Coal and garnet make Guilderland's water taste best in county

GUILDERLAND — The town of Guilderland defended its title and won the distinction of Albany County’s Best Drinking Water for the second year in a row. It moves on to the regional competition, to be held at Alive at Five, on Albany concert, on Aug. 8.

The county contest was held on July 10, at the county executive’s headquarters, and Mary Rozak, director of communications, said the judging was anonymous. All county residents and employees were invited to come in and taste unlabeled water samples from six different local systems — Albany, Cohoes, Green Island, Bethlehem, Latham, and Guilderland.

Rozak said that, throughout the day, people walked in off the street to taste the water, and county and state employees also joined in the sampling. They selected their three favorites, ranked them, and submitted ballots. Guilderland came out on top, just ahead of Latham.

Peter Letko, chief operator of the town’s water plant, located in the Northeastern Industrial Park, attributes Guilderland’s water quality to the way the town treats it at the plant.

“We use anthracite coal and different sizes of garnet stone to filter out the impurities,” he said. “We also use enhanced coagulation to take as much total organic carbon — the funky, swampy-tasting stuff — out of the water.”

All water, said Letko, even surface water that looks clear, has organic carbons in it, which are basically the result of rotting vegetation.

“We get our water from the Watervliet Reservoir, so you can tell it’s not a pristine water supply,” Letko said. “Sometimes it looks green or yellow.”

The treatment plant uses granulated active charcoal filters, similar to the kind of individual water filtration systems people use at home, to take out an additional amount of organic carbons.

“Once we treat and produce the water, it goes out into distribution,” Letko said. “We have two wells where we mix our water and blend it with water that we buy from the city of Albany.”

The wells, he said, have a higher concentration of iron than the town would like, so it is important to balance the amount of chlorine that is added for sanitary safety.

“There’s a thing called breakpoint chlorination; if you put too much chlorine in the water, it tastes like a swimming pool, but if you put too little chlorine in the water, you get a strong odor,” he said. “We try to maintain the minimum amount of chlorine for safety without adding too much or too little.”

Letko said he takes pride in having a large hand in producing some of the best-tasting water in the county.

“It’s what we do; we try to produce the best quality water we can,” said Letko. “We try to keep it basically average so it appeals to everybody.”

The winner of the regional competition, on Aug. 8, will move on to the state competition, held at the New York State Fair, in Syracuse, from Aug. 22 to Sept. 2. Guilderland was runner-up in the state finals last year, coming in second to Niskayuna, but County Executive Daniel McCoy said, in a release, that he believes this is Guilderland’s year to win.

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