California Residents Report 'Earthy' Taste to Drinking Water During Drought
If you live in northern California and think your drinking water tastes a little wonky, you're probably right. Dry conditions in Sacramento have caused some residents to report a strong "earthy" taste when they get water from the tap, but city officials say that there's nothing to worry about.
According to the Sacramento City Express, the... let's say rich flavor in the water is due to an increase in organic materials in the American and Sacramento Rivers, where most of the city's drinking water comes from. "The taste and odor are caused by those organic materials, which are not toxic or harmful," Mark Severeid, a City Water Quality Superintendent, told the outlet. "People can detect one of those naturally occurring compounds, called Geosmin, at extremely low concentrations."
Severeid said that residents typically don't notice these slight changes to their tap water until later in the year, but a combination of higher temperatures and lower water levels in the rivers have increased the amount of organic material. If the flavor is especially off-putting, adding lemon juice or chilling the water in the fridge for a few minutes can apparently help.
The American Council on Science and Health describes geosmin as "a chemical released by dead microbes," and says that it's also responsible for that earthy smell in the air after it rains -- and for the soil-like taste that some vegetables have. (It also turns out that humans' noses seem to be genetically fine-tuned to detect that particular odor.)
CNN reported that the concentration of geosmin may increase as water levels continue to drop, but Sacramento is trying to improve its water treatment plants so they can ensure that residents don't taste it, at any time of the year, going forward.
"We're evaluating different treatment technologies to adapt to some of these [dry] conditions," Carlos Eliason, the city's utilities spokesperson, told the outlet. "Our goal is always to provide high quality, good-tasting drinking water and we want to do that as much as possible."
Since early May, 41 counties in California -- representing 30 percent of the state's total population -- have been under a drought-related state of emergency. Unseasonably high early-spring temperatures caused the snowpack that feeds the Sacramento, Feather, and American River watersheds to melt faster than usual, and continued warm and dry conditions have only exacerbated the situation since then.
"With the reality of climate change abundantly clear in California, we're taking urgent action to address acute water supply shortfalls in northern and central California while also building our water resilience to safeguard communities in the decades ahead," Newsom said. "We're working with local officials and other partners to protect public health and safety and the environment, and call on all Californians to help meet this challenge by stepping up their efforts to save water."
If not drinking from the tap helps conserve water, it sounds like some Sacramento residents might be ready to do their part.