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Gainesville taking new steps to address water taste, odor
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A pallet of activated carbon is stored inside the Riverside Water Treatment Plant to eliminate the presence of a foul taste and odor in the drinking water. The problem is a result of seasonal changes to Lake Lanier known as “lake turnover.” - photo by Scott Rogers

The prolonged presence of a foul taste and odor in the local drinking water has prompted Gainesville officials to begin a new treatment and consult with experts to remedy the problem.  

“The water is safe to drink,” Water Resources Director Linda MacGregor told City Council during a work session Thursday morning, adding that the local water supply continues to meet Environmental Protection Agency standards and requirements.

Residents, particularly those serviced by the Riverside Water Treatment Plant, have for months now reported a strange flavor and smell to their tap water.

Some people experience it more than others, MacGregor said.

“This is the reality,” she added. “It’s not something weird.”

Raw water at the Riverside plant is now being treated with powdered activated carbon, which helps remove any toxic organics and absorb odor. MacGregor said it is 80 percent effective.

The carbon was added beginning last week, and MacGregor said it would take a while longer for the newly treated water to reach customers in their homes and businesses.

Water Resources officials are also consulting with firms and experts to confirm their approach and share results.

MacGregor said the city is also using specialized sampling to detect any potential abnormalities. The first results will be in next week.

“I don’t know what we’ll learn from that sampling,” she added.

MacGregor said they are considering long-term, permanent additions to the plant if the problem returns next winter.

There is newer technology available at other treatment plants operated by Gainesville, but adding these to Riverside would be costly and timely.

“We also hope whatever’s going on in the lake will settle down,” MacGregor said.

Councilwoman Ruth Bruner said her husband doesn’t taste any difference, but she does.

And Councilman Zack Thompson said he has received many calls about the problem.

“We do have citizens that are very sensitive to it,” he added.

The problem is a result of seasonal changes to Lake Lanier known as “lake turnover.”

According to the National Geographic Society, “During the fall, the warm surface water begins to cool. As water cools, it becomes more dense, causing it to sink. This dense water forces the water (on the bottom) to rise, turning over the layers.”

When the bottom layer of water rises, it brings with it compounds that can change the taste and smell of drinking water.  

But while a natural phenomenon, “it has never been this long-lasting or this severe,” MacGregor said.

Staff Blind Water Taste Test

After weeks of hearing and writing about the taste and smell of the water from the Gainesville Department of Water Resources, we at The Times decided to settle once and for all whether the city water downtown tastes like dirt.
By: David Barnes
Regional events