In addition to making sure our water is safe to drink, NTMWD also works hard to meet customer expectations for water’s aesthetic characteristics—its taste, odor, and appearance.
Unpleasant tastes and odors are the most common cause of customer complaints, however most contaminants that cause aesthetic problems in drinking water are not considered a threat to human health. Our Environmental Services team tests more than 250,000 water quality tests per year and publishes these results for the public.
Is the water safe to drink?
Yes! Taste and odor is a palatability issue. The palatability change that results from a naturally occurring algal bloom does not alter the quality of the water provided to the cities and the communities served. The water supply remains safe for use with no health risks created by these events.
What causes taste and odor changes in water?
A natural occurrence in all surface water supplies, an “algal bloom” is responsible for the taste and odor changes in the treated drinking water supply. Algal blooms usually occur in Lavon Lake in late July and into August each year, but can occur at any time if the right conditions exist in the water supply reservoir.
Summer Algal Blooms
As hot temperatures remain prevalent, ideal conditions are set for an “algal bloom.” Summer algal blooms occur when high temperatures warm the reservoirs, little or no rainfall has occurred, and sunlight penetrates the water allowing photosynthesis to occur. When these conditions are present, the blue green algae species Nostoc and Anabaena will reproduce or “bloom” giving the water an “earthy” or “musty” taste.
Winter Algal Blooms
The mid-summer “algal bloom” is the most common; however, infrequently a winter algal bloom can create taste and odor changes in the water supply during cooler weather patterns. When winter algal blooms occur, an earthy or metallic taste and/or odor might be noticeable in the water supply.
Annual Temporary Change in Disinfectant (also known as chlorine maintenance)
Each spring for one month, NTMWD temporarily suspends the use of ammonia and uses free chlorine as the secondary disinfectant to maintain water quality year-round. Some people may notice a stronger smell or taste of chlorine during this time. While chlorine levels are consistent with the rest of the year, the temporary suspension of ammonia can make the smell or taste more noticiable. The water remains safe to drink and use. Learn more about the temporary change in disinfectant.
What steps does NTMWD take to correct taste and odor?
Currently, NTMWD laboratory personnel perform algal counts to confirm the occurrence of an algal bloom and the algal species that are responsible for the changes in taste and odor. We can reduce, but not eliminate, the taste and odor issues using current water treatment processes.
The NTMWD has implemented the use of ozone disinfection, which is expected to significantly reduce and/or eliminate taste and odor issues caused by algal blooms. Previous studies and thorough testing have shown that the use of ozone, an oxidation process, to supplement the current treatment process can provide additional advantages including:
- micro-flocculation to reduce chemical usage
- micro-constituent oxidation, and taste and odor control
While no taste and odor control process is 100% effective, ozonation greatly eliminates or minimizes the palatability issue of the water supply. Our consultants will continue to analyze the potential causes of taste and odor episodes and additional methods to address the issue.
What conditions cause algal blooms in Lavon Lake?
Nutrients must be present – such as nitrogen, phosphorus and calcium, which are derived from decaying vegetation in the lake.
Turbidity has lessened – the turbidity or cloudiness of the lake water has cleared up, allowing the penetration of the sunlight. This occurs due to lack of rainfall.
Temperature increase – the optimum temperature range of the lake water for an algal bloom to occur is between 80° – 85°. This is provided through many hot summer days.
When all conditions are met, photosynthesis will take place and the algae will grow and/or proliferate. Algal species, such as anabaena, secrete an “oily” substance from their cells that causes an odor in the water supply. Aquatic fungi, actinomycetes, grow on dead and decaying algae and cause an earthy taste in the water.
What are some things I can do to reduce taste and odor in water?
Individuals sensitive to taste and odor differences in the water related to the algal blooms and/or our annual temporary change in disinfectant might try the following:
- Run the tap for a bit before using
- Refrigerate water in an open pitcher
- Add a slice of citrus or cucumber
Bath or Shower
- Add a crushed 1000mg vitamin C tablet to bath water