Algae in the Water: What You Should Know

Earlier this year, Arlington, Fort Worth, and parts of Dallas noticed that their water tasted and smelled weird. The story made headlines when the city released a statement acknowledging and explaining the problem. It turns out a type of blue-green algae growing in Lake Arlington was responsible for the taste and odor problems.

Obviously, we don’t blame you for being concerned about this. As you might remember from earlier this year, cities like Arlington and Dallas treat all the water they supply with a painstaking, multi-step purifying process. So how and why did this happen? Can algae or other waterborne lifeforms make our water unsafe to drink? Is this something you need to be worried about? We’re going to do our best to answer your questions about the Algae in Lake Arlington, to help you stop worrying.

What Caused the Odor and Taste Changes?

The musty, unpleasant odor and taste some residents noticed in Arlington’s water was caused by a compound called “geosmin”. Geosmin is a natural oil bi-product of a species of blue-green algae found in Lake Arlington.

Why Is Geosmin a Problem Now?

The blue-green algae in Lake Arlington release geosmin into the water when they die. Lake Arlington experienced greater than usual temperature fluctuations this last winter. First it was unseasonably warm in the winter, and then it quickly became unseasonably cold in the spring.

The result of these fluctuations was that algae bloomed like crazy in the warm winter water–from 54 parts per trillion in Mid-November to 1,100 parts in February–and then died like crazy when the water cooled down. When tons of algae dies, tons of geosmin gets into the water.  

Is Geosmin Dangerous?

No. Geosmin is not harmful and has no adverse effect on water besides the unpleasant odor and taste it can produce. According to the City of Arlington, sensitivity to geosmin’s odor and taste may differ from person to person.

How Did Geosmin Get Into the Water Supply This Year?

The City of Arlington treats its water in two facilities: the John F. Kubala facility and the Pierce- Burch facility. While Pierce-Burch draws water from Lake Arlington, John F. Kubala connects to east Texas reservoirs via a pipeline. During the late winter months, when water demand is low and the city knows to expect geosmin, they close Pierce-Burch to perform maintenance.

This year, however, John F. Kubala was closed while its disinfection equipment was upgraded. This required more water to come from Pierce-Burch (and consequently Lake Arlington) than usual, in a year when geosmin in Pierce-Burch just happened to be way higher than usual. Between the geosmin and the facility maintenance, several factors intersected to create a perfect storm for geosmin proliferation.

What’s Being Done to Solve the Problem?

On March 6th, the city completed the purification upgrades to the offline Kubala and the Lake Arlington-supplied Pierce-Burch. These upgrades installed new ozone purification systems to each facility, allowing them to better remove undesirable tastes and odors. With Kubala back online, Arlington gets some of its water from the East Texas pipelines again. These pipelines didn’t have the same geosmin problem as Lake Arlington, so its water won’t taste like geosmin.

In the future, the new ozone facility upgrades should help Pierce-Burch successfully filter out unpleasant tastes and odors, even if geosmin levels in Lake Arlington get really high.

Should I Worry About the Quality of My Water?

No. We understand why news stories like these might freak you out, but when you think about it, this scenario ironically illustrates the effectiveness of the water treatment system. The only reason geosmin got into the water in the first place was because of a series of unfortunate but pretty unusual circumstances–and even then, the city dealt with it quickly.

You may not have to worry, but it can’t hurt to keep in-the-loop about water quality. You could keep an eye on local news and annual water quality reports, or learn more about what you can do to make sure your home’s water stays as pure as possible.

What Can I Do About Unpleasant Odors Like Geosmin in My Water?

Geosmin shouldn’t be a problem in Arlington anymore, but while it was, the city recommended chilling water to eliminate the odor and taste. You could also use a home water filter on your tap faucets or in a pitcher.

If your water problems continue to persist, and you can’t find information on a water quality problem in your area, the problem may be with your home’s supply system. In that case, give us a call. We can help isolate and solve the problem.

We hope this blog answered your questions and helped you feel a little better about the situation. Do you have any questions that we didn’t get to? Let us know!

Are you still worried about your water quality? Learn more or schedule an appointment today, and we can help make sure you’ve got nothing to work about.