Why Does My Water Taste Weird? Exploring Lexington County’s Summertime Tap Water Woes

If you’ve noticed that your water begins to taste funky as the heat of summer sets in – you’re not alone! Over the past several years, Lexington County water has been plagued by water that tastes like dirt or has an unpleasant metallic tang. The culprit is known: algal blooms in Lake Murray that produce chemicals that skirt by the area’s public water filtration system.

We understand that it is alarming to experience changes in your tap water quality – so we’ve put together this article to examine the cause and explore solutions to our summer water woes.

A Very Smelly Bloom

Lake Murray is a man-made lake which provides our community with clean hydroelectric power, a place to escape the heat, and is our year-round source of drinking water. During the winter, the water is cool and clear resulting in inoffensive and neutral tasting tap water. However, as the summer heat sets in, algae begins to bloom.

These single-celled organisms produce two chemicals in particular which give our tap water its distinctively unpleasant summertime smell and flavor: geosmin and methylisoborneal (MIB).

While the heat gets a lot of the blame for these algal blooms, the real culprit might actually be our more frequent and stronger summer storms. Heavy rains stirs up the lake and can cause the algae to break down, releasing these stinky chemicals, while simultaneously overburdening the water treatment plants’ filtration systems with sediments. This one-two punch results in the unpleasant summer tap water that many are experiencing.

Lake Murray with hexagon frame

Is Our Tap Water Safe To Drink?

As humans, our sense of smell evolved as a way of detecting potentially harmful substances, so it is reasonable to be alarmed by foul smelling water. Despite our concerns, local officials assure us that while the water may not be the tastiest, the contaminants do not pose a health risk. Neither geosmin nor MIB is associated with any health risks in humans. However, these chemicals are difficult to filter out of water and are readily detectable even in concentrations as small as 5 parts per billion. This means you would need less than a tablespoon of either of these super stinky chemicals to make an entire Olympic-sized swimming pool unpleasant to drink!

It is important to keep in mind that while geosmin and MIB are safe to consume – some types of algal blooms produce microcystins – a class of chemical that can cause a wide range of health problems. Microcystins are similarly difficult to filter from water, and so are a risk to be aware of.

Thankfully, toxin-producing algal blooms have not been found in Lake Murray, so this currently remains a future concern. The risk, however, is not hypothetical and communities around the nation are being advised to avoid drinking their tap water when harmful algal blooms erupt.

Solving the Stink

Just because the municipal water treatment plants struggle to eliminate these malodorous compounds from our drinking water doesn’t mean you’re stuck drinking bottled water all summer! Here are a few options available that will reduce or even completely eliminate the offensive muddy flavors:

Option 1: Let it rest

The easiest, and cheapest, solution is to pour your water into a pitcher and set it in your fridge or leave it on your counter overnight. This will allow some of the unpleasant odors to off-gas leaving you with tastier water.

Leaving your water to rest also allows other chemicals like chlorine to dissipate – so this can be a good way to make your tap water more enjoyable any time of year.

Option 2: Carbon filtration

Any filter that uses activated carbon will remove at least some of the offending molecules. Brita filters are one of the best known carbon filters on the market, but there are dozens of carbon filter systems available, including whole-home water filters.
Keep in mind that carbon filters lose their ability to filter over time, as their pores begin to fill up with captured contaminants.

You will need to replace your filters regularly, perhaps even more often than the manufacturer recommends, in order to completely eliminate the hard-to-remove geosmin and MIB molecules.

Option 3: Reverse osmosis filtration

Reverse osmosis uses semi-permeable membranes that block out nearly all water-borne contaminants. These filter systems are usually installed under kitchen sinks and provide consistently tasty and pure drinking water.

Collage of water filtration

Dealing With a Changing Future

Perhaps we’re looking back with rose tinted glasses, but we’re not alone in remembering the tap water of our youth as tasting pleasant year-round. No matter the precise cause of these new algal blooms, it seems as though they are here to stay, and may even become more common as new weather trends become the norm.

Thankfully, if you want to enjoy tasty tap water all year long, there are easy solutions. From letting your water rest overnight to having a reverse osmosis filter installed at your kitchen sink, good tasting water still can come from your tap!