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New city survey shows about 20 percent have concerns with taste of city's drinking water

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A bit “earthy” is how Lawrence city officials described the taste and smell of the city’s drinking water for a period in June 2012.

I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether that is the adjective of your choice to describe the city’s tap water during last summer’s outbreak of geosmin, an algae byproduct that was in the city’s drinking water.

While “algae byproduct” certainly is a phrase city officials would like to no longer have associated with their water supply, city commissioners have a multimillion dollar question facing them on that subject.

City officials continue to estimate that it will cost about $19 million to equip the city’s two water treatment plants with new equipment to make it less likely that geosmin outbreaks will affect the city’s tap water. If the geosmin posed a health risk to the public, it would be an easy decision. But geosmin isn’t a danger to health; it's just a danger to taste buds.

At their meeting on Tuesday, commissioners will receive a report from the city auditor on the water’s occasional taste and odor issues, but it doesn’t do much to answer the tough question of whether commissioners ought to undertake a major, unbudgeted upgrade to the city’s water treatment plants.

But the audit does include results from a survey city officials took of water customers. Let’s see if you feel the same as respondents to the survey, which was sent out to about 1,700 water customers in early December. Here’s a look at the results:

• 56.8 percent of respondents were either satisfied or very satisfied with the taste of their drinking water.

• 18 percent of respondents were either dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with the taste of their drinking water. The balance of people were either neutral on the subject or didn’t have an opinion.

• 60.7 percent were either satisfied or very satisfied with the smell of their drinking water.

• 16 percent were either dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with the smell of their drinking water.

• 92.2 percent were either satisfied or very satisfied with the reliability of the water service.

• 51.3 percent were satisfied or very satisfied with the overall value they received for their water and sewer rates.

• 21.2 percent were dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with the value they received for the water and sewer rates. Those last numbers about the value customers think they’re getting for their water and sewer service could end up being particularly important. If the city is going to make $18 million worth of upgrades to its water plants, it is hard to imagine how it will do that without raising rates.

Commissioners have been sensing that customers may have a bit of rate fatigue, and this survey, which has a margin of error of about 5 percent, may raise some new flags on that subject.

City officials still haven’t settled on a new rate plan for 2013 for the water and sewer service. The city has been using 2012 rates thus far in the new year. Commissioners are scheduled to have a study session on Feb. 12 to discuss those issues.

Shortly after last summer’s issues with taste and odor, city commissioners were talking pretty strongly about the need for improvements at the water plant. But since then, staff members have been highlighting the improvements they already have made; they’ve bought specialized equipment to better test for geosmin, for example.

The new report from the city auditor on the taste and odor issue was the type of report that could have provided more fuel to the fire for improvements at the water plants. But it didn’t. The report really didn’t get into the issue of how other communities deal with this and what type of improvements would be appropriate.

So, it will be interesting to see where this issue goes. It may boil down to a simple question: What leaves a worse taste in your mouth, a little bit of algae byproduct or an increase in water rates?

Comments

gccs14r 1 year, 10 months ago

How about controlling farm runoff into our water systems so we can prevent algae blooms and other pollution problems, rather than try to take the taste out later? Put the cost on the source of the problem, not its victims.

gccs14r 1 year, 10 months ago

If they practiced better chemical, water, land, and crop management they wouldn't pollute as much and would save money.

Steve Jacob 1 year, 10 months ago

20% complain, we spend $18 million. You do this study in every city in America, and 20% not happy with tap water would be about the lowest.

Adrienne Sanders 1 year, 10 months ago

I have to agree with mikekt, that money would be better spent on crumbling water mains. Still the water does taste HORRIBLE. Every summer, first smells & tastes like lake water (algae, I guess), then they "fix" it and it tastes like bleach. The Brita filter isn't even enough when this happens.

Matthew Herbert 1 year, 10 months ago

20% of Lawrence probably wishes their tap dispensed gravy, so I'll take that stat with a grain of salt.

Cant_have_it_both_ways 1 year, 10 months ago

There are many solutions to fix the taste of your water. Granulated activated carbon (Charcol filter) is the quickest and is commonly known as a taste and odor filter. They range from whole house varities to under sink and faucet mount, they also get rid of most of the radium (Release of radium is the most in the shower) if that too is a desired result. Reverse osmosis is another way. This problem again, is complained about by those who don't want to pay their own bills under the umbrella of helping everyone else. If you are that worried about the taste, contact Culligan or go to Home Depot. The answers are there.

thelonious 1 year, 10 months ago

Um, we don't have the $19 million to make sure the water doesn't taste like dirt in the summer, because we spent $25 million for a white elephant rec center.

It's all about priorities, folks, and the current city commission have made theirs clear - money for the dreams of developers, nothing for basic services.

"If the geosmin posed a health risk to the public, it would be an easy decision. But geosmin isn’t a danger to health; it's just a danger to taste buds." LOL! Basically, don't worry about how your water tastes - it's safe to drink, even if the smell and taste of it make you not want to!

Tandava 1 year, 10 months ago

The City tap water tastes TERRIBLE! You people who think it tastes just fine have lost your sense of taste. Try this experiment: drink pure water (such as distilled) for two weeks or maybe a month, then drink some City tap water. You will see what I am talking about.

Normally, the City treats the water for bacteria, with a very large amount of chlorine. Then they add some other chemical to reduce the chlorine. That's it! How do I know this? I toured the water treatment plant and saw what they do.

The water still has all the pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, manure run-off, and everything else in it from miles of the Kansas River and its tributaries.

Delicately flavored teas are ruined by the Lawrence tap water.

I could go on and on about the horrible taste and quality of the City water. True, no one is obviously getting sick in the short run, but what about long term?

hujiko 1 year, 10 months ago

It would be beneficial if the Army Corps would keep our reservoirs at normal conservation pool, instead of releasing our municipal water supply to raise the Missouri and Mississippi a fraction of an inch. Shallow water warms more rapidly, therefore causing larger algae blooms.

gccs14r 1 year, 10 months ago

Except that the reservoirs are for flood control and navigation, not for municipal drinking water. Assume you'll always have Corps water at your disposal at your peril.

hujiko 1 year, 10 months ago

Originally yes, that was the intended purpose. That was 50 years ago in most cases, when drinking water was anything but scarce. Now that the reservoirs are relied upon by more and more people, there needs to be a reconsideration of priorities. Hemorrhaging our main source of water for momentary ease of navigation is shortsighted and foolish at best, as barges will cease to be relevant if there is nothing to drink.

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