The mayor of American Falls hopes to leverage her city’s recent award for having the state’s best tasting drinking water to raise awareness about water conservation and the need to overhaul the deteriorating municipal water system.

The Idaho Rural Water Association selected American Falls as having Idaho’s best tasting drinking water for 2021 at its spring conference on May 26.

A panel of experts judged water samples for their clarity, bouquet and taste. Buhl claimed second place and Jerome finished third.

“We take it for granted in small communities that we have our great spring and great water from the aquifer,” American Falls Mayor Rebekah Sorensen said. “It really is fantastic.”

American Falls draws water from six wells fed by Sunbeam Springs, serving a population of 4,225. IRWA is a nonprofit association comprising 388 water and wastewater systems in the state that primarily serve populations of 10,000 or less.

IRWA will send an American Falls city official and drinking water samples to Washington, D.C., to compete against winners from other states for the national crown. The Great American Water Taste Test is scheduled for February 2022.

Sorensen plans to use the award as an opportunity to start a community dialog about the need to overhaul the city’s aging water infrastructure. Sorensen believes the spotlight on the city’s water quality will also prove useful this summer, when the city plans to start a campaign touting the importance of improving local water conservation.

Sorensen said the city’s water infrastructure consists of “undersized and outdated” 4-inch pipes installed in the 1960s, and the frequency of line breaks has been steadily increasing.

Sorensen said city officials plan to pursue possible grants — especially from the large-scale federal infrastructure bill that’s pending in Congress. She noted her community is already highly taxed and raised its water rates by $5 per month per household last year. She intends to avoid an additional water rate increase and would also like to avoid a bond vote.

But she added, “You can only kick it down the road for so long. If we can find alternative ways to take care of this problem that would be preferable.”

The work would cost about $20 million, according to a 2020 estimate.

Sorensen plans to start a community conservation about the city’s unusually high water consumption. She said the city has “lots of beautiful lawns and green space” but also needs to make certain that it can “keep a good thing going.”

American Falls does not currently use water meters, and Sorensen is not in favor of bringing them in. She hopes to improve the consumption trend through education.