Warm weather and spring algae temporarily affect the taste and smell of tap water
Some Charleston Water System customers experiencing earthy, musty tasting water; Not harmful, just unusual
(April 17, 2012)—Each year about this time, the warm spring temperatures bring us flowering plants, allergies—and earthy-musty tasting tap water.
Just as weather and environmental factors can affect the taste of fruits and vegetables, the same is true of tap water. Charleston Water System's Hanahan Water Treatment Plant draws most of its water from the Bushy Park Reservoir, and algae that grow in the spring give the water a distinctive earthy-musty taste and smell. It's not harmful, but for those who can taste or smell it, it can be unpleasant.
The earthy-mustiness is particularly noticeable this year because the level of algae compounds is higher and the reservoir water is about ten degrees warmer than usual. Tastes and smells become more pronounced in warm water.
"We're monitoring the treatment process closely to remove as much of the earthy-musty taste and smell as possible," said Andy Fairey, Charleston Water's Chief Operating Officer. "We've been adding activated carbon, a material similar to what's used in carbon filters, and we're looking at other options, including pulling more water from our other source, the Edisto River."
The natural compounds that produce the earthy-mustiness can be detected by the human nose at incredibly small levels—around 8 parts per trillion. People's sensitivity to tastes and odors varies, so some may still detect the earthy-mustiness after adjustments are made at the treatment plant.
"This is a natural occurrence that's common this time of year," explains Harvey Wilkins of SCDHEC's Environmental Quality Control office. "It's an aesthetic issue, but people are understandably concerned when their water tastes different. We just want to assure the public that the water is safe to drink."
Fortunately, the earthy-musty event typically lasts less than a month. In the meantime, customers can use a carbon filter or refrigerate water in a pitcher to help minimize the taste and smell.
Charleston Water System's direct customers and customers of other utilities that purchase water from CWS may experience the earthy-mustiness.
Charleston Water System's retail service area includes Charleston, North Charleston, Hanahan, Ladson, Hollywood, Meggett and Ravenel. Utilities that purchase water from CWS include Mount Pleasant Waterworks, Sullivan's Island, Isle of Palms, Folly Beach, Lincolnville, St. Johns Water Company, and Dorchester County.
If you have questions, please call our Customer Service Department at (843) 727-6800 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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