Here’s why your tap water might taste different during this time of year

Have you noticed a different taste or smell in your tap water? If so, you aren’t alone.

City Department of Utilities staff say that receive more calls in late summer and early fall about a change in their drinking water than any other time of year — and the reason is simple.

“As summer turns into fall, naturally occurring organic materials accumulate in upstream reservoirs and in rivers — where we get most of our water from,” said Mark Severeid, a Department of Utilities water quality superintendent. “Although the treatment process filters and disinfects the water, some organic compounds remain.”

One of those organic compounds is called geosmin, and while not everyone can detect it, it tends to give off an “earthy” taste or smell.

Severeid said it’s the same compound that causes a fresh earthy smell after it rains.

“Humans are incredibly good at detecting it in very low concentrations,” he said. “there may only be a few parts of geosmin per billion parts of water — and while some people don’t notice it, others may be very sensitive to it.”

According to staff, people who receive drinking water from the American River may notice the taste or smell more than those who receive water from other sources, but the water is still safe to drink.

To neutralize the taste or smell, staff recommend chilling the water and adding lemon or lime.

City staff are planning future upgrades to the water treatment process, which will reduce issues related to taste and odor.

People can call 3-1-1 if they have questions about their tap water or visit the City’s water quality data portal.

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