U.S. Water News Online
WICHITA, Kan. -- The funny taste and bad odor that plague
the city's drinking water here in spring and summer is caused by a
chemical found in fertilizer, federal officials said.
The U.S. Geological Survey presented the findings of a $1.9
million six-year study to pinpoint the conditions that lead to
runaway growth of algae in Cheney Reservoir, resulting in peculiar
tasting and smelling water.
When the algae dies off, it gives off a chemical that makes the
drinking water smell like the inside of a fish tank.
The culprit is phosphorus, a form of fertilizer that occurs
naturally in rocks and is found in manure and farm fertilizer.
About 65 percent of the phosphorus getting into Cheney Reservoir,
which provides about 60 percent of Wichita's drinking water, comes
from agriculture, said Mike Pope of the Geological Survey.
Eliminating that phosphorus would eliminate the problems, he said.
Wichita became concerned about the quality of water in Cheney
Reservoir during the summer of 1990. Throughout that summer, and
again during the summer of 1991, the city received 300 to 500 calls a
day from residents complaining about the way the water smelled and
tasted, said Jerry Blain, project manager for the Wichita Water
The city has been working with area farmers since the early 1990s
to reduce the amount of fertilizer that gets into the reservoir. To
date, the city has completed about 2,000 projects to reduce runoff.
Using information in the study, the city plans to make some
changes, Blain said.
It will offer to relocate some dairy farms away from the streams
that feed the reservoirs. It also plans to build buffer strips,
grassy areas that catch fertilizer that would otherwise run off the
The study, funded by the Geological Survey and the Bureau of
Reclamation, analyzed more than 100 pollutants.
Excessive phosphorus was the only problem the study identified.
That will help the city, Blain said.
``We can focus on one piece, rather than a whole spectrum of
things that we have to get out of the water,'' he said.
The study also found traces of pesticides in 99 percent of the
samples taken from the reservoir, but the levels are low enough not
to pose a health threat, Pope said.
The study also found that bacterial levels in the reservoir are
low and the water is consistently clean enough for swimming and
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