ILLINOIS--Study: Methane May Be Causing Foul Smelling Tap Water : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread


Study: Methane may be causing foul smelling tap water Experts suggest aerating water to starve bacteria

3/13/2000 By MIKE HINKEN of the Journal Star

MORTON - Karen Howell's tap water smells like the sewer and the Morton village board plans to find out why.

"It smells like sulfur, like the sewer," said Howell, who lives on Oregon Avenue. "I can buy bottled water for drinking and cooking, but for laundry and bathing, there isn't much we can do. By the time the whole family has had their showers in the morning, the whole upstairs smells awful."

Howell said the problem began last fall, but got better after the village flushed water lines. But, as of a few weeks ago, the smelly water is back.

Howell brought a jug of the foul- smelling water to a village board meeting last fall, asking for a solution. After hearing from about 20 residents with similar complaints, the board hired H2OC, a water consultant, in November to study the village's water supply.

Results from the study, released last week, point to several possible explanations for the stinky water, as well as potential solutions.

"There is no simple solution, no quick fix," said trustee for water treatment, wastewater and refuse disposal Steve Leitch. "Though we don't know exactly when or exactly how much it will cost, we will solve the problem. Right now, the water has an odor and taste that people don't like, but tests show the water is safe to drink."

The village will conduct experiments suggested by the H2OC report. The first will be an attempt to starve bacteria living in the water supply.

According to the H2OC report, bacteria are feeding off the total organic compounds, methane and ammonium ions, found in Morton's water. By eliminating the TOCs, it is hoped that bacteria will disappear from the water supply.

"The by-product of the bacteria's life cycle is what we assume is causing the odor and taste," Leitch said.

To rid the water of TOCs, Morton will change its aeration process, which is a simple process of flowing water down a series of steps.

"Falling water aerates itself," Leitch said. "Proper aeration can get rid of 100 percent of the methane present."

If the problem is methane, Leitch said the village will likely consider purchasing new aeration equipment.

"That's not going to be cheap," said Leitch, who couldn't give an exact figure for the equipment.

The other TOC in Morton water, ammonium ions, attach themselves to chlorine and ride through the system's filters untouched, according to the study.

Leitch said that by adding chlorine at a different point in the purification process, the amount of chlorine may be reduced, cutting down the ammonium ions.

"Chlorine is added to the water to kill bacteria," Leitch said. "If we reduce the TOCs, we reduce the bacteria, and fewer bacteria means a reduced need for chlorine."

If not substances within the water, H2OC said the length of time the water is in the system may be the problem.

Because Morton's water system pumps out only a fraction of its capacity on a normal day, some water remains in the system for as long as two days at a time.

"The report is telling us to reduce the amount of time the water is in the system," Leitch said. "We can't tell people to use more water, but we can reduce the amount that's in the water tower."

Morton has the capacity to pump 5.5 million gallons of water each day, but a normal day requires 1.7 million gallons.

"Right now, we keep the towers full all the time. If we can determine what the water level should be maintained at, we can reduce the amount of water and the length of time some is in the pipes," he said.

"As for now, we'll work at getting 100 percent of the methane out of the water. This is all experimental, so let's hope it's the methane and we can get this solved quickly."

As for Howell, she and others are waiting.

"They've asked us to be patient and we try," she said. "But I plan on calling every week until this gets solved. We know this isn't something that's being done on purpose, but we just want to have it fixed. My house is three years old. I pay a lot of taxes to the village. The water really smells awful and I just don't think this is acceptable."

Copyright ) Peoria Journal Star

-- (, March 14, 2000

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