Archive for Monday, December 3, 2012

Lawrence gathering information about costs to fix taste, odor problems with drinking water

December 3, 2012, 6:08 p.m. Updated December 3, 2012, 8:11 p.m.


The taste may be gone, but the memory still lingers.

Leaders at Lawrence City Hall haven’t forgotten about last summer’s problems with geosmin, a nontoxic but also very nontasty algae byproduct, which created an earthy, musty taste and odor in the city’s drinking water supply.

“I think it still needs to be a priority,” Mayor Bob Schumm said of figuring out how to control the taste and odor issues, which recently have been more prevalent in the summer.

Now, commissioners will have to figure out how much they’re willing to spend to fix the problem.

Commissioners at their meeting Tuesday are scheduled to begin the process of figuring out just how much a taste and odor fix may cost. City staff members are asking for approval to negotiate a contract with Burns & McDonnell to prepare a study on various options the city could pursue.

But staff members also are telling commissioners that water rates likely will need to increase if the city wants to seriously tackle the issue.

One rough estimate produced by city staff members pegs the cost to install advanced ozone equipment at both the Kaw Water Treatment Plant and the Clinton Water Treatment Plant at $18.5 million.

Dave Wagner, director of utilities for the city, said there likely will be cheaper options that are discovered, but he said the community will have to decide how much it wants to spend in an effort to ward off the taste and odor issues.

“It really will end up being a community value decision,” Wagner said. “All of these events are very episodic. We don’t know when they are coming or how severe they are going to be. I can tell you that last summer’s event was a very unusual event. But I can’t tell you that it won’t happen again next week.”

The city’s water plant operators, however, are learning more about geosmin. The city has purchased equipment that allows plant operators to measure the geosmin amounts in the water supply, where previously the city had to send water samples off-site to be tested.

Wagner said he’s confident the city’s current treatment system, which relies a lot on carbon powder to filter the water, can remove about 90 percent of all the geosmin. Normally, that’s enough to ensure the average resident won’t notice any taste or odor issues.

But during last summer’s event, geosmin levels spiked to about four times their normal levels, which caused the city’s treatment processes to fall behind.

The city is part of a study with the U.S. Geological Survey and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to better understand geosmin, which basically is a compound produced when algae die. Whether intense geosmin outbreaks like the one last summer will become more common is a matter of debate in scientific circles.

“But as the reservoirs age, I don’t think there are many people saying that they’re going to become less likely,” Wagner said.

The Burns & McDonnell report will examine ways to improve the city’s treatment processes, several new treatment options, and even will look at the feasibility of the city shifting its primary water source away from the Kansas River and Clinton Lake and over to ground wells that would be recharged by the Kansas River.

Wagner said he’s not sure how likely that switch would be, but he said the report will provide a good starting point for discussions.

Those discussions ultimately will turn to future water rates. City staff members already have recommended the city undertake a five-year rate plan that would increase the average monthly bill of a residential water and sewer user by a total of $13.66 over the five-year period.

The bulk of that increase would go to pay for deferred maintenance on the city’s water and sewer system and to build a new sewage treatment plant south of the Wakarusa River.

City officials now are estimating that the average monthly bill would need to increase by another $2 over the five-year period, if the city wants to aggressively tackle the taste and odor problems.

Schumm said he believes the new report, however, may come up with cheaper options. Schumm also said he wants to schedule a City Commission study session to get more details about the proposed rate increases.

The city is still negotiating a price for the proposed Burns & McDonnell study. Once approved, the report is expected to take six months to complete.


ASeiwert 5 years, 6 months ago

Having grown up in Wichita where interesting smells and tastes in water is a seasonal occurrence, I never thought it was that big a deal. Geosmin, as stated in the article poses no health risks to those consuming tap water. As that is the case, can't we propose to nothing? It's a minor discomfort at most and the cost of fixing this "problem" is significant. I just fail to see why the city couldn't come up with better areas in which to spend this kind of money.

Currahee 5 years, 6 months ago

I've never tasted anything funny in the tap water here. If anything, the taste of water should be really not on our list of concerns when people in third world countries can't even get access to water that's clean.

mcallaigh 5 years, 6 months ago

Depends which which Water Treatment Plant you get your water from. My house water comes from the Kaw River Treatment Plant and I didn't notice odor issues. Where I work comes from the Clinton Reservoir Plant and it definitely had a bad odor and taste this last summer.

skinny 5 years, 6 months ago

I have my own water filter system in my house. I don't notice any funny smells or taste. Once again the City of Lawrence trying to spend money they don't have!!

Clara Westphal 5 years, 6 months ago

Quit spending money on minor situations that do no harm to the citizens of Lawrence. Many people have water filters and bottled water doesn't cost that much. July and August are the only months that I can taste a difference in the water.

Sean Livingstone 5 years, 6 months ago

Before you spend any money, you have to ask the following questions:

  1. The origin of the odor.
  2. Will the origin affect people's health or it's just a taste that people dislike?

If it's just taste, it's a luxurious good... meaning, you have to take care of it on your own.

Mark Jakubauskas 5 years, 6 months ago

First, it's not just a matter of esthetics and taste....when the problem is severe, many people have likened it to "showering in aquarium water" with a fishy, earthy other words you smell WORSE after a shower than before. Second, bottled water ? Maybe for the morning coffee, but if you calculate out the cost of treating millions of gallons of city water per day, versus buying that much water water comes across as pretty damn cheap; Third, Clinton Lake doesn't need dredging; plus the City also pulls from the Kaw, which receives part of its water from Perry, Tuttle, and Milford upstream; Fourth, it's not JUST geosmin that's the issue, although it's the most visible issue, it CAN also be cyanotoxins produced by cyanobacteria - blue-green algae - that can have effects on the nervous system, liver, kidneys, skin, and other body systems, and researchers are still studying the effect of long-term, low-level exposure to these toxins.

carp 5 years, 6 months ago

Scare tactic.......must be Utility upper management wanting a new toy.

gr 5 years, 6 months ago

Here's a thought. Tax everyone so that the half with the problem can benefit. Fair is not equal.

In fact, tax those not on the water system an extra amount.

We could call it WaterCare.

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