Many Hillsboro residents have likely noticed an unpleasant odor and taste in their tap water recently, and for good reason, since city officials say they recently contained a non-harmful algae bloom in the city’s reservoir.
Jason Bernard, the Hillsboro Water Treatment Plant superintendent, said the odor and taste don’t indicate the water is harmful, but rather were a side effect of a recent algae bloom caused by high temperatures and sunny days.
“Long story short, we basically had an algae bloom from all the sun and heat we’ve had,” Bernard told The Times-Gazette. “Since we use reservoir water, it’s susceptible to heat and sun.”
Hillsboro Safety and Service Director Mel McKenzie said the water, although smelly, is safe to drink.
“Everything is safe about it,” he said. “It’s treated, it’s clean, it’s good to drink. It’s just got that smell and a slight flavor to it.”
“One of the main effects of some strains of algae is taste and odor,” Bernard said. “We’ve been able to eliminate 80-90 percent of it with our treatment process.”
And that process, Bernard said, can be long and complicated – especially in this case.
“I’ve been doing this for 25 years and this is the worst taste and odor issue I’ve had to get rid of,” he said. “It’s definitely been a challenge… You can’t just do one thing and fix it. You have to make small adjustments, and you have to give those adjustments four to six hours to see if we’re getting improvements. We just have to keep doing those things until we can get it completely taken care of.”
Fortunately, Bernard said, with the bloom mostly contained, residents will soon begin to notice the smell and taste fading away.
“It’s much better than it was,” Bernard said. “We’re barely noticing it at the water plant at all, just a little tiny bit. We’re still making adjustments to make it absolutely the best we can. Unfortunately, it’s been a very tricky issue to deal with.”
Bernard said Hillsboro residents may experience odor for some time when they shower, since water heaters tend to hold onto smelly water for longer periods of time.
“The only issue is there’s pockets of water out in the water towers and the water mains, peoples’ houses, especially water heaters, that are going to harbor the water, and it’ll stick around for a while.”
Bernard said he hopes all will be back to normal by next week, but when it comes to algae, you never know.
“We’ve done more treatment again today and made some changes,” he said. “Friday, I’ll get with my distribution guy, and we’ll be flushing some fire hydrants, we’re going to get inlines to get some fresh water out to the edges of the system… Hopefully, it’ll be even less noticeable.”
According to Bernard, once the weather cools, the algae will have less stimulus to grow, and hopefully the smell and odor will be completely gone.
“Especially if we can get several days or a week of overcast, cooler weather, it’ll be better,” he said. “Right now, we’re just getting so many hot, sunny days… Luckily, our water source is very clean, so there’s not a lot of nutrients that algae needs to grow.”
Bernard said he’s been inundated with phone calls since the initial effects of the bloom, and he wants residents to know the treatment plant is doing everything it can.
“I just want people to know we’re trying every chemical and technique we have to use at that building, and there’s not a whole lot more we can do,” he said. “It’s just such a time-consuming process, and it’s taking longer than I expected… But there’s definitely no safety issues. It’s just unpleasant.”
Reach David Wright at 937-402-2570, or on Twitter @DavidWrighter.