‘Earthy’-tasting water poses no health risks, officials say


Some residents with a keen sense of taste might be detecting musty or “earthy”-tasting tap water lately, caused by recent algae blooms. But water quality officials have stressed that it’s an aesthetic problem and doesn’t pose any health risks.

Olivenhain Municipal Water District officials received word Oct. 30 that there was an algae bloom in Lake Skinner, a water source for OMWD and surrounding districts.

“The long and short of it is there is no health or safety risk, even if the smell and taste might be a little different than what some people are used to,” said John Carnegie, OMWD staff analyst.

Water from Lake Skinner is delivered to San Diego water agencies. After that, it’s blended with supplies from local districts, so the taste and smell might be stronger in certain areas.

Officials say it’s also not a threat to fish or wildlife.

Carnegie said OMWD has been affected by five such algae blooms this year. They’ve largely gone unnoticed by customers, but during three of the episodes, the district has received calls from some asking about the different taste.

Algae growth is more common in open-surface reservoirs in warmer months, according to a press release issued this summer from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. As in recent years, the cause of this episode was geosmin, a compound produced from the growth of certain algae in freshwater reservoirs throughout the world, the release also says.

The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California recently treated the affected water supplies.

Dave Smith, OMWD’s water treatment facilities supervisor, said the earthy taste could remain for up to two weeks, depending on where customers live in the district. However, he said, the episodes usually pass after five or 10 days.

OMWD is typically affected by two to six algae blooms a year, Smith said. To improve the water’s taste, residents are encouraged to chill the water before consuming.