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What’s up with the stinky water?

Medford Water Commission is having problems with its ozone system, making local tap water a tad smelly
Kit Schneider is stocking up on bottled water due to smelly water coming out of local taps. [Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune]
Kit Schneider tries to drink tap water at a community room Central Point Retirement Community Wednesday. Medford Water Commission says problems with its ozone system is causing an unpleasant odor in the water.

Smelly water coming out of local taps has prompted a steady stream of complaints to Medford Water Commission in recent days.

Comments on numerous local social media sites have compared the smelly water to algae, dead fish — or worse. One resident thought there was an algae bloom in the walls of her bathroom while another quipped about water and sewer pipes … merging.

Medford Water Commission officials said they’re aware of the added aroma, but supplies are tested regularly and are definitely safe to drink, they stressed.

Most Medford Water Commission customers are aware of an annual shift in the smell of tap water, usually beginning in late spring when supplies from Big Butte Spring are supplemented by water from the Rogue River.

But a supply chain problem this year caused delays to repairs of an ozone system that greatly improves the taste and smell of municipal water.

Central Point resident Kit Schneider said she was forced to stock up on bottled water this week after she noticed an especially foul odor coming from her faucets.

“It’s going on six days that I’ve noticed it. The first day, I thought I must be going crazy because I thought it smelled so bad,” she said.

“The next day, I couldn’t even drink my coffee. I drink water all day long besides one cup of coffee in the morning and a rare glass of tea in the afternoon. I use a Brita because I don’t like to buy bottled water anymore, but I couldn’t even drink it from the Brita.”

Schneider said the water stench is a hot topic on the NextDoor app she uses to monitor neighborhood safety.

“There have been well over 100 posts on the NextDoor app in just the last three days. People are definitely talking about it. Some people say it smells like sewer water coming out of their faucets,” she noted.

“I just bought 32 bottles of water to help me get by, but I live in retirement housing and I know for sure that a lot of my neighbors are either financially unable or don’t have a car to be able to go and get bottled water.”

Hazel Powell, who lives in north Medford, said the smell coming from her faucets began three weeks ago but grew worse this past week.

“I started smelling an algae smell when I was giving my daughter a shower and thought maybe there was mildew in my bathtub. There wasn’t. Then I realized it tasted weird. I thought maybe it was just me, since I’d had COVID. Figured my sense of taste was off,” said Powell.

“About a week later, I kept smelling it, so I asked some friends. They were like, ‘Now that you mention it, yes.’”

While water commission officials reassured her the water “is fine to drink,” Powell said neither she nor her daughter can bring themselves to do it.

“It tastes and smells horribly disgusting, even through my Brita pitcher!” she said.

“I get the supply chain issue, and I’m sure they’ll get it fixed, but I won’t be drinking it while it tastes like pond water.”

Ben Klayman, water quality and treatment manager for Medford Water Commission, sympathized with water customers and said he hoped to see the ozone system brought online as quickly as possible.

Klayman said water officials are in the midst of conducting a series of improvements to the Duff Water Treatment Plant but have faced delays amid supply chain issues. The ozone system, which makes water taste and smell better, was expected to have been upgraded before summer arrived. Klayman was unable to estimate how soon the system would be brought back online.

“The slight change in smell is something that would happen every year to some degree. Most years, folks wouldn’t notice it because we have our ozone treatment system, which is designed to remove those tastes and odors,” said Klayman.

“This year is definitely a little bit different. We’re working to repair that (ozonation) system, but we’re dealing with some unexpected delays.”

Klayman said the smell comes from naturally occurring processes that occur in the river due to the presence of algae and decaying leaves. He encouraged a flushing of the pipes prior to drinking.

“Some people are definitely more sensitive to it than others, and it is impacted by the manner in which water travels through people’s pipes. Water can warm up, especially if it goes through a water heater, which makes the smell even more noticeable,” he said.

“The best thing somebody can do is to make sure they’re bringing fresh water in for drinking and cooking. If the water hasn’t run for a few hours, or first thing in the morning, let the water run for a few minutes. They can collect the water for watering plants or other uses, but we definitely recommend only drinking water from the cold tap and to let it run before collecting it to drink.”

Filling a pitcher to keep in the fridge, Klayman added, will help even more. He added, “The colder, the better.”

Klayman said improvements at the water treatment plant would ensure a resilient system for decades to come.

“I wish there was something more we could do about the smell and taste right now, but really what we can do is put all of our energy into getting it replaced as best we can and to work through this supply chain issue,” he said.

“We’re celebrating our 100th anniversary this year, and these improvements are intended to help this system last another 100 years.”

For information about water quality, call 541-774-2430.

Questions also can be emailed to customerservice@medfordwater.org.

For an online “Q&A” link, see medfordwater.org/News.asp?NewsID=552

Reach writer Buffy Pollock at buffyp76@yahoo.com.