Local Officials Address Complaints About Water’s Taste and Smell

If you’ve noticed something a bit “off” about the water lately, you’re not alone. Local leaders have been flooded with complaints from residents about the taste and odor of tap water, which have been variously described as earthy, metallic, musty, and moldy. Some reports even describe the water as being discolored.

Fortunately, not only has the cause of the problem seemingly been identified, but steps have been taken to correct it. Experts also say you can put away the Brita filters, provided you can stand the smell/taste; while the water may be gross, it’s not believed to be dangerous.

After Ossining received a particularly large number of complaints, Mayor Victoria Gearity quickly made the issue a priority, and one of the village’s recent weekly work sessions featured Water Superintendent Andrew Tiess discussing measures to develop a solution. Afterward, the Village of Ossining Water Department, which also supplies water to the Unincorporated Town of Ossining, released a statement saying tests showed the taste and odor issues came from an organic compound called 2-Methylisoborneol (MIB). Produced by algae, MIB was found in high levels in the Croton Reservoir, the source of most of Ossining’s water.

The statement detailed a plan to design and implement a powder-activated carbon system to clean the Croton Reservoir’s water, and during this time Ossining will switch to using the Indian Brook Reservoir for 100% of its water supply.

The test results came from Engineering Performance Solutions, an outside laboratory specializing in algae. It found the Croton water source had a result of 105.0 (ng/L) MIB, while Indian Brook had a result of <1.0 (ng/L) MIB.

Ossining’s statement further cautioned that it would take several days for the Croton Reservoir water already present in the system to be flushed out. Therefore, the taste and odor may still be present in the coming week or so until improvements will be noticeable.

The good news is officials say that while residents may not exactly enjoy the taste or smell of the water, chemical and microbiological tests show it won’t have any effect on their health and is safe to drink. As for the cause of the high MIB levels in Croton’s water, officials believe the culprit is the erratic weather conditions creating an abnormal amount of bottom nutrients mixing into the reservoir.

However, Ossining residents are far from the only people experiencing this issue, as anyone whose water is sourced from the Croton Reservoir has noticed. Indeed, the Department of Environmental Protection in New York City received hundreds of complaints in the final months of 2019. Though the city’s water has famously been called the “Champagne of drinking water,” many people living in Manhattan and the Bronx—areas which receive a mix of water partially from the Croton Reservoir—found something coming from their taps that more closely recalled the last stale dregs of boxed Chardonnay.

But as Rockland County residents know, the Croton Reservoir isn’t causing all the water trouble. Suez, Rockland’s largest water supplier which also serves Westchester, Putnam, Tioga, and Orange counties, heard from customers last fall about the taste, smell, and look of its water. After an investigation, the company also blamed the weather, citing an unusually warm and dry August and September that led to algae breaking down and releasing compounds like geosmin. Though emitting the same unpleasant taste and smell as MIB, geosmin is similarly not considered harmful.

The main difference in Rockland is that much of the water comes from the Lake DeForest reservoir in Clarkstown and not the Croton. For an immediate fix, Suez received special permits from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to reduce algae levels with copper sulfate while it explores a longer-term solution.

Meanwhile, New York State Senator David Carlucci has called for Suez to give monetary credit on customers’ water bills, especially since the company is seeking a rate hike in 2020. He said, “The water quality no longer meets its usual standards and customers do not feel comfortable using or drinking the water that they are paying for. Until the problem is mitigated, customers’ bills should be adjusted with an adequate credit refund.”

Suez spokesman Bill Madden said the company has no such plans. He reasoned, “The water is still safe to drink, bathe in, and cook with.”

For now, those affected by the unpleasant water will just have to wait and see if the efforts done at the reservoirs will prove successful. Or, they could follow the advice offered by Suez in a statement last October: “To help the water taste better, try chilling it in a glass pitcher in the refrigerator before using it.”

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