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Change in water’s taste, smell causes concern

Story by Sarah Fulton

The water may taste and smell like a swimming pool, but it is safe to drink.

During the warmer weather last week, the ground began to thaw, creating increased levels of ammonia in the rivers that Des Moines pulls water from.

In order to combat this, Des Moines Water Works added additional chlorine to the water, causing a difference in the smell and taste.

“Though it may taste and smell like the increased level of chlorine makes it not safe to drink, it actually is safe and that is why we add it,” said Laura Sarcone, communication specialists at WaterWorks.

The amount of chlorine doubled from one milligram per liter to two milligrams per liter.  Even with the increase the water was still under the Environmental Protection Agency maximum of four milligrams per liter.

“We were still well under the EPA standard but with that 1 milligram increase you could really tell the difference between the taste and smell,” Sarcone said.

To first-year environmental science major Kaitlin Lacek, the change was apparent.

“I thought it was gross. I didn’t really know what was going on,” Lacek said. “I thought it was a Morehouse Hall thing. I tried to not drink it, which is not good for your health.”

Learning that the smell was chlorine did little to calm Lacek’s nerves about the water.

“It is winter, so if we cannot swim in it then why should we drink it in the water?” Lacek said.

Extra chlorine is placed in the water every year, but Sarcone said that many years it goes “unnoticed.”

“It just depends on how sensitive you are to the chlorine and if you can pick up the subtitle change. We recognize that this episode was pronounced,” Sarcone said.

Sophomore musical theatre major Allison Buol noticed the change in the water while showering.

“A week or so ago when I got in the shower, I noticed that there was a smell coming from the water that wasn’t normally there,” Buol said. “It smelled like chemicals, which made me not want to shower in the water, but I didn’t really have a choice.”

Like Lacek, learning that it was chlorine in the water did not make Boul feel better.

“Now that I know that there is chlorine in the water, I am creeped out,” Buol said. “I am supposed to be using this chemical water in order to get clean?”

Water Works personnel have been testing the water throughout the city and saw a decrease in the chlorine as of Feb. 27.

How soon residents will notice a change in their water depends on how close they live to the treatment facility.

Those who live closer will see the change sooner than those who live farther away.

“The people of Des Monies should start to smell and taste decreased levels here shortly,” Sarcone said.

However, increased levels of chlorine may need to be added again this year.

“If we experience another thaw, we are going into another deep freeze, then we are going to see another increased ammonia,” Sarcone said.  “That is just what happens.”

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