Spring run-off to blame for Edmonton's smelly tap water

If your tap water smells like chlorine, your schnozz has sniffed out a common springtime phenomenon in Edmonton.  

Organic materials are being washed into water supply, Epcor says

Spring run-off has temporarily changed the smell and taste of Edmonton's tap water but Epcor says it remains completely safe to drink. (Tim Graham/CBC)

If your tap water smells like chlorine, your schnozz has sniffed out a common springtime phenomenon in Edmonton.  

The spring thaw has made the city's drinking water more pungent than usual.

Run-off from melting snow and river ice has washed higher than normal volumes of organic material into the water supply, said Shane Harnish, Epcor's senior manager of analytical operations.

It's something workers at Edmonton's water treatment plants contend with every year.

"What you're noticing is the chlorine smell in our water, and it's due to the chlorine reacting with some of this organic material," Harnish said in an interview Wednesday with CBC Radio's Edmonton AM.

Chlorine is added to the water year-round. But more is added to the supply at this time of year to contend with the extra organic material, Harnish said.

"The chlorine levels are pretty much the same throughout the year but, as the chlorine reacts with some of that organic material in the water, it creates more of that chlorine smell.

"It all depends on the flow of the river or how much snow we had upstream, but it typically lasts for about a week. Maybe a little bit longer."

While the water may smell or taste different than usual, it remains completely safe to drink, Harnish said.

Staff conduct additional monitoring during spring to ensure the water is pleasant to drink.

A stronger dose of activated carbon also helps remove odour-causing compounds

"We test the water every single day of the year," he said. "At the treatment plant, we do some things differently at this time of year. We add more carbon to the water, which actually removes the organic material."

Anyone with concerns should call Epcor's water dispatch team at 780-412-6800. Epcor is also recruiting volunteers for their Home Water Sniffing Program, a panel of citizens who use their noses to track changes in taste and smell throughout the spring.

"As a provider of our water, I am also a user," Harnish said. "I do drink our water. I think we have some of the greatest water in Canada.

"But, this time of year, if you do notice the chlorine, you can always add some lemon."


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