Bill Bland helps pick the best of the best of Wisconsin’s drinking water

“The quality of water in Wisconsin is excellent. This whole exercise is about that,” said soils professor Bill Bland as he made his way to his seat on the judging panel of the 2010 Wisconsin Water Taste Test, held Sept. 14 at the annual convention of the Wisconsin Water Association at Madison’s Monona Terrace.

There was bit of Napa Valley here, as experts sipped, savored, sniffed and held glasses to the light to detect subtle differences in color and clarity. But this wasn’t about creamy mouthfeel or oak aftertones. This was about whether there was a hint of chlorine, hydrocarbons, or “marshiness,” or a long list of other traits.

This contest and others like it across the nation are part of an effort to highlight the quality and safety of water from public systems, which, as event sponsors were quick to point out, face much stricter tolerances for contaminants than do commercial bottled water products.

The winner of last year’s event, the Steven’s Point water utility, went on to win top  honors at the national level.

Bland isn’t exactly a professional in this kind of endeavor, unlike the judge to his immediate left (an official from the American Water Association) or the one two seats down (brewmaster for the Great Dane Brew Pub), but he does know a lot about the state’s groundwater, and that counts for something. “More and more, our winners are coming from groundwater wells,” said Rosalind Rouse, who chaired the event for the WWA.

The experience will no doubt make its way into a lecture in a course he teaches, soil science 132, “Earth’s Water: Natural Science and Human Use,” which focuses on the multiple roles that water plays in both ecosystems and society.