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Algae blooms cause odd smell and taste in Lancaster drinking water, officials say it's still safe

Jul 12, 2023Jul 12, 2023

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LANCASTER, Pa. — In a statement released Tuesday, the City of Lancaster’s Bureau of Water says people living in the region may notice an odd smell and taste to the tap water coming to their homes but emphasize it is still safe to drink.

"We are still meeting or exceeding all standards for water quality," said Stephen Campbell, director of public works for the city of Lancaster.

City leaders say the odd smell and taste is due to an algae bloom in the Conestoga River that accounts for about 40% of the bureau’s water supply.

They add the bureau’s filtration process continues to make the water safe. However, due to the extent of the bloom, a residual taste and smell cannot be removed at this time.

"It is extensive and it has a smell that persists even after you’ve gone through the filtration process," said Campbell. "All of our standards in terms of water quality and ability to drink it and use it for any other purposes are met or exceeded in this regard. It’s considered by the DEP a nuisance situation, not a dangerous situation."

Customers in the east, southeast and northeast areas of our water distribution system may be experiencing an earthy or...

This comes just weeks after the York Water Company dealt with a similar issue, where an algae bloom in Lake Redman caused a similar odd smell and taste in its treated drinking water.

Experts say the spike in algae blooms across the area is causing the problem, which stems from a perfect mixture of environmental factors including weather and low water supplies.

"We have this perfect combination of a warming climate, as well as all these nutrients entering the water system and that’s when you’re going to see this algal growth," said Stephanie Wein, a PennEnvironment clean water advocate.

Despite the odd smell and taste, experts add that the water filtration systems in place across our area are effective in protecting our drinking water from bacteria caused by these growths.

"Our water systems have a lot of technologies that help them deal with the algae that reaches the water treatment plant and all those things make sure by the time it reaches our tap, you’re not actually drinking the bacteria," said Wein. "Those tastes don’t necessarily mean it’s unsafe."

Lancaster leaders say the resolution of the problem is largely dependent on the increase of Conestoga River’s water level and currently have no timeline in place on when the odd smell, taste and look of their water will go away.

"Because this algae smell and look is not dangerous we do not need to do anything to mitigate it, the unfortunate thing is we just need to wait for more water," said Campbell. "We don’t know how long it's going to necessarily last but it will likely last until we can get some appreciable amount of rain."

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