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Plant operators working to control another round of taste and odor problems in city’s drinking water

April 10, 2013

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There are early signs that Lawrence officials once again will spend the summer fighting an organic battle to prevent the city’s drinking water from having taste and odor issues.

But this year, water plant operators may do their fighting on a different front.

Water plant operators are alerting city officials that elevated levels of organic materials are showing up at the city’s Kaw Water Treatment Plant. Last year, city officials experienced taste and odor issues primarily at the city’s Clinton Lake Water Treatment Plant.

“If this drought continues, we probably would anticipate a pretty active year on the taste and odor front again,” said Dave Wagner, the city’s director of utilities.

Activity levels already are pretty high, Wagner said. The city’s water treatment plant along the Kansas River is picking up increased amounts of geosmin in the raw water supply out of the river. Geosmin is a byproduct of dead algae. It isn’t harmful to human health, but at high enough levels it can create a musty taste and odor in treated water.

So far, Wagner said the city’s treatment process has been successful in reducing the geosmin levels to the point that ordinary consumers aren’t noticing any taste or odor issues. But that treatment has come at a cost. The city currently is using two to three times the amount of carbon in its treatment process than is normal for this time of the year.

The drought is a likely reason the Kansas River is experiencing higher geosmin levels than normal, where in the past reservoirs have experienced more of the issues. Wagner said almost all of the water in the Kansas River is being supplied by upstream reservoirs instead of through runoff after rains.

“We are talking about very, very low river flows,” Wagner said. “They are lower than anything I can remember.”

Wagner estimated that river flows currently are less than 800 cubic feet per second. A more typical number is about 6,000 to 7,000 cubic feet per second. Without the upstream reservoirs — such as Tuttle Creek and Milford reservoirs — Wagner estimates the river’s flow would be less than 300 cubic feet per second.

But the drought may not be the only factor playing into the higher levels of geosmin in the river. Wagner said it is possible renovations to the Bowersock Dam, just downstream from the water plant, have played a role. The renovations have included a new rubber bladder that increases the height of the dam, which in turn increases the depth of the mill pond in front of the city’s water plant by a little more than a foot.

The increased depth has had benefits to the city, including allowing for easier pumping by the city and decreased turbidity in the water. But the deeper mill pond also allows water to sit longer in the river, providing more time for organisms to grow, Wagner said.

“We don’t know how much of an impact that is having,” Wagner said. “But the increased depth does let it brew in there a little longer.”

Wagner said it is tough to predict how much more carbon the city may need to use this year to combat the geosmin and other taste and odor causing compounds. But Wagner said increased carbon usage does have the potential to impact his department’s budget. Last year, the city spent about $280,000 on carbon for the city’s two water treatment plants.

Concerns about taste and odor issues have caused city commissioners to consider raising rates to pay for more advanced treatment options at the two plants. The city’s latest water rate increase does include funding for a study to examine the feasibility of alternative treatment options. That study should be completed this year.

The city has estimated a new treatment system may require about $19 million in improvements at the city’s two treatment plants.

Comments

Leslie Swearingen 1 year, 4 months ago

Buy a Brita water pitcher. I applaud the water departments workers for doing all that they can in a bad situation. There are things that are not in their control.

1

riverdrifter 1 year, 4 months ago

Lawrence is just about the last stop for water on the Kansas river basin, one of the most polluted rivers in the country.

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anomicbomb 1 year, 4 months ago

To make the water taste better:

  • Put a pitcher of water in the fridge and chill it
  • Add ice to it
  • Add a little lemon juice, crystal light, or make iced tea, etc.
  • Buy a commercial filter (not necessary but an option if it makes you feel better)

I don't think we have to spend $19 million as a community on a 'problem' that can be solved by making water colder before we drink it.

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Patricia Davis 1 year, 4 months ago

We have been using a Waterwise distiller for years. Our water is clear and does not smell or have that rather unctuous mouth feel Lawrence water does. When we eat out, I can barely drink the local stuff.

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LogicMan 1 year, 4 months ago

I started noticing a funky taste/odor from the water a few days ago. Still there.

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icdedpeeple 1 year, 4 months ago

Enough of Wagner and his pin the tail on the donkey methods of water treatment. Some of Wagner's staff are much more qualified to be running this utility than he is, so why keep him around? As mentioned in an above post, other cities do not have taste/odor problems, and many of these cities are also at the end of a drainage basin.

2

Leslie Swearingen 1 year, 4 months ago

At the risk of being an alarmist, it sounds to me like we all need a filtering device of some sort be it a pitcher or attached to the faucet. You can get all sizes of pitchers or containers depending on how much water you use and it is a lot better for making coffee, microwave cocoa, etc.

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Mark Currie 1 year, 4 months ago

I have been putting off installing my reverse osmosis system, I guess I better get on the stick and get it done. I am from the Topeka area over 30 years ago. My father used to joke that Topeka took its drinking water out of the river on the west side of town & dumped their treated sewage back into the river on the east side of town, then the people in Lawrence picked it up and drank it. Also agree with the above post about the stench of the rec center spilling over into the river. LOL.

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difference_of_opinion 1 year, 4 months ago

"Emporia is a repeat winner, having now taken first place in Kansas in five out of the total of eleven contests held since 2001 at the annual conference,” reported Association General Manager Elmer Ronnebaum. Water from Emporia will be entered in the Great American Taste Test early in 2012 in Washington, D.C. in the annual contest sponsored by the National Rural Water Association. The Neosho River is utilized as the principal source of supply, with the Cottonwood River as an auxiliary source.

We obviously live on the wrong river.

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melott 1 year, 4 months ago

Culligan faucet-mounted filters actually do a very good job.

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