That musty taste in tap water isn’t you, blame algae in Lake Austin


You may have recently noticed a musty, earthy taste to Austin’s tap water, but city water officials say it’s still safe to drink.

Austin Water is blaming the smell and taste on a record-setting algae bloom in Lake Austin, where Austin derives its drinking water, the city’s utility said. While Austin’s water treatment process removes the algae, it can’t always remove all the harmless compounds that the algae releases.

“The water does not taste as well as we’d like it to taste,” said Jane Burazer, who oversees Austin’s water and wastewater treatment. “But it’s an aesthetic issue, not a health issue. When you talk about compounds in the parts per trillion, it’s a tiny amount. … I believe it’s safe even in higher concentrations. It’s just that it tastes terrible.”

Lake Austin had a similar algae bloom in summer 2014 and most recently in March, said Jill Mayfield, Austin Water spokeswoman.

Byproducts from the current bloom began showing up in routine samples from the lake in July. Austin Water then began adding activated carbon into the treatment process to minimize the taste and smell of the compounds, Burazer said. Last month, the utility started getting more complaints from customers about the taste and smell.

On Thursday, Austin Water — which uses workers as odor and taste testers in their lab — increased the carbon used in the treatment process to match the rise in compounds, utility officials said. However, there is still a chance the taste and odor may not be entirely eliminated.

“Everybody’s sensitivity to taste differs,” Burazer said. “Right now, I think we’re at the point where he most sensitive people are tasting it.”

Austin Water officials believe the algae growth is linked to the drought and its effect on the Colorado River. Lake Austin’s water becomes more stagnant as less water is released upstream from lakes Travis and Buchanan during a drought, Burazer said

She said she doesn’t know how long the algae bloom will last.

“I wish I could predict Mother Nature, but I can’t,” she said.

It’s unlikely that the situation would worsen to the point where Austinites cannot drink the water, she said. This algae bloom should not affect plants or animals either.

Austin’s tap water continues to meet all regulatory standards set by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the Environmental Protection Agency, the utility’s officials said. Austin Water will continue to monitor taste and odor issues until officials find that the algae bloom has run its course.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Local

Missing 15-year-old Kentucky girl found safe in Louisville, police say
Missing 15-year-old Kentucky girl found safe in Louisville, police say

A 15-year-old Kentucky girl who left school to leave with an unknown person has been found, WKYT reported Thursday. Amber Renae Wagers was found safe in Louisville, the Berea Police Department said in a Facebook post. Wagers, 15, walked out of Berea Community School around 10 a.m. Wednesday to leave with an unknown person, police said. Investigators...
James Shaw Jr. raises $170,000 for Waffle House shooting victims
James Shaw Jr. raises $170,000 for Waffle House shooting victims

James Shaw Jr., who disarmed a gunman who opened fire at a Waffle House in Tennessee on Sunday, has raised more than $170,000 in a fundraiser to help the victims’ families, CNN reported. Shaw, who wrestled a rifle away from the gunman and tossed it over the counter, launched a GoFundMe campaign that easily topped its $15,000 goal. Four...
Kim Jong Un steps over border, meets with South Korean leader Moon Jae-in
Kim Jong Un steps over border, meets with South Korean leader Moon Jae-in

In an electric moment, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un stepped over the heavily fortified demilitarized zone to shake hands with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, Reuters reported Friday. Smiling and holding hands, the Korean leaders met for the first summit between the two nations in more than a decade.  It’s the first time since...
Subway announces it will close 500 stores in US
Subway announces it will close 500 stores in US

Subway announced that it will be closing nearly 500 stores in the United States while adding more than 1,000 shops worldwide, WPVI reported Thursday. The chain, which got its start in August 1965 when founder Fred DeLuca opened a shop in Bridgeport, Connecticut, has nearly 27,000 stores in the United States and 44,000 worldwide. According...
TX women’s program makes gains after years of waning participation
TX women’s program makes gains after years of waning participation

A state health program for low-income women served more patients, attracted more providers and put more women on long-acting reversible contraception last year than in prior years, according to a report released Thursday. Even with the improvements, it’s unclear whether the program, called Healthy Texas Women, is serving more women than before...
More Stories