BEAVER — Like a gurgling fountain in the center of an oasis, the billboard suddenly appears after a succession of lonely, thirsty miles on the interstate.
"Best Water in the USA," it proclaims.
Oh, and "Welcome to Beaver."
The claim to water fame is no idle boast. In the 2006 version of the National Rural Water Association's Great American Taste Test, a nationwide contest held annually in Washington, D.C., the municipal water system of Beaver, Utah, beat them all.
And even though towns in Ohio, Massachusetts and Alabama have since won top honors in the 2007, '08 and '09 Great American Taste Tests, Beaver isn't backing out of the spotlight.
Once you've won the gold, you've won it, like Jesse Owens or Rafer Johnson.
"It's something they can't ever take away," beams Leonard Foster, Beaver's mayor, who adds, "our drinking water was pretty darn good when we won, and it hasn't changed. I wouldn't be surprised if we won again."
The primary water source for the town of 2,511 is in Baker Springs, a little slice of H2O heaven about seven miles up the canyon in the Tushar mountains.
"It's just a fine quality spring is what it adds up to," says the mayor.
Water isn't Beaver's first claim to fame — Philo Farnsworth, the inventor of TV, was born here, as was Butch Cassidy, the bank robber — but it is the latest.
And if you can't brag about a clear, cold, cool drink of water, what can you brag about?
The signs proclaiming America's Best Water have been known to cause drivers to veer right off the interstate.
"Just the other day some guy came in and ordered the water. That was it. Just the water," says Katona Doetzelman, a waitress at Arshels Cafe. "He drank it, said it was good and he needed that. Then he got back in his car and left."
Besides getting a nice drink of award-winning Beaver water in Beaver, it is also possible to take some to go.
Capitalizing on the national acclaim, Tushar Mountain Bottling Inc. started bottling and packaging Beaver water about a year ago.
The company was started by Beaver resident Rowland Yardley, who was on the City Council in 2006 and was there in Washington, D.C., for the Great American Taste Test.
For years, Yardley had thought about bottling what he already knew was great-tasting water. "When we won that award, it was a lot easier making it happen," he says. "I have five partners."
The city isn't involved in the bottling company, other than, as Yardley points out, "all the water we purchase from them."
Most of the Beaver water packaged by Tushar Mountain currently carries the "2-0 below" label, although Yardley says that brand is being phased out for a variety of reasons, not least of which is "I don't know what it means."
The company, Yardley says, is now licensed to sell Beaver water in virtually every state in the union. (Trucks are rolling to Florida and Delaware this week). Its clients are free to put whatever label they want on their bottles. At Ernie's Truck Plaza on the freeway entrance at the edge of town, for example, you can buy bottles of "Ernie's Truck Plaza Water," distributed by Tushar Mountain Inc.
But whatever the name and however you get it — by the bottle, out of the tap, straight from the garden hose — it's still Beaver water.
"Biggest idiot in town," muses the mayor, would be someone who lives in town and buys '2-0 below' or "Ernie's Truck Plaza" bottled water.
"You just turn on the tap and get the same thing."
The mayor doesn't know if the water has lured in any new residents, but he's not downplaying the part it plays in city pride.
"It's one of the selling points of our community," he says. "It's not a big thing, I suppose, unless you've been in a community where you can't get a good drink of water."
Lee Benson's column runs Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Please send e-mail to [email protected]