Local Water Supply Said To Smell Of Eau De River

Earthy Aroma Alarmsmany But Is Safe To Drink

August 18, 1991|By Alan J. Craver | Alan J. Craver,Staff writer

If you think your drinking water tastes and smells like something out of a river, you're not alone.

More than 300 Harford residents flooded the county switchboard in the last two weeks, complaining aboutthe musty, earthy smell and taste of their drinking water.

"(The water) is perfectly safe and harmless to users," said Jackie Ludwig, senior sanitarian engineer at the county's Division of Water and Sewer.

Chlorine and a powder containing "activated carbon" were added to the water at the county's Havre de Grace treatment plant, Ludwig said. That should improve the water's taste and smell by this weekend, she noted.

The problem was caused by higher temperatures in water supplies from the Susquehanna River -- where the county gets half of its water -- and the lower than normal water flows in the river, Ludwig said.

With the higher temperatures and lower river flows, the water going into the treatment plant contains more protein than usual, Ludwig said.

The protein, which caused the odd taste and smell, comes from the algae in the river.

The Susquehanna's water usually has a temperature in the low 70s this time of year, but the water has been averaging 84 degrees because of warm weather and lack of rain, Ludwig said.

The county provides 3.8 million gallons from the Susquehanna and 3.5 million gallons from wells in Perryman to its 23,000 customers a day, Ludwig said.

Until this year, Harford got 25 percent of its water from the Susquehanna, but growth over thelast decade has forced the county to increase its reliance on water from the river, Ludwig said.

"The wells are at their peak capacity," Ludwig said. "We now look to the river."

Ludwig compared the filtering process to a room deodorizer, absorbing the protein in the water. The treatment process at the plant then removes the powder from the water, she said.

If customers continue to notice the problem, Ludwig suggested that they refrigerate the water to remove the odor and taste. Chilling the water will slow down the release of the protein.

This is the first time the county has had problems with the taste and smell of its water in at least six years, Ludwig said.

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