#AskMeAmes: ‘Why is the tap water so good?’


Ames water treatment plant

Julia Meehan

Last week, the community spoke and asked: “Why is the tap water so good?”

Well, the Iowa State Daily is here to discuss it.

Ames water is known to be the best and has, in fact, been named the best water in Iowa by the American Water Works Association for two years in a row. The greatest mystery to it all is what makes Ames’ tap water superior to others.

“I grew up drinking well water, which is pretty good,” said Cole Schmitt, a senior in marketing. “After I came to Ames, I was introduced to their tap water and noticed the pureness and the filtration of the tap water compared to well water, so I started to use it more frequently for things like my Easy Mac dinner cups.”

Before students use the tap water for their late night snacks, there is a unique treatment process the water goes through before it leaves the plant.

The Water Treatment Plant in Ames receives its water from 22 different wells. Then, the plant drills into an aquifer, which comes from groundwater. The plant never receives its supplies from surface water.  

“We do feel like it tastes good, but we cannot take all of the credit,” said Lyle Hammes, the superintendent of the Ames Water Plant. “It starts with a good water source. The aquifer we draw out of is very high quality water.”

In a nutshell, the first step of the treatment process is aeration, which helps oxide iron and removes the gases from the water. The next step is lime softening, where the majority of the hardness from the water is eliminated, but not stripped of all the minerals because then the results would lead to a bland taste. Then, there are adjustments made to the pH levels for the water.

Another step is running the water through sand filters while adding a couple of chemicals. Those chemicals are fluoride for dental protection and chlorine for disinfection. Finally, the water is distributed to all of the systems, such as the citizens within the city boundaries of Ames, Iowa State University’s own distribution plant and a small amount provided to Xenia.

“Another reason why our water seems to taste so good is the process of chlorination we use,” Hammes said. “This process doesn’t cause a strong smell hindering the taste of the water due to our disinfection — unlike others.”

Some students said they would have to disagree about the taste of Ames tap water. Others would rather have a taste of their hometown tap water or well water rather than use Ames.

“I only ever use the tap water for my Keurig since I live in a dorm,” said Jessica Schmitt, a sophomore in dairy science. “Honestly, I think I trust my own farm well water over Ames tap water after experiencing water issues of either not working at all or having to let it run until it was clear during my first week of class.”

This might be the case with certain students at Iowa State. However, the rest of the student body have had other experiences in their hometown.

“The water at my school was not the best,” said Courtney Dust, a senior in advertising. “It would taste like metal and sort of like the taste of rock if it had a taste. At my home, it would taste like chlorine, which would taste better because it seemed clean.”

Particularly for Ames native Sonja Paulson, a freshman in pre-business, Ames’ tap water has a neutral taste, which makes it more refreshing. Paulson mentioned she knows a few friends who attend the University of Iowa who have experienced irritation and breaking out due to their water.

“When I travel, I always try to see if their water can beat Ames tap,” Paulson said. “It never can. Seems to me different waters always seem to have a weird taste or even taste unclean.”

Water sources can be either groundwater or surface water, which has organic material that can lead to odors in the water. The Ames Water Plant uses groundwater, eliminating the chance for organic odors.

“Ames’ tap water really has no taste at all,” Dust said. “I could totally see why everyone loves it because it doesn’t taste like anything and water should not taste like anything anyway.”

The chemistry has been consistent for the past 50 or so years. Because of the great reviews of Ames tap water, the plant knew to stick with what they were doing and not switch it up. Even while transferring to a new water plant, their mission was to maintain the accuracy of the chemistry and the taste of the water.

“A huge project for the plant was to conserve the quality of the water,” Hammes said. “We were producing great tasting water at the old plant but the old plant was coming to the end of its life.”

Hammes said it would have been harder to maintain the consistency and quality of the chemistry and the taste of the water if they would have continued to produce at the older plant. It was an obstacle for the plant to continue down the path they were taking with the quality of water when investing in a newer plant.

Every day, the Ames Water Plant produces about 200 lab tests, which are monitored extensively. By the time the water enters and leaves the plant, it takes 5 hours on average. With the help of knowledgeable water plant operators who make it safe and maintenance workers who keep things in tip-top shape, workers at the plant preserve the accuracy of the water citizens receive everyday.

“This is what we do and it is extremely important to us to achieve our objective to supply the citizens with safe water,” Hammes said. “Yes, we love to win awards, but we will never lose our focus of the priority for our citizens.”

According to Hammes, the annual conference held by the American Water Works Association determines the best tap water in the state of Iowa. There is a local panel of dignitaries from the hosting city. Those dignitaries judge a dozen or so large facilities on their clarity, taste, odor and aftertaste by a blind tasting from the dignitaries.

“Fortunately, we have won it the last two years,” Hammes said. “This year, the conference is in Ames, and we sort of have a hometown advantage. Our plant looks forward to extending the winning streak and truly looking forward to competing at the National Water Works Association in Denver, Colorado over the summer.”