Algae is the Culprit behind Drinking Water Taste and Odor Issues

Published Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Increasing amounts of algae in Beaver Lake may lead some customers to detect taste or odor in their drinking water right now. What is important to remember is that the water is safe to drink, according to officials with Beaver Water District (BWD).

“During some springs, conditions in Beaver Lake can favor the rapid growth of algae,” said Dr. James McCarty, Environmental Quality Manager for BWD. “While most algae are relatively benign, some can impact the taste and odor of the finished drinking water.”  

One such algae, Uroglena volvox, is experiencing a bloom in parts of Beaver Lake right now.  Some Uroglena are known for imparting a fishy taste and smell to the water. The last time we experienced a spring Uroglena bloom was in 2015. While some customers may be sensitive to its taste and smell, the blooms are typically short-lived. Regardless, the water is still safe to drink. 

Taste and odor issues occur as a result of environmental conditions, but human actions can be a contributor, officials said, adding that they want customers to understand the cause of taste and odor and be proactive about taking care of Beaver Lake. To help keep the lake free of too many nutrients, which contribute to the growth of algae, maintain your septic systems, don’t over fertilize lawns, and contain sediment and dirt on construction sites with silt fencing or other stormwater best management practices.

During events such as these, taste and odor at the tap can be minimized in a variety of ways. For instance, chilling water and/or adding some lemon to the water will help. In addition, carbon filters – the type used in water pitchers or attached to faucets, are effective at removing taste and odor compounds in drinking water.

“These taste and odor issues are not unique to our area,” McCarty said. “It’s just a seasonal event. It may last a few weeks, but the timeframe varies. No matter how short or long the duration of the event, however, we want to assure our customers that the water is safe to drink.”

BWD’s mission is to serve customers’ needs by providing high quality-drinking water that meets or exceeds all regulatory requirements and is economically priced consistent with quality standards. BWD supplies clean, safe drinking water, sourced from Beaver Lake, to Fayetteville, Springdale, Rogers, and Bentonville. These cities in Northwest Arkansas then pump, store, distribute and resell the water to their customers -- more than 350,000 people and industries in their cities and surrounding areas. For more information, contact Amy Wilson, Director of Public Affairs, at awilson@bwdh2o.org.

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