Despite occasional complaints about the taste of water supplied by the Tahlequah Public Works Authority, local administrators say it is safe for drinking and household use.
The Daily Press received an e-mail Oct. 14 from local resident George Ritzhaupt, who said the water at his residence in Southridge “tasted terrible for the past three weeks.” He wrote that a call to the TPWA yielded suggestions to boil water and refrigerate it for drinking purposes.
During the Oct. 11 meeting of the TPWA, Mike Doublehead, general manager, reported that “a few complaints” were submitted by customers over the taste of the water. He attributed the problem to algae and turnover in Lake Tenkiller.
Called “destratification” in the utility business, lake turnover essentially equalizes the water temperatures at different depths and often occurs in the fall. Surface water, receiving less sunlight, becomes cooler and more dense. It sinks, forcing deeper water nearer the surface.
Lake turnover can sometimes affect drinking water, but an earthy, grassy or metallic taste is usually caused by algae blooms.
Algae blooms are normal events in reservoirs, and occur in warm or cold weather. Though they cause an unpleasant taste, they do not affect the quality of drinking water.
“This is a problem many utility companies have to deal with every few years,” Doublehead said. “From the standpoint of a general manager, I can assure our customers that the water is quality compliant at all times. Because we received so few complaints, I am assuming this was a short-lived event at Lake Tenkiller. We have not received any complaints lately; it has been a good two weeks.”
Rex Cox, a board member for Cherokee County Rural Water District No. 8, said one complaint of poor quality water had been received in recent weeks, but the problem was a line repair.
“It was a single residence that had water with a bad color and odor,” Cox said. “It was near the line break. The water is OK now. A line that is broken or serviced usually needs to be flushed out.”
That district, which services the Briggs area, is one of the county rural districts receiving its water from the TPWA.
“I’m on Briggs water myself, and I haven’t noticed anything unusual at all,” Cox said. “I do drink the water, but maybe my taste is different or the problem is in a different area.”
Regarding water quality problems at his home, Ritzhaupt further wrote: “With all the advancement in technology, filters and chemicals you would think the water would taste and smell good coming from a new [Tenkiller water intake] facility. The water tastes like dirt or pond water and has an odor when bathing or showering.”
The TPWA uses the common method of chlorine disinfection on its water. The treatment of ozonation, more common in Europe, can greatly reduce the annoying taste of algae blooms.
Treating water with ozone can be advantageous, but it is also expensive. Ozone is unstable and must be produced at the treatment site. Another treatment option is ultraviolet radiation purification, which would not affect the water’s taste.
A study by the Environmental Protection Agency estimated the cost to operate UV and ozonation water treatments as three and four times more than chlorination, respectively.
Doublehead and Cox urged customers to report any water with a peculiar taste, odor or color.
“No. 1, they need to call our office,” Cox said. “If there is a problem, we can run tests, and we can have the Environmental Protection Agency test if we are not satisfied with our own.”
For information or to rerport poor water quality, call TPWA at (918) 456-2564. RWD No. 8 can be reached at (918) 453-9934.