Harmless algae compound detected in Santa Maria water could alter smell, taste

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The city of Santa Maria announced on July 13 that harmless algae compounds recently entered the state water supply through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, which contributes to the city’s water.

Director of Utilities Shad Springer explained that blue-green algae blooms leave behind compounds in surface water. The city’s water supply is a combination of water sources, including the state water supply and local groundwater, Springer said.

In this case, the compound was identified as geosmin, and can give an “earthy or musty odor and taste to water,” a city press release stated. However, the algae doesn’t affect water quality, and city water is still safe for consumption. Springer said the only impact that residents might notice is the difference in taste or smell.



The algae occurs during high temperatures, which the release said created “ideal conditions” for blooms in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

Springer said that the Central Coast Water Authority is following protocols in removing some of the compounds “to reduce those aesthetic impacts.”

“At the Central Coast Water Authority they use powder-activated carbon,” Springer explained. “They add that into their treatment strain, which then gets filtered out, but it’s to help reduce the amount of this compound that would be at the end of the pipe at their treatment plant.”

The city is currently evaluating potential ways to address the smell and taste impacts of the algae compounds as well. The primary tool to address it at the city level, Springer said, is by altering the ratio between city groundwater and state-supplied water, since the algae and its resulting compounds do not occur in groundwater.

The notice of geosmin’s presence in the water supply comes about a month and a half after the city made its 2019 Water Quality Report available to the public. The report states that the city met all state and federal drinking water standards in 2019.

“We are regularly testing our water supply to make sure that it meets all the state and federal requirements for the Safe Drinking Water Act,” Springer said. ∆

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