Update: Treatment error causes 'earthy' water taste, odor in northern Beaufort County

zmurdock@beaufortgazette.comJanuary 7, 2014 

The earthy taste and odor in some tap water in northern Beaufort County will dissipate over the next week as Beaufort-Jasper Water & Sewer Authority technicians correct a temporary error in the water treatment process.

The error occurred over the past few weeks at the utility's Chelsea Water Treatment Plant, which serves about 60,000 to 80,000 customers in Burton, Beaufort and Port Royal and on St. Helena and Lady's islands, said Chris Petry, BJWSA chief operating officer.

"The taste and odor are the result of algae and organics in our source water, the Savannah River," Petry said. "In the algae life cycle, sometimes they create chemicals that produce that musty odor."

The chemicals are not created often and usually occur in spring, not winter, he said.

When technicians find the chemicals in their routine tests, the utility treats the water with activated carbon, just like a Brita water filter would at home. The utility was performing that treatment, but Petry and technicians found that the proportion of activated carbon to algae chemicals was incorrect, leaving some of the taste and odor in the water that left the plant for homes and businesses.

The water is safe to drink and use normally, but customers could notice the taste and odor through next week, Petry said. The problem did not occur at the utility's Purrysburg Water Treatment Plant, which serves southern Beaufort County, so customers in Bluffton and on Hilton Head Island will not be affected.

The treatment process has been corrected, but it can take two to eight days for water from the Chelsea plant to travel to homes and businesses, Petry said. To help speed that process, crews will begin flushing water lines Wednesday throughout the affected area.

"Bottom line is, we're taking responsibility for this," Petry said. "I believe that if we had had our pencils a little bit sharper in our operation of the water treatment plant, our customers wouldn't have experienced this."

"We apologize for this taste and odor event," said Ed Saxon, BJWSA general manager. "BJWSA strives to provide the highest possible quality water to all of its customers, and we know that right now, we have to do better."

Customers still experiencing the faulty taste and odor can report it to the utility at 843-987-9200 or by email at cs@bjwsa.org.

Follow reporter Zach Murdock at twitter.com/IPBG_Zach.

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