Electrical and optical emission properties of non-equilibrium atmospheric air discharges between a metal pin and a tap water anode/cathode are presented. With a water anode the discharges are of the glow type as is derived from short-exposure time plasma imaging and electrical characteristics. Additionally, the validity of extrapolated scaling laws of low pressure glow discharge supports these findings. In the case of a water cathode the plasma is filamentary in nature at the water surface. In the case of a water anode, the plasma is diffuse down to 10 ns. The timescales on which the filaments are visible in the near water cathode region and estimates of the electrical field in the cathode layer are consistent with the assumption that these filaments occur due to the electrical instability of the water surface. Spatially resolved rotational temperature measurements and dependence of the rotational temperature on current are discussed in detail. The rotational temperatures of OH and N2 in the positive column of the plasma are identical and equal to 3250 250 K. A 2500 K temperature drop in the near anode region clearly shows that the water anode acts as an effective heat sink for the discharge. This indicates that apart from the electrical stabilization of the discharge by the water electrode due to its distributed resistance, a water anode also thermally stabilizes the discharge. The rotational temperature of nitrogen near the metal anode is typically two times smaller.