Columbus earmarks $1 million to fight smelly water

Columbus is prepared to spend as much as $1 million to treat the region’s water supply this winter if algae blooms again cause smelly or bad-tasting water.

Thousands of Columbus residents and visitors have complained around this time the past two years when algae blooms and organic materials made the drinking water stink across Franklin County.

The city has a contingency contract to spend $970,000 to buy powder-activated carbon from Jacobi Carbons Inc. of Columbus. Carbon is used to purify water and is found in nearly all filtration systems, including those in refrigerators and sink adapters.

This carbon is supposed to be more effective than the carbon the city purchased last year for about $600,000. Powdered carbon is supposed to better soak up materials that cause water to taste and smell bad. It acts more quickly to eliminate the problem but costs twice as much per unit, city officials said.

The Water Division has been monitoring the four reservoirs that provide water for Columbus and most of its suburbs since this past summer to determine the likelihood of algae blooms. So far, so good.

“We were already into an event about this time last year from a late summer/fall bloom that we haven’t had this year, so while we are still monitoring things, we are not overly concerned at this point,” said Laura Young Mohr, spokeswoman for the city’s utilities department. “In addition to the carbon treatment, we also have the ability to draw water from different levels of the reservoir.”& amp; amp; lt; /p>

Meanwhile, officials with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency said last week that they haven’t been involved in any testing and will take notice if Columbus reports any problems.

“Columbus does a good job of monitoring itself very closely,” said Heather Lauer, a spokeswoman for the Ohio EPA. “They would let us know if anything changed.”

The algae that caused last year’s stinky water were Anabaena, and their explosive growth in Hoover Reservoir produced an earthy and pondlike flavor and odor. Even Mayor Michael B. Coleman complained about the water over the holidays last year and ordered city workers to resolve the problem as soon as possible.

Algae blooms feed on manure and lawn and farm fertilizers that get into streams. Temperature swings and wind churn up the algae, making them difficult to remove.

Early last week, temperatures were in the teens. Today, they’re expected to be in the mid- to upper 50s. The big swings in temperatures cause bodies of water to turn over, or bring nutrients that feed algae to the top.

Mohr said any real concern begins when higher temperatures last for days or weeks. She said the hope is that by late November, the likelihood of a bloom will have passed.

In 2012, heavy rain washed organic materials into the Scioto River, triggering an algae bloom. West Side residents complained about foul water, but it did not last for months as was the case last year with Hoover Reservoir.

The Water Division added potassium permanganate to help with the bad taste in 2012.

The city is also spending $2 million to $3 million to repair and upgrade the Hap Cremean Water Plant to eliminate odor and flavor problems. The plant treats water from Hoover Reservoir and delivers water to residents north of I-70.

The plant upgrades are still about a year away. But city officials appear confident that there will be no problems before then.

“The taste and odor event we had a year ago was unpleasant, but fortunately was an aesthetic issue and not harmful,” Mohr said. “If customers have questions about drinking-water quality, they can call our Water Quality Assurance Lab at 614-645-7691.”


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