News Feature | July 16, 2014

Blue-Green Algae Causes Foul-Smelling Tap Water In Houston

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

Blue-green algae blooms are scenting the tap water in Houston with a musty, off-putting odor. 

In a two-day period, the city received over 200 complaints about the smell, according to the Houston Chronicle.

"There’s something stinky going on with Houston’s tap water. For weeks, folks around town have been complaining about smelly water coming out of their tap, and it’s got plenty of people steamed up,"NewsFix reported.

In late June, the city released a statement explaining the problem and assuring customers that the water is safe to drink.

"We have detected increased levels of geosmin and MIB in our untreated surface water supplies and these substances are known to produce earthy or musty taste or odor in drinking water. Geosmin and MIB (2-methyl isoborneol) are naturally-occurring compounds sometimes produced by seasonal algae blooms. The substances are detectable by the human nose even at very low concentrations," the statement said. 

The odor problem extends to suburbs that rely on Houston for water, such as League City. 

"A blue-green algae occurring in the Lake Livingston Reservoir and Trinity River has been blamed for a foul odor and metallic taste in the water for residents in cities which obtain their primary water supply from Houston, including League City," The Citizen reported

Water treatment operations are responding to the problem. "League City officials say they will be increasing city-wide flushing activity in response to temporarily odorous water issues," the report said. 

Blue-green algae is on the state's radar in Texas. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department explains that blue-green algae blooms "can produce toxins that are poisonous to fish and wildlife that drink water contaminated with the toxins," the department said. "Awareness is growing off the need to ensure blue-green algal toxins do not pass through water treatment plants without being adequately removed." 

Texas is not the only state where algae is skewing the smell of tap water this summer.

"An algae bloom at a Southern California reservoir is resulting in taste and odor problems in the drinking water for some 3 million customers. Officials say the problem at Silverwood Lake near Hesperia is aesthetic and not a public health threat," the Associated Press reported in June. 

Check out Water Online's Regulations & Legislation Solution Center.

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