City dealing with funky water problem
- Aug. 22, 2010
- 1 Comment
There’s something funky in Lawrence, and it’s not the parties or music — it’s the water.
The city’s water has a funny taste and smell because of extra blue-green algae in Clinton Lake and the Kansas River, where Lawrence gets its water.
The algae have by-products, geosmin and MIB, that create the earthy or musty taste. Geosmin literally means “earth smell.”
“The water tastes moldy,” Leanne Tracy, a junior from St. Louis, said. “It tastes off. I noticed it first at my home, and then at a restaurant, so I knew it was happening all over.”
Tracy even bought a water filter to try to fix the taste.
Your tap water is safe to drink because it has gone through one of the city’s two treatment facilities, one at Clinton Lake and one near the Kansas River, Jeanette Klamm, project manager for Lawrence’s utilities department, said.
She also said they are trying several fixes such as adding things to the water and changing how it’s filtered.
The taste and smell should be getting better soon — possibly within a few days. But as Klamm pointed out, there are no guarantees. It can be a difficult problem to solve.
It’s possible for the entire city to get its water from either plant and normally many people get a blend of both. So when there are complaints about the water, it can be hard to pinpoint which source the person got their funky water from.
In this case, Klamm said, many complaints have been coming from around the treatment center for the Kansas River.
Klamm said Clinton Lake’s facility is designed to handle reservoir water, which has these issues more often, while the river’s facility is designed for river water.
The problem is that reservoirs upstream from Lawrence are releasing their water.
“The river doesn’t have river water,” Klamm said. “It has reservoir water from upstream.”
That is why the algae — followed by smelly geosmin and MIB — are in the Kansas River too and is a key reason for the extra funk in Lawrence’s water.
Another problem in fixing the taste is figuring out how it started.
“By the time we notice the buildup of geosmin and MIB, the algae has already broken down, so the cause might have already dissipated,” said Don Huggins, aquatic ecologist at the Kansas Biological Survey.
The best way to eliminate the water’s funk seems to be adding activated carbon to the water.
“Activated carbon is like charcoal, heated up so much that it creates tiny pore holes,” Huggins said.
The geosmin and MIB get trapped in its holes.
“In a sense, the carbon absorbs it, and then the carbon is filtered back out,” Huggins said.
Huggins said the same process is used in many home water filters because the carbon holes trap other contaminants also.
One problem with adding activated carbon is its cost. Filtering it from the water and sending it back for recycling and reuse, is expensive.
Another problem with carbon is that its tiny, granular size is hard to manage.
“Carbon will clog our filters,” Klamm said. “At a certain point, we can’t keep adding carbon anymore. We’re at that point now.”
Even if the city wasn’t trying to fix the taste, the problem would work itself out anyway. Algae have a normal life cycle and they will eventually die out.
Edited by Clark Goble