WEST COLUMBIA, S.C. — For weeks, many Midlands residents have been complaining that their water tastes and smells like dirt.
Columbia Water told us it was an issue with algae blooms in Lake Murray due to warmer weather and that it is completely healthy and should go away soon.
Today, we spoke with Andy Zaengle, Director of Engineering and Water Plants for the City of West Columbia, who took us through the actual process of how their water is treated and their take on what is happening as far as taste and smell.
Zaengle says this algae bloom happens every year but they are usually able to detect it and correct it before anyone notices. "This year, we’ve been monitoring since April so we’ve been watching for it. We’ve been making steps to our process to adjust," Zaengle explains, "But, we’ve had an explosion of really fast growth to levels that we haven’t seen before. We’re removing it, but we can’t remove it as efficiently to be able to get us down to lower levels, and that’s just what people are experiencing in their water.”
“Your best interest is at our heart. We’re not happy with it . . . We want to provide not only safe, but high-quality drinking water that's also aesthetically pleasing," Zaengle told us. "You know, our families are on these systems. We drink this water, too. So, we’re working and doing everything we can that its not only safe - and it always is safe - but it meets everybody’s taste and aesthetic qualities, too.”
The West Columbia plant monitors their water constantly and their lab tests the water every two hours.
Although this issue is unpleasant as far as smell and taste, it is completely safe to consume.
Lexington resident Candy Berry said she noticed this happening at the beginning of the summer. "I was sitting with my friend Cheryl and we were having a glass of tea. I asked her if her ice tasted kind of funky, and she said 'No, I don’t taste anything at all.' I just kind of shrugged it off as maybe it was just my taste that day," she said. "Then I started noticing the water in my kitchen tasting bad and smelling bad ... and then it was all through my house. And I said something else has got to be wrong. And this started back in May or June.”
Berry said she had people come out and check her refrigerator, where she gets her drinking water and ice. They flushed the pipes on her street, they tried everything and finally said there was nothing further they can do.
"I don't like the smell.When I have to take my pills in the morning or when I brush my teeth, I've got that in my mouth. When I take a shower, I don't feel clean," Berry said. "I started buying bottled water and jugs of water. I even give it to my dog now because I'm afraid she'll get sick."
Zaengle told us that with cooler temperatures and the influence of different processes that they are using, it should be better in the coming weeks.
Here's a tour of the West Columbia Water Treatment Plant and a look at the process.
DHEC even provided us with a sanitary survey they conducted at the West Columbia Water system from 2018 that had an overall rating of 'Satisfactory' with no recommendations to correct any deficiencies. We are currently waiting for the most recent survey information.