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Wisconsin utility reveals secrets to providing nation’s best tasting water

Columbus Utilities in south central Wisconsin wins taste award from the National Rural Water Association

Tap water faucet
Melissa Ingells/WPR

The city of Columbus recently shipped two half-gallon bottles of its tap water to Washington D.C., where a national group declared the water is America’s best tasting.

The National Rural Water Association chose the city northeast of Madison out of a collection of winners from state-based water tasting contests.

“Being able to do this for our community, it’s such a great honor,” said Jake Tanner, lead water operator for Columbus Utilities. 

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What’s the city’s secret?

During an appearance on WPR’s “The Morning Show,” Tanner said the utility softens its water and uses a filter to remove iron. He also tweaked the chemicals added to make water ready for consumption without altering taste or smell.

Columbus’ wells are drilled about 675 feet below ground. The city is also fortunate with a lot of limestone in the area, which helps filtration, Tanner said. The nearby Village of Fall River previously received recognition for its water taste years ago, he said.

“I can definitely tell you there is a large difference in tasting water throughout the state of Wisconsin,” said Tanner, who has judged a taste test in the state.

Jake Tanner shakes the hand of Kevin Mraz and accepts an award.
Jake Tanner, left, shakes the hand of Kevin Mraz from the National Rural Water Association. Tanner is the lead water operator for Columbus Utilities, and he accepted an award for the country’s best tasting water. (Photo courtesy Jake Tanner)

Changing the chemical composition of water treatment can take time because the old product needs to entirely flush out of the system, Tanner said. For example, some chlorine is useful in killing bacteria but too much can cause an odor when residents turn on faucets.

Tanner estimated about 5 or 7 percent of houses in Columbus have their own water softeners. Others rely on the city to soften the water.

While other Wisconsin communities are struggling with toxic chemicals known as PFAS in their drinking water, Tanner said Columbus has passed tests from the state Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Tanner said relying on bottled water or home filters from the store can offer unforeseen risks. Plastic from bottles can leach into the water. Residents often fail to change their household filters enough, he said. Using a dirty filter can cause the water to become more contaminated. 

“When we have a lot more restrictions for utilities and city water — we’re closely monitored by the DNR, the EPA — it’s much safer and a better water for yourself… drinking from the city,” he said. “There’s a lot of customers that enjoy our water.”