An overwhelming algae invasion has left the city’s water smelling and tasting bad, and the problem may not be fixed for another couple of weeks.
City officials say they expect the dirty taste and fragrance that appeared a week ago to disappear by the end of the month, when a water treatment plant that has been closed for upgrades goes back on line.
“This not a health issue. This is a water quality issue,” said Walter “Buzz” Pishkur, director of water utilities since 2012. “Our water quality is renowned in the area, so a slight deviation to our standard can be unpleasant to our residents. We understand that.”
It’s all the result of unfortunate timing.
This not a a health issue. This is a water quality issue.
Walter “Buzz” Pishkur, director of Arlington water utilities
The city’s two treatment plants — John F. Kubala, built in the late 1980s, and Pierce-Burch, opened in 1956 — are near the end of an 18-month, $14 million upgrade to replace ozone and biofiltration equipment and controls. Arlington was a pioneer in switching to that purification system and reducing the use of chlorine about 20 years ago.
Normally, the Kubala plant, which takes raw water from the relatively algae-free Richland-Chambers and Cedar Creek reservoirs, would be the only plant operating during the fall and winter months, when demand for water is low. But with Kubala closed, Pierce-Burch is carrying the load. It takes its water exclusively from Lake Arlington, which has been a virtual incubator for algae, thanks to unseasonably warm winter weather.
Pishkur said the upgrade project is on budget and scheduled to be completed by the end of February, and the switch to Kubala will end the reign of the bad-tasting water.
The presence of geosmin, the algae compound that causes bad taste and odor in drinking water, grew from 54 parts per trillion in mid-November — equal to one drop in 13 million gallons, or 20 Olympic-size swimming pools — to 1,100 parts last week.
The water’s unpleasant taste and odor is caused by a compound called geosmin, found in the oils released by algae. The city has been monitoring it for months, watching it grow from 54 parts per trillion in mid-November to 1,100 parts last week.
He said the city’s call center has fielded about 160 complaints.
We’re accustomed to high quality, so if there’s any change in that quality, it raises questions.
Victoria Farrar-Myers, Arlington City Council member
City Councilwoman Victoria Farrar-Myers admits she uses bottled water but has heard many complaints. She believes the national focus on water-quality issues may have heightened concerns among Arlington residents.
“I think people might get alarmed,” she said. “We’re accustomed to high quality, so if there’s any change in that quality, it raises questions.”
The city water department has earned its share of trophies. Most recently, the tap water won the 2015 Best Tasting Surface Water in Texas category of the Texas Water Utilities Association’s Annual School Best Tasting Water contest. In 2014, Arlington’s water won the North Central Texas School Best Tasting Water contest.
At Tuesday’s City Council meeting, Pishkur appeared humbled and a little frustrated as he explained the change in water aesthetics — while emphasizing that it’s safe to drink the tap water.
“I want [the council] to know we’re not ambivalent about it,” Pishkur said later. “We’re not saying, ‘We’ll get over it, life goes on and no big deal.’ That’s not our attitude. We’ve built our reputation up to that, and we’re willing to be held accountable to that.”
Arlington Water Treatment Plants:
Pierce-Burch: Built in 1956. Pumping capacity 75 million gallons per day
John F. Kubala: Built in the late 1980s. Pumping capacity 97.5 mgd