‘Unpleasant smell and taste’ prompts water review

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  • Aug. 24, 2011 2:00 p.m.

John MacNeil/Independent editor

Stettler residents who detected an odd taste and smell in town water last week should notice signs of improvement this week, the town’s director of operational services said Monday.

“People should be noticing a better quality of water,” Melissa Robbins said. “I noticed a much better quality lately.”

Concerns about the quality of water arose after algae — believed to have come from the Red Deer River — grew in the raw water storage ponds at Stettler’s water-treatment plant, which is about 20 minutes west of town.

“Anybody knows that algae causes that unpleasant smell and taste in the water,” Robbins said. “We’re doing some testing on our storage ponds to figure out what it is.

“But in the meantime, what we’ve done is we’ve gone back to the river directly to pull the water from the river until we can identify what it is in our (storage) ponds and figure out a way to treat it or get rid of the algae, or what the next step would be.”

Robbins was on vacation last week when she was called in to investigate complaints about Stettler’s water.

“I was in Wednesday of last week and we got lots of complaints at the town (office) over the concerns about the smell, but I think those complaints have tapered off now, because I think everybody is noticing a better quality of water coming through,” she said.

“The water was always safe. We still meet Alberta Environment’s regulations, making sure that there’s nothing harmful in the water. It’s more a palatable thing, the taste and the odour, so it’s not palatable and some people find it unpleasant.”

Robbins met with water-treatment plant operators on site Monday and test results are expected this Thursday.

“I wasn’t sure what our plan of attack would be, where we move forward from here,” she said. “And we still don’t (know), because we’re waiting to see the test results of the algae and that will tell us exactly what kind it is, and then we can work with Alberta Environment to figure out how we eliminate it.

“Also, our next step is to determine proper procedures so that if we start to notice it again, that we’re all ahead of the game and that we know what to do automatically.”

“We’re continually testing it weekly now to monitor whether the algae levels are going up or going down. But we’re not using that (source) for the potable water. We’re just going to pull right from the Red Deer River until we know for sure that we’re gaining ground in our raw water storage ponds.”

The town has managed to treat problematic water in the past by using an activated carbon, Robbins said.

“What we do in the spring when we get that severe runoff and we get this kind of water, we activate a carbon and that helps with the quality of the water coming through,” she said. “It helps with the taste and the smell.”

“But I think with the quantity of algae in our pond, it wasn’t quite keeping up and we got a little bit behind on it. It’s a brand new facility for us and we’re just learning how to treat.

“In the spring, we run that activated carbon and it typically takes care of it, but this time it didn’t, so we’re looking at procedures that will help us eliminate the possibility of this happening in the future. It’s kind of a learning experience for all of us.”