U.S. Water News Online
WICHITA, Kan. -- A musty smell has lingered in the
Wichita's water supply since October, and city officials are turning
to ozone gas as a possible remedy.
During the next 30 days, the city plans to experiment with adding
ozone gas to the water supply. Ozone, produced by zapping
medical-grade oxygen with electricity, is pumped into the drinking
water to remove impurities.
If it helps reduce the odor, the Wichita City Council will decide
whether to spend $2.1 million a year to regularly treat the water.
The cost -- about $1 a month for a typical family -- would be passed
on to residents.
``The $1 a month is pretty small,'' said Wichita resident Lorrain
Hird, who put a filtration system on her faucet to eliminate the
odor, which she described as being like dirt.
The odor in the Cheney Reservoir normally lasts for a few days
once or twice each summer. Despite the smell, the water is safe to
drink, said David Warren, director of the city's water and sewer
The latest episode began in October and has lasted more than three
months. This is the first time the city has had an odor problem in
its water during the winter.
``It could go on for a week. It could go on for a month,'' Warren
said. ``It could stop tomorrow. The frustration is that you can't
predict when it will start and when it will end.''
The city suspects the odor is caused by blue-green algae, also
called cyanobacteria, fed by farm fertilizer and manure building up
in Cheney Reservoir.
Until now, the city has focused on long-term remedies to deal with
the algae. Since 1994, Wichita has been working with area farmers to
move feedlots and to terrace fields to reduce the chemicals washing
into the lake. But it could be years before the efforts pay off, and
some residents want the problem solved now.
No one is sure why the problem is occurring now. Algae normally
thrive in hot, sunny weather.
Warren suspects eight inches of rain in October might have flushed
more phosphorus, a fertilizer component and the algae's favorite
snack food, into the reservoir.
Val Smith, an ecologist at the University of Kansas who is
studying Wichita's water woes, said that because no water has been
released from the Cheney Reservoir since July 2001, phosphorous
levels may have built up.
``It is like a bathtub when you close the drain,'' Smith said.
``Stuff comes in and doesn't go away. It just builds up.''
To make sure algae are the culprit, the city is shipping three
months' worth of preserved water samples to the university for
In Kansas, about five water supply lakes are prone to blue-green
algae blooms, according to Ed Carney of the Kansas Department of
Health and Environment.
Winfield, Olathe and Alma all get complaints.
In Lawrence, the blue-green algae got so bad in 1995 and 1996 that
the city stopped taking water out of Clinton Reservoir.
So far, only one city in Kansas has solved its taste and odor
problems: Emporia, which installed ozone technology about eight years
ago at a cost of $1 million. Iola is considering the same technology.
Since Emporia added ozone to its water, odor complaints have
stopped, although the extra oxygen sometimes gives the water a
milky-white appearance that some residents don't care for.
``I don't think anybody would go back to the other way,'' said
Phillip Cooper of the city's maintenance department.
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