Zap the algae, and do it “sooner rather than later.”
Lawrence city commissioners on Tuesday directed staff members to research ways to speed up long-range plans to change how the city treats its drinking water to deal with a taste and odor problem that has been widespread for more than a week.
“The customers are not happy,” said City Commissioner Mike Dever.
Officials with the city’s Utility Department said there is a solution in the works that would use “advanced oxidation” to combat taste and odor issues that are being caused by a by-product of algae. But the city’s proposed water master plan doesn’t anticipate having those processes in place until 2021.
“I think we want to see that happen sooner rather than later,” said Mayor Bob Schumm. “We’re seeing this problem come every year now. I have to think we’re going to continue to see it every year, and we have to address it.”
Commissioners were told the new process essentially would produce ozone from liquid oxygen but would require new buildings and a significant amount of power to run the process. The ozone essentially creates oxidation, which will eliminate algae and algae by-products from the water.
“It zaps the water and makes it taste better,” Dever said in an effort to provide a less scientific explanation to commissioners.
Now the question will be whether it will zap the pocketbooks of ratepayers. The master plan estimates it would cost about $18 million to add the oxidation process to the city’s two water treatment plants.
The master plan currently is recommending a 4 percent increase in water rates. But the 4 percent increase does not include any funding for the new treatment process.
City officials said it was too soon to say whether the new treatment process would require a larger rate increase. It could be that some projects that are in the current rate plan could be delayed and replaced with the water treatment process improvements.
Currently, the city uses carbon powder to treat the water, but it hasn’t been very effective in controlling taste and odor issues related to the most recent geosmin outbreak.
Geosmin, a by-product of dead algae, doesn’t pose a health risk to humans or pets, but city officials concede the taste and odor are unpleasant.
Dave Wagner, director of utilities for the city, said his department hopes to have a new report back in a week that gives the department some idea of how much longer the geosmin outbreak may last. Wagner said the best bet for ending the outbreak is a good rain storm that brings new water into Clinton Lake.
“This event is probably four times stronger than we’ve ever experienced before,” Wagner said.