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Columbus water ‘safe’ despite smell

The smell and taste of what some have described as dead underbrush might be lingering in the Columbus water for a while longer.

After two months of treatment and hundreds of thousands of dollars spent, there is no definite solution in sight to the unpleasant taste and odor in the water.

Emily Knisley, a third-year in international studies, compared the scent of the water to that of decaying plant life.

“It’s the same smell as really early spring when the snow melts (the) musty smell of dead underbrush,” Knisley said.

The odor is a result of algal blooms in Columbus’ Hoover Reservoir, affecting about 550,000 Central Ohio customers, according to the Columbus Department of Public Utilities website.

The Hap Cremean Water Plant, about 10 miles from campus, treats water from Hoover Reservoir, which has experienced an increased type of algae called anabaena. This algae produces a “pond-like” taste and odor, according to the Department of Public Utilities website.

Laura Young Mohr, spokeswoman for the city’s utilities department, said the city of Columbus and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency have been monitoring the city’s water and have determined that although the taste and odor are unpleasant, the water is safe.

Erin Strouse, a spokeswoman for the Ohio EPA, also said the water is acceptable as is.

“We can say with confidence that the water is safe to drink and use,” Strouse said. “It is simply an aesthetic issue.”

The Ohio EPA tested the water Dec. 19 and the Columbus Department of Public Utilities tests the water supply daily, Mohr said.

Although the EPA does not usually preform tests, it did “as a double check for toxins associated with algal blooms,” Mohr said in an email. “All were non-detection level.”

In addition to the “particularly challenging algal bloom,” changing temperatures and natural processes also add to the unpleasant taste, according to the Public Utilties website. The reservoir turnover, or mixing of the warmer and colder layers of the water because of changing seasonal temperatures, has also altered the taste and odor of the water.

“We can’t say how long this will go on due to much of it being under Mother Nature’s control, but we will keep doing everything we can as long as it does continue,” Mohr said.

In order to treat the water’s taste and odor, the city is treating the water with five times the usual amount of carbon normally used, according to the Department of Public Utilities website.

That amount is “as much carbon as can be added that will have any effect,” according to the Department of Public Utilities website. Because of the specific type of algae, only about 60 percent of the odor and taste is being successfully removed, the website said.

So far, the additional carbon costs approximately $10,000 each day, according to the website. This week marks two months of additional carbon treatment.

“We are now around the $600,000 mark,” Mohr said.

Strouse said Columbus officials are doing all they can.

“The city has been doing everything it can to fix this issue,” Strouse said. “The staff is aware of the issues and have highly trained operators addressing the problem.”

Some OSU students said they aren’t concerned about the taste.

“(The water) tastes pretty bitter, but I heard from people that it’s not dangerous, so I’m not too worried about it,” said Sabina Braciak, a third-year in marketing.

She said she sympathizes with the effects the taste of the water has had on the food industry though. As a server in a restaurant, she said she has dealt with the complaints of many customers who blame the restaurant for the bad taste, and Braciak said the taste of the water has even affected fountain drinks.

Brandon Holt, a second-year in sport industry, though, said he cares about the taste and odor.

“I’m passionate about my water,” he said. “There should be no aftertaste. If there’s an aftertaste, there’s something wrong.”

In addition to continuing treatments, freezing temperatures could help the abnormal taste of Columbus’ water supply, Mohr and Strouse both said.

Although last week brought extremely cold temperatures, the temperature swings are not helping the algal growth in the reservoir, Mohr said.

“A longer cold spell would be beneficial to kill off the algae,” she said. “Actually seeing some ice on Hoover would be a beautiful thing to us at this point.”

Temperatures fell as low as minus 9 degrees Jan. 6 and 7. All of OSU’s campuses were closed because of the weather those two days.

The city has received more than 1,700 calls complaining of the taste over the past two months, Mohr said.

“Some report it is getting better but I don’t think our staff believes we are on the other side of this event yet,” Mohr said.


  1. Honestly I did not notice any weird odor from the water I drank. Maybe getting tap water boiled before drinking (which is what I always do) gets rid of the odor, or perhaps I am just oblivious to such things. I mean, I never expect the water coming out of the tap at my place to taste sweet or something….

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