricate microfiltration system at the plant Tuesday, April 3. The crew at the Mackinac Island Water Filtration Plant takes pride in cleaning millions of gallons of Lake Huron water each year. With a clean water source and advanced microfiltration process, Mackinac Island’s tap water has now been named the best tasting water in Michigan, according to a blind taste test at the Michigan Rural Water Association Conference, which was held Wednesday, March 21 and Thursday, March 22.

Mackinac Island Department of Public Works Director Michael Olson has attended the conference the previous two years. He decided to submit the Island’s water for the taste for the first time last year, but Mackinac Island didn’t place. This year, however, the Island brought home the win, beating out Davison, which has won the award multiple times.

“Why not enter it?” Mr. Olson asked. “When you take the chance of winning, that translates to our customers the quality of the water that we’re producing.”

To enter water samples into the taste test, the water has to be collected in a glass jar and kept cool during transportation, in the back of Mr. Olson’s truck. The day he left for the conference in Mount Pleasant, water plant manager Allen Burt arrived to work early that day to collect the sample, which he took before the day’s filtration process began. This could have improved the taste of the water, Mr. Burt said, since the water had sat in a holding tank overnight, which allowed the chlorine to dissipate. Chlorine gas is added to disinfect the water.

“The chlorine taste might not have been as strong” this year, Mr. Olson said, which could have given the Island an edge in the competition.

“We know the water quality on the Island is high,” Mr. Burt said, “but having it come out on top is pretty exciting.”

The quality of drinking water on the Island is due in part to the quality of Lake Huron.

“Out here in the middle of the lake, surrounded by the flow of that ancient river, there are few organics in the water,” Mr. Burt said. “There are few contaminants and very little that we need to filter out to begin with. Our source of water is better, and it goes through microfiltration, which only improves it.”

At the blind taste test during the conference, a panel of judges sipped samples to compare the subtle flavors of the water. After the first and second rounds of tasting, the Island was tied with another municipality. But at the end of the third round, Mackinac Island edged Davison to take the top spot.

The taste test was determined on a point system, as categories like clarity, odor, and taste were considered.

As the winners of the statewide competition, the City of Mackinac Island is now entered in the national taste test next year. The city also received a paid trip to the national conference, which Mr. Olson plans to attend. This spring the city will be presented a trophy.

Attending the Michigan Rural Water Association Conference offers many options for continuing education and networking, Mr. Olson said. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and other organizations host training sessions, workshops, and safety classes. While the Michigan Rural Water Association Conference previously was geared more to selling products, the conferences now are focused on addressing problems faced by many communities and sharing new technologies that can help local DPWs operate.

“It used to be a sales pitch,” he said. “Now it’s more education.”

Wastewater operations, water filtration, grant programs, asset management planning and predictive maintenance, and emergency power generation were among the topics covered this year. While the conference is aimed at helping small communities, large municipalities like Flint attend, as well. Participants in workshops and classes also receive continuing education credits.

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