Ledger Inquirer: What’s up with the funky water?

I got an email last week titled something like “Funky Water,” which I almost deleted, thinking it was a news release for a bad ’70s retro band.

Turns out it was a keeper. Reader Julie Rose wrote to say she’s concerned about how the local drinking water, which is usually top notch, has suddenly gotten, well funky.

“Hey, Mike, just e-mailing from a mom’s ‘meeting,’ where we all commented that there has been a noticeable change in the taste of the water here,” Rose wrote. “We all have noticed a ‘dirty’ or ‘mildewy’ taste in the water in Columbus. Any idea what might be up? Any idea whether we should worry?”

Of course you should worry. The whole world is going to hell in a bucket. But the water? It’s completely safe, in spite of some taste and odor problems we’ve been experiencing lately.

I got in touch with Water Works Vice President Vic Burchfield, who said they’ve been getting calls recently about the water tasting and smelling “earthy.” They respond to each call, he said, and every sample they’ve checked has been potable (which is not a Southern way of saying you can tote it around with you).

The problem, Burchfield explained, is probably from blue-green algae that grows in water under certain conditions -- conditions like the ones we’ve had lately.

“Usually it develops under extreme periods of drought followed by rainfall, where the water is turned over in a lake. It produces the right conditions for the algae to bloom,” Burchfield said. “But it’s not dangerous.”

In these conditions, lakes “stratify,” he said, meaning they develop several layers of water at different temperatures. Anyone who has been swimming in this weather has experienced their feet being a lot cooler than their shoulders. That’s stratification.

The water “turns over” when there’s an influx of water from a heavy rain, he explained.

Burchfield said the Water Works is adding activated carbon to the purification process, which should help with the earthy taste and odor, and the condition should pass on its own.

So, Julie and the rest of the moms can relax. But personally, until this passes, I’m going to freeze my water into little cubes and soak them in Jack Daniel’s just to be safe.


I got a call from my friend Ilse Ramsay, who you will remember was having a tough time getting the city to address her backyard, which was eroding into a creek that runs along the back of her property.

She called Friday to say the city crews had just finished their work and put the chain link fence back up, and everything looks great.

“I want to thank you again,” she said. “I don’t think it would have gotten done without your help.”

You’re quite welcome.

But her phone call got me thinking, connecting some dots. Is it really algae we’re tasting in the water, or could it be Ilse’s backyard?