Archive for Thursday, August 19, 2010

City: Algae in lakes to blame for musty-tasting water

Steve Hall, utility operator at the Kaw River Water Treatment Plant, makes his rounds in this August 2010 file photo, collecting samples of water from the basins at the plant. Many Lawrence residents at the time complained about their water tasting and smelling musty. Officials at the plant attributed the problem to byproducts of algae.

Steve Hall, utility operator at the Kaw River Water Treatment Plant, makes his rounds in this August 2010 file photo, collecting samples of water from the basins at the plant. Many Lawrence residents at the time complained about their water tasting and smelling musty. Officials at the plant attributed the problem to byproducts of algae.

August 19, 2010, 9:47 a.m. Updated August 19, 2010, 5:23 p.m.


Your tongue isn’t playing a dirty trick on you. Lawrence’s drinking water really does taste odd.

Water tastes strange because of algae, officials say

Algae in the Kansas River and Clinton Lake are to blame for musty-tasting water in Lawrence. Enlarge video

City officials Thursday said Lawrence’s tap water is perfectly safe to drink, despite a strong earthy or musty taste and odor.

For that, you have algae to thank.

Crews at both of the city’s water treatment plants were battling elevated levels of blue-green algae in Clinton Lake and the Kansas River.

“It is not harmful to anybody,” said Jeanette Klamm, projects manager for the city’s utilities department. “You can drink the water. It is strictly an aesthetics thing, but it is an issue.”

City offices received dozens of complaints from across the city about the odd tasting water. Thus far, city leaders don’t have a firm answer on when the water will begin tasting normal again.

“We believe it will be several days or longer,” Klamm said, “but I don’t know that we have a good feel for that right now.”

The city has dealt with the algae issue before — including last summer — but Klamm said this bout has been tougher to deal with because the Kansas River also has high levels of algae. Previously, the algae outbreaks have been confined to Clinton Lake.

This summer has been a prime season for algae growth, said Andy Ziegler, the Kansas water quality specialist for the U.S. Geological Survey. Ziegler said rains early in the summer washed large amounts of nutrients into area lakes. Then the weather became dry and hot, creating the type of warm, clear waters that promote algae growth.

Ziegler, who is based out of the Lawrence USGS office, said the problem may become more prevalent in future years as area lakes become shallower due to siltation.

“There’s a lot about this that we still don’t know,” Ziegler said. “It is an emerging research issue, and an important one because of potential environmental impacts and human health impacts.”

Ziegler said he does agree with the city’s assessment that the odd tasting water is safe to drink. But that’s because it has gone through all the city’s treatment processes. He said there is evidence that people who come in contact with blue-green algae at the lake or in other untreated circumstances can become sick.

Klamm said city crews are working to remove the taste issue by adding more carbon to the city’s treatment process. That has helped some, but has not eliminated all the taste issues. Thus far, the Clinton Treatment Plant has been more effective in removing the taste. The city has begun to shift more of its water production to the Clinton plant and away from the Kaw Water Treatment Plant.

“We’re definitely doing everything we can to address it,” Klamm said.

The problem also naturally will decline over time as this year’s crop of algae dies off and fades away.


consumer1 7 years, 10 months ago

I quit drinking water out of the tap when the last water quality fiasco happened . However, I am still seeing an increase in my water bill for water I cannot drink.

mdlund0 7 years, 10 months ago

The water is safe to drink, so you can drink it. The fact that you will not is another matter entirely.

CHKNLTL 7 years, 10 months ago

I have always lived in this area and have always known not to drink the Clinton lake water from the tap without boiling it first or in cooking. I remember when I was a kid, there was an entire summer the water reeked of dead fish when you ran the tap. Just this week, I watered a new plant I brought from Topeka, a little water lettuce which are like water-bourne dandelions, and it died. My cat won't drink the tap water either. Animals know!!!! Buy distilled!

engagedecoy 7 years, 10 months ago

Distilled water is a way for companies to sucker you into buying water you can produce at your own home. Go out and spend $15 on a reusable filter pitcher instead of using more plastic bottles we dont need to be using and help our environment. Bottled water is a huge waste of money, time and resources. Glad to see everyone complaining over little things instead of something worthwhile.

flux 7 years, 10 months ago

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Caroline Bennett 7 years, 10 months ago

I'm pretty sure distilled water isn't meant to be used consistently as a drinking water... because it is has been so purified, it does not replenish any of your body's minerals, and may even help to "flush" away your existing minerals. Most water that is appropriate for drinking (tap or bottled) has mineral content.

mr_right_wing 7 years, 10 months ago

If you are depending on water for your electrolytes you're in some serious trouble. Compare the nutrition labels of any kind of bottled water (except perhaps "mineral water") you'll see that none contain a significant source of any mineral. Bottled water producers only add trace minerals for taste (not health) you're not going to suffer from malnutrition from drinking distilled water; just a very flat taste. Your food will give you all the minerals you need; and then some. (...and on the rare cases where they don't you've got more supplements out there than you can even count!!)

jonnymack1225 7 years, 10 months ago

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Mike Hatch 7 years, 10 months ago

The worst water I've ever had is out in far Western KS. Real funny taste to it.
I grew up drinking well water and that stuff was salty. Ice cubes made out of it were the worst.

RogueThrill 7 years, 10 months ago

That was likely the softener that is put into it.

Kirk Larson 7 years, 10 months ago

SE KS water where there's lot's of mining, the water and everything made with it tasted of sulfur. Water here is not so bad (I'm in East Lawrence where the water comes from the river), although I wonder about runoff when the farmers are applying pesticides. I do use a filter pitcher at home.

Caesar_Augustus 7 years, 10 months ago

Water tastes just fine around 6th and Kasold. Our animals, a cat and 2 dogs, have no problems drinking it. Animals will drink even extremely dirty water, so I can't believe the poster who said her animals wont drink it.

It won't kill plants either, but good luck with that train of thought.

independant1 7 years, 10 months ago

Our cats prefer dirty water over our Brita filtered or straight from the tap. It's weird. I prefer pure grain alcohol and distilled water, flouridation is a commie plot.

CrazyUkrainian1 7 years, 10 months ago

The water does taste particularly musty and algae-like today. As an avid runner I drink my fare share of water and if it wasn't safe to drink, I'm sure I would be having health problems by now. Hopefully the taste will go away. I unfortunately had to buy a bottle of water today when I always use my Nalgene Bottle.

EJ Mulligan 7 years, 10 months ago

We'll just have to flush this issue, I guess.

1029 7 years, 10 months ago

Clinton Lake water still beats water from the Kaw anyday. Never been more sicker than I was after drinking a bottle I filled up near the dam one time.

steveguy 7 years, 10 months ago

We have been drinking water from Clinton lake for the past 28 years with no problem. Better than Kaw water. If you want to talk about bad water go to Arizona.

independant1 7 years, 10 months ago

ain't supposed to drink that AZ water they use on public park lawns.

RogueThrill 7 years, 10 months ago

I really like tap water. It's certainly better than buying it by the bottle.

sad_lawrencian 7 years, 10 months ago

This is really disgusting. The city should have clean, algae-free water.

Adrienne Sanders 7 years, 10 months ago

The water here is foul. Sometimes, when it doesn't taste like a swamp, it tastes like bleach from the chlorine they put in to kill the algae. I use a Brita pitcher.

blindrabbit 7 years, 10 months ago

It will improve once the weather cools somewhat eliminating all the boaters, suntan oil users, and lake urinators quit defiling the lake. For now, just a little Jack Daniels and ice will help!

Steve Bradt 7 years, 10 months ago

I've been drinking Lawrence City water for 46 years and I haven't grown a third arm out of my forehead yet! We are very fortunate that, compared to many areas of the world, we have excellent, clean water that will not make you ill from drinking it. The Lawrence water treatment plants actually provide pretty consistently high quality water for us to drink. Yes there are occasional taste and odor issues due to the source water that they have, but I have very little concern about the overall potability.

riverdrifter 7 years, 10 months ago

I don't know why Baldwin buys bilge water from the Kansas river basin when they sit on top of and have water rights to the cold, clear and pure water from the Tonganoxie sand formation.

irvan moore 7 years, 10 months ago

my coffee this morning wasn't up to par, blame it on the water?

more_cowbell 7 years, 10 months ago

Eau de Laur-AHNCE... onlee zee finest weel do, ne c'est pas? :-p (said in Pepe Le Pew accent)

CrazyUkrainian1 7 years, 10 months ago

The Lawrence Utility dept should consult with these guys. You cannot prevent algae but there are definitely ways to better manage it and remove the bad taste from the water.

somedude20 7 years, 10 months ago

for as much as they charge for water here it better taste like a white russian

Gilmore 7 years, 10 months ago

I thought it was just me who thought they water tasted funky! Nice to know why.

imastinker 7 years, 10 months ago

I am shocked at some of you complaining about expensive water and this.

Anyone that maintains a well is aware of the testing and maintenance that goes into it. There are things that can be done to filter out stuff, but what's in the water changes from time to time and you have to change how you treat it.

There are still people in the county that can't get access to freshwater and have to haul water from town to fill a cistern. They would gladly pay what you pay for water.

somedude20 7 years, 10 months ago

the water bills here are quite high (fyi: I have lived in PA,NC,MI,SC,HI,KS) and the water is nasty. I live alone, have no dishwasher or washing machine (live in an apartment)and take short showers. I do not use tape water to drink and I still have bills that are $44 or so a month and that stinks (almost as bad as the water) so do not be so shocked

imastinker 7 years, 10 months ago

We live in Kansas. All the other places you mention have plentiful water, being very close to a coast of great lake.

I have a house in McLouth that was vacant last month and the utility bill was $100 for minimal usage, just a toilet while we were working on the place.

jafs 7 years, 10 months ago

Your water bill includes trash collection, sewer and water charges.

Evan Ridenour 7 years, 10 months ago

As a runner I have to use the public water fountains daily... the water has been noticeably worse recently.

However, between severe dehydration and poor tasting water I will choose the later.

jayhawklawrence 7 years, 10 months ago

I think they must be very late reporting this because my tap water started to smell at the beginning of the Summer. It has gotten better recently but I am also filtering it now because my coffee was tasting bad.

mr_right_wing 7 years, 10 months ago

Hey, the water department should use this as a selling point to the tree-hugger liberals in Lawrence...

Extra Organic Water!

(Half of you probably pay extra for fancy 'premium' cosmetics or lotion or shampoos that feature algae in them as a selling point!!)

down_the_river 7 years, 10 months ago

Check this warning last week from KDHE, as reported by the Associated Press:

GREAT BEND — The state has banned all recreational activities at a central Kansas lake because a toxic blue-green algae bloom created a health hazard.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment on Thursday issued a public health advisory for Veteran's Memorial Lake near Great Bend.

The Great Bend Tribune reports that the city already bans swimming and wading in the lake, but the state also is prohibiting fishing and pets in the water.

The KDHE says heavy concentrations of blue-green algae can produce toxins that are potentially dangerous to people and animals. The blooms result from long-term buildup of nutrients in the water.

LizzyL28 7 years, 10 months ago

To everyone saying that we should just buy distilled water - why do you want to cost yourself extra money? It's like paying another tax on top of what you already pay for water treatment.

Why not try to attack the problem at the source? The problem is nutrient runoff from cropland and pastureland upstream. I'm not trying to blame it all on the farmers - they do an essential job that is much harder work than any of us do on a daily basis. But there are practices that can be put in place that would prevent events like what we're seeing right now.

There are also septic systems and wastewater treatment plants that discharge nutrients, and they could be upgraded to decrease the nutrients flowing into Clinton.

We have good water here and we should be thankful for that. Instead of paying for increased treatment costs AND buying bottled water, let's try to fight this at the source. Doesn't that make sense?

mr_right_wing 7 years, 10 months ago

What, you expect us to even make our dogs & cats drink tap water..?

Cruelty to animals my friend; don't let PETA catch you.

down_the_river 7 years, 10 months ago

More comments from the KDHE site:

Many of the common blue-green algae have the ability to produce toxins. These biochemical poisons come in two main forms, hepatotoxins (that primarily target the liver) and neurotoxins (that target the nervous system). Well over 100 different algal toxins have been identified to date, but the group referred to as microcystins are the most frequently observed as well as some of the more toxic metabolic compounds known. A large percentage of the public will report “allergic” type reactions after exposure to blue-green algae, such as intestinal problems, respiratory problems, or skin irritations. A number of the microcystins have also been implicated as tumor promotingcompounds, which makes chronic exposures (low exposure over time) a growing concern.

If your water supply lake has an overtly visible blue-green algae bloom in progress, you will almost certainly have started getting taste and odor complaints from customers. The best course requires prior planning in the form of 1) having an alternate raw water source you can switch to, or 2) having an activated carbon filtration system in place for such occasions. Granulated activated carbon (GAC), when used after the standard sequence of water treatment steps, but pre-final chlorination, can provide almost 100% removal of taste and odor compounds including, presumably, any algal toxins. Particulate activated carbon (PAC) can be almost as effective if used later in the process stream, but before the final chlorination step.

independant1 7 years, 10 months ago

Have always used carbon filter on our aquarium to eliminate odor. Used to have a well with high calcium and iron. When we had torrential rains we had top down runoff into well. Solved the runoff problem by raising the top casing. Solved the CA/FE problem by using large settling tank and two types filters, one was carbon filter. When we are away organic contaminents from pipes and lines build up so we always flush out the lines upon return.

Also had well in coal shale country, it was very difficult to get decent well. Shallow methane and coal make for really bad well water. One well is terrible while another 50-100 feet away has good quality water. The bad well water wrecks havoc on plumbing, esp. metal fixtures. The neighbors come over to draw their drinking water, they weren't so lucky with well location.

Don't worry, be happy with city water. Report and complain to water utility and someone else has to address the problem. After all, you're the customer and the customer is always right, even when you're wrong.

We all have pretty decent water in this county/country.

independant1 7 years, 10 months ago

In 90's our rural water district was formed, now we have city water. That's what we call it. Now we can whine and complain all we want since we are customers and not supplier too. Was glad to eliminate the wifey's complaints about our well water. We keep the well for when the system crashes and nobody will be a customer. Have generator guns and ammo, in case of armageddon. (felt compelled to throw in some politics just for good measure) Me? I don't drink that city water, flouridation is a commie plot to contaminate a man's natural essence. (pure grain alchohol and distilled well water, one can't be too carefull)

Editorator 7 years, 10 months ago

It might be safe to drink but the smell makes me gag when I'm brushing my teeth.

I've taken to filtered and bottled water by the sink, you learn these things visiting other countries. And know that our fancy pants filters do not eliminate flouride.

Gail Grant 7 years, 10 months ago

So what about swimming in the lake?? "He said there is evidence that people who come in contact with blue-green algae at the lake or in other untreated circumstances can become sick. " while I don't drink the water while swimming I'm sure my kids do.

LJWorld, shouldn't you check that?

Richard Heckler 7 years, 10 months ago

A simple filter does not distill water and neither does a Reverse Osmosis System(the primo filtering system).

Yes distilling can be done locally aka in home. BUT a stainless steel distiller must be purchased. These machines are simple and will last for decades if maintained properly.

Which Foods Are High in Electrolytes? By Megan Smith, eHow Contributor updated: August 11, 2010

You can get electrolytes from healthy foods.

"Electrolytes" has become a household word, thanks to some sports drinks, but how much do you really know about them? You may have been told that electrolytes are good for you and it's ideal to have them when you are sick, but when you're sick, a sugary sports drink is the last thing your body needs. You also can get electrolytes from healthy foods.

The Facts

  1. Electrolytes are solids, liquids or gases that contain electrically conducting ions. The general public wasn't too aware of the term "electrolytes" until some sports drinks began making claims that they had more electrolytes than water. People lose electrolytes when they sweat and need to replenish them to regain energy.


  1. The best source of electrolytes is not from drinks, but from food. Fruit and vegetables, even canned or frozen vegetables, such as corn, carrots and green beans, are high in electrolytes, as are bread, milk and fruit. Water with a small pinch of salt, sugar and flour added to it will provide lots of electrolytes for your body. Tap water or spring water does not contain electrolytes.

Richard Heckler 7 years, 10 months ago

IMO bottled water is a waste of money and the plastic bottles are hell on the environment. We do not realize how much we spend on water that is no better or worse than that coming from your faucet.

Money spent on bottled water in one year would likely cover the cost of a Stainless Steel distiller or cover the cost of having a Reverse Osmosis system installed. Instead of bottled water buy your own bottle and fill it or them at home.....will save thousands of dollars.

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