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Archive for Wednesday, October 23, 2002

Residents raise stink about foul water odor

October 23, 2002

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Doug Wendel took a drink of tap water Monday night. He didn't  couldn't  swallow it.

"I spit it out," he said Tuesday. "Basically, my water smelled like nasty toxic, sewer sludge."

Wendel, who lives at 10th and Ohio streets, wasn't the only one to think so. City water officials received more than 20 calls late Monday and Tuesday with similar complaints of sewer-smelling water.

The cause? Treated water at the Kaw River Treatment Plant didn't go through a carbon filtering process when a million-gallon basin undergoing a routine semiannual cleaning was put back in service.

Officials said the water generally went to customers north of Sixth Street and west of Iowa Street, although they acknowledged the city's system might have carried the stinky water to other parts of town, as well. They couldn't say how many customers were affected.

Chris Stewart, the city's assistant director of utilities for water, said a combination of the plant's own testing and complaints from water customers alerted officials to the problem.

"We had a little bit of smelly water get through the plant for about two hours," Stewart said. "We found it and shut the plant down."

Stewart said that without the carbon filtering, some "organics" remained in the water, but testing indicated the water was safe to drink.

"The water's safe, we took corrective action, but there's some pockets that smell bad when you heat it up," Stewart said.

Wendel said he was assured the water was safe, but he put more trust in his own nose.

"Nothing that smells that bad could possibly be good for you," he said. "My neighbor almost puked when he smelled his. I thought he was going to blow in front of me."

The smell was the only sign of something wrong, Wendel said.

"It actually looks clear, but the smell was take-a-whiff-and-fall-over-dead," he said. "I wouldn't let my family drink it. We had to take sponge baths with baby wipes this morning. If I'd taken a shower in it, I would've come out smelling like a sewer."

Stewart said it would be a week before the basin returns to service, but that shouldn't cause a water shortage in the city. He said the drought, and resulting low river levels, might have been responsible for a greater-than-usual concentration of the organics.

"Usually, the severity of the water is not like we're seeing today," he said. "We do it (basin cleaning) every fall and spring, but we typically don't get this kind of smell."

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