Backtracking: In Our Times: Sidney bragged of having the best tasting water in 1989

FILESidney Mayor Elwood ‘Dixie’ Davis, left, looks on as state DEC commissioner Thomas C. Jorling pours a glass of Sidney’s award-winning water in Syracuse on Tuesday, Aug. 29, 1989

It was a year Sidney made a big splash at the New York State Fair — and it was all about water, in 1989.

For many years, the state departments of Health and Environmental Conservation have been sponsoring a best-tasting water contest all across New York. Communities entered their tap water into regional contests, and winners eventually moved on to the State Fair for final competitions.

Sidney was among many communities to enter their water, and as The Daily Star reported on Aug. 16, “You can’t fool James Nordberg when it comes to the taste of his water.

“The operator of the village of Sidney water and sewer plant was in Albany Tuesday afternoon representing one of the six communities in the annual water ‘taste-off.’

“In a blind taste test, he picked his village’s water as the best among the six municipal water samples there.

“But Nordberg wasn’t the only one. He and 144 patrons at Colonie Center voted Sidney first place in the eastern regional taste-off, sending its water to the ultimate test in two weeks when it competes against seven other samples at the state fair in Syracuse for the title of best tasting water in the state.”

At the taste testing, six water pitchers labeled A through F were put on the table at the suburban Albany shopping mall, and samples of the water were distributed to shoppers, who gave point totals to the top three samples.

According to Nordberg, Sidney water excelled because it was a well-balanced mix of water from the village’s River Street wells and from the Pine Hill Reservoir between Sidney and Unadilla. The only additives in the water were chlorine and fluoride, he said.

A state DEC spokesman at the Colonie Center tasting, Arnold Baer, said these water taste tests were appropriate during what he called environmentally oriented times, following several oil spills, such as the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska.

“‘People are becoming more aware of the environment in general,’ Baer said. ‘We don’t want water to be forgotten.’”

For Sidney, it was on to the finals, and the water was wonderful, as Star readers learned on Aug. 30.

“It is now official. Sidney has floated to the top of the water world … as New York State Fair patrons have picked Sidney’s water as the best tasting municipal water in the state. State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Thomas C. Jorling pronounced Sidney the winner … at the fairgrounds in Syracuse Tuesday morning. Fairgoers gave the nod to Sidney’s water over Scarsdale’s in a 64-53 vote Sunday.

“Village Mayor Elwood ‘Dixie’ Davis, along with water plant operator James Nordberg and public works superintendent Frank Holley, attended Tuesday’s ceremony, where they heard a few words from Jorling and shared with him some ceremonial glasses of Sidney’s finest tap water.

“The trio was presented with a plaque commending Sidney’s aquatic feat, which David and Holley figure will probably be placed in the village board meeting room. The village will also be receiving two road signs proclaiming Sidney as the producer of the best tasting water in the state.

“Jorling noted the appropriateness of Tuesday’s ceremony being held in the rain. He said it has rained the past two years when the water accolades were handed out, to Angelica last year and Hoosick Falls the year before.”

Defending the title wasn’t easy. In 1990, Sidney was knocked out of the semi-finals at the state fair by the Chautauqua County village of Mayville.

Sidney came close again in 1992, ranking fourth in the state. Walton was the state water champion in 1993.

This weekend: Labor Day weekend fun in 1934. 

Oneonta City Historian Mark Simonson’s column appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area before 1950. His Tuesday columns address local history 1950 and later.  If you have feedback or ideas about the column, write to him at The Daily Star, or email him at His website is His columns can be found at

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