BINGHAM — Pam Miller, a manager at Thompson’s Restaurant, said her customers not only enjoy the taste of the food but also the taste of the water.
As a Bingham resident, Miller, 48, said she’d have to agree.
“It’s better than any other town I’ve been in,” she said.
Bingham is one of nine municipal water districts in Maine that does not treat its drinking water — something increasingly rare in a state where almost all municipal water systems are required by the Safe Drinking Water Act to chlorinate or otherwise treat the water.
First Selectmen Steve Steward said the town has never had a need to treat its water; residents from around the greater area love the taste and the water district has never had a problem with contamination.
That may change for a couple months. The town will have to add chlorine to its water for the first time in 100 years as it replaces the town’s aging water mains.
Selectmen plan to notify residents because, well, they’re going to notice the taste.
For three years in a row, from 2002 to 2004, Bingham won the Maine Rural Water Association’s yearly drinking water taste test for non-disinfected systems — an unusually long winning streak, according to the association’s deputy director, Kirsten Hebert.
During the winning streak, Steward contacted Nestle Waters North America Inc., the parent company of Poland Spring, who showed interest in building a bottling plant in town, but never committed to a plan.
Still, Steward said it’s easy to find people from the surrounding area filling up gallons of the water in plastic jugs to cart back to their homes.
Bingham’s water flows from a gravel-packed well, which taps into an underground aquifer. The district has used the well since the mid-1950s, when the district switched from Jackson Pond.
Around the same time that the water district switched to the underground aquifer, towns across the U.S. began to add fluoride to public drinking water to promote dental health. The town is also part of the 20 percent of municipal water systems who do not add fluoride in their water, according to the Maine Dental Association.
About half the population in Maine get their water from public water districts instead of private wells, and about 80 percent of public water districts choose to add fluoride, according to John Bastey, Maine Dental Association Director of Governmental Affairs.
Bastey said in the 1950s and 1960s towns across the state debated whether to add fluoride to local drinking water, though the majority decided in favor of fluoridation as a means of preventing tooth decay.
He said towns still consider adding fluoride and about once a year a town or two, most recently Baileyville and Ft. Kent, vote on whether or not to continue using fluoride.
“Generally we win because we know the benefits of fluoride. We know it significantly decreases the amount of cavities,” he said.
The town discussed adding fluoride to their water in the 1960s, but the majority of the residents voted to not add to the water, said Jack Lord, Bingham Water District board chairman.
“The people in town raised Cain and so they backed away,” he said…