City water smells fishy

by Emily Dalnodar

When Jennifer Cuff first noticed a fishy smell during choir rehearsal, she thought its presence was unusual.
But when she also noticed the lingering odor at home, she realized it was not a freak occurrence.
“It made my orange juice taste like fish. I got really mad because I really love orange juice,” said Cuff, a junior in the College of Liberal Arts, who makes her orange juice with tap water.
Cuff said she also noticed the taste and odor in other University buildings. She is not alone.
This winter’s unseasonably warm weather is causing snow melt runoff early. The runoff flows into the Mississippi River, where the water supply comes from, and brings with it organic matter, causing a fishy taste and odor.
Officials said the problem has existed for the past two weeks.
But fish have nothing to do with the problem, said Adam Kramer, director of the Minneapolis Water Works. The problem comes from leaves, branches and other kinds of plant and animal waste. The odor poses absolutely no health risk, he said.
Usually snow melts in the spring, when more rain and more snow has accumulated. With more water the concentration of organic matter is diluted, making its presence less noticeable.
“The solution to pollution is dilution,” said Yasser Abau Aish, superintendent of water plant operation at the Minneapolis Water Works.
Because dilution is not an option, water labs are using a powder-activated carbon to absorb colors and odors caused by the organic matter. Carbon is removed before it leaves the plant and is not present in the finished product, said Larry Cole, supervisor of treatment at the Minneapolis Water Works.
During normal winters, thick ice covers lakes and snow stays on the ground longer. Because of this, not much light penetrates the covering to the ground where plants grow, slowing down photosynthesis, said Barb Liukkonen, the coordinator for the University’s Water Resources Center.
Photosynthesis is the process by which plants get energy from sunlight and water. Slower photosynthesis creates a larger odor-causing algae and bacteria population than usual, Liukkonen said.
In the past three to four years, slower photosynthesis, the dilution of organic matter by more rain and a much slower snow melt has made the taste and odor far less noticeable, Abau Aish said.
A house or building placed toward a cul-de-sac or where a distribution pipe ends will have water that tastes and smells fishier than those otherwise. This is because water sits in the pipe longer in these areas.
A house or building sitting on a main pipe will receive fresher water while the dirtier water is flushed out faster.
The problem should be cleared in a week, Kramer said, but in the meantime there are some things that can be done to make tap water tastier.
One suggestion is to fill a pitcher with tap water and put it in the refrigerator for a few hours. The cooler water doesn’t taste or smell as bad as warmer water.
In hot water the odor is more noticeable because heat releases the smells and vapors, Abau Aish said.
Also, adding a lemon or a lime to the water can cut the taste down.