Columbia County officials struggle with smelly water problem

 

Richmond County’s pungent water could be fixed as soon as Wednesday. Residents in Columbia County, however, might have to wait several weeks before the situation is under control.

John Maldonado, Columbia County’s Water Utility treatment operations manager, said the problem isn’t limited to the Augusta area, though.

“Everybody on the Savannah River basin has that problem,” he said. “I’ve heard that everybody up to Lake Hartwell is having the same problem. We’ve never had a taste and odor issue with our water like this before. The chemicals aren’t doing a good enough job.”

Maldonado said he began receiving complaints of smelly, foul-tasting water more than two weeks ago, prompting the department to collect water samples to send to algae specialists. The test results came back positive for a floating algae bloom in the Savannah River, the area’s major source of drinking water.

Like the Augusta Utilities Department, Maldonado said Columbia County’s water department has treated the supply by introducing potassium permanganate to minimize the taste. The department lacks the resources to add powdered activated carbon, as Augusta has done, he said.

“Everyone should know that we’re actively seeking a solution for the problem and the water is absolutely safe to drink,” he said.

Evans resident Milton Steinberg said he has noticed an earthy taste to his water over the past week. After calling the utilities department last week, he said a worker showed up and opened the fire hydrant in his neighbor’s yard to flush the water system.

“It doesn’t look dirty,” he said. “There’s no cloud in it. You would really never know there was something wrong until you tasted it. It’s a nuisance but they’re trying to their best to stay on top of it.”

After receiving numerous complaints of pungent water, Augusta Utilities Director Tom Wiedmeier said his department might have finally solved the problem in Richmond County. The department’s Highland Avenue raw water reservoir was believed to be the culprit, he said.

“I think that things have gotten much, much better,” he said. “We did a flush all night, and I think the problem could clear up by (Wednesday).”

There isn’t a timeline for a solution in Columbia County, Maldonado said, but that it could take at least a week before stronger chemicals can be added to the water. Unlike the Augusta Utilities Department, Columbia County’s Water Utility doesn’t have the advantage of pinpointing a problem area.

“It would be easier to tell you what areas are not affected,” he said.

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