After nearly two months, tap water in northern Beaufort County has returned to its normal taste and smell, the Beaufort-Jasper Water & Sewer Authority said Monday.
The authority quit using water from its reservoir earlier this month when tests revealed a chemical produced by algae had imparted an earthy, musty taste and dirt-like odor to water leaving the Chelsea Treatment Plant in Okatie. Though safe to drink, the taste and odor drew many customer complaints, spokesman Matt Brady said.
"This is obviously something that we paid very close attention to," he said. "We appreciate our customers' patience, and we are working toward a long-term solution to make sure this doesn't happen again."
BJWSA has drawn water only from the plant's canal since closing the reservoir. Slowly, the tap water has returned to its normal taste since the odor was first detected around the holidays, Brady said.
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"Our test results indicate the (chemical) is below detectable levels," he said. "The smell and taste affect some people more than others, but right now you shouldn't have a problem with the water."
Closing the reservoir has not affected the amount of water the plant can deliver, and the reservoir could still be tapped if needed, he said.
The utility is looking for a way to drain the chemical from the reservoir without allowing the water to flow back into the canal, Brady said.
The chemical, called geosmin, is produced by algae from the Savannah River, the utility's water source.
Though the reservoir and canal are both supplied by the river, it is unclear why geosmin levels were so much higher in the reservoir, Brady said.
"We're still trying to figure that out," he said. "We know (the algae) was pretty rare, especially for the winter time."
He said an engineering firm will complete a report on the matter by March, and the utility hopes to have long-term solutions in place soon after.
BJWSA has 60,000 to 80,000 customers in northern Beaufort County, including Burton, Beaufort and Port Royal, as well as on St. Helena and Lady's islands. Customers in Okatie and on Callawassie and Spring islands also were affected.
The problem did not occur at the utility's Purrysburg Water Treatment Plant, which serves much of southern Beaufort County.
Follow reporter Dan Burley at twitter.com/IPBG_Dan.