Columbia’s water should smell and taste better this week, officials say

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Published: Jun. 22, 2022 at 9:45 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 22, 2022 at 9:56 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - The funky smell and taste that Columbia Water customers have been dealing with for over a month should be gone this week.

Columbia Water officials say algae levels at its Canal Water Treatment Plant, which were causing the earthy smell and taste, are now back to normal.

“It seems like the algae bloom that has been causing the issues for the past month for us and other water companies has subsided quite a bit, or it’s worked its way through the system,” Robert Yanity, Columbia Water spokesperson, said.

Though Columbia Water has seen dramatic improvements in the last week, officials say they’re going to continue to sample the water, and remain vigilant.

The city had high levels of geosmin, which is a compound associated with algae, starting early June. Geosmin levels peaked at 900 parts per trillion, but have since fallen below the levels detectable by humans to 5 parts per trillion.

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Officials say this is due in part to the addition of copper sulfate to the water, which is a step that Columbia Water had not taken in the past. The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control approved this treatment a few weeks ago.

On Tuesday, Columbia City Council approved $150,000 for the Canal Water Treatment Plant to obtain four additional shipments of activated carbon. Officials have been using that to sponge the odorous compound from the water.

“We’ll let our testing decide how much carbon we’re using and when we need to use it,” Yanity said.

In a statement, Columbia At-Large Councilwoman Aditi Bussells said, “Responding to water and sewer issues in a timely and transparent way is of the utmost importance to me and my colleagues. I’ll continue to work closely with our staff and experts to ensure that we have the infrastructure to address our water proactively.”

Additionally, Columbia Water says that relocating its carbon feed to increase its capacity for adding activated carbon has helped.

When asked what could have caused this algae outbreak, DHEC says the exact reason is unclear, but that it could have been carried downstream from Lake Monticello or Par Reservoir.

DHEC said that the major factors influencing the growth and reproduction of algae can include increased sunlight, slow-moving water and the availability of nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus.

This type of algae thrives in heat like this, Columbia Water said. Because of this, officials will be monitoring algae levels closely in the coming weeks.

“We’re still going to be diligent and stay on top of this because you never know when another algae bloom may pop up,” Yanity said. “But if we see it prop up again, we’re much better situated to address it.”

WIS spoke with several Columbia Water customers who said they are excited about the improvement.

“I feel a lot better about using my tap to drink out of instead of my fridge, or even giving my animals the water,” Allison Louderbough said. “I had given them water out of my fridge while it was bad.”

Another customer, Christian Ellwood, said he stopped drinking the water when he first experienced the funky taste, but had previously drank a gallon per day.

“I’d be happy to give it a shot, I’d love to get back to a gallon a day, just trying to be healthier.”

Even though DHEC officials stressed that this algae is harmless, some customers say they’d like a break on their water bill for the inconvenience.

“It made everybody nervous, you know?” Louderbough said. “Everybody was talking about it for a really time. I feel like even that’s worth at least some monetary acknowledgement.”

Yanity said that rate reductions are not something that the utility is considering at this time. He apologized to customers for the month-long inconvenience.

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