Water smell explained


Graphic by Nicole Ruse

By Alex Miller, Staff Writer

Some EWU students and residents of Cheney have a problem with the smell or taste of Cheney’s water, but if the water did not smell bad, it would not be safe to drink.

“It can pretty much differ anywhere on campus, so some of it tastes not too good,” said EWU student Andrew Logan, sophomore.

Todd Ableman, Cheney’s Public Works Director, assures the unfortunate smell is an unwanted result of the cleaning minerals the city uses to keep the water safe and drinkable.

“We do disinfecting through chlorination and some of our minerals, which is basically like an iron mineral, reacts with the chlorine,” said Ableman. “If a concentration comes in to the right area, it may discolor the water a little bit and cause an odor. The reason why we chlorinate is because we want to make sure we take care of any type of pathogens that can be introduced into the system.”

The United States Environmental Protection Agency lists chlorine as their treatment plan for disinfecting water, according to their website, so Cheney is far from alone when it comes to water treatment methods. As a result, Cheney is not alone with the bad smell either, which is an issue that can affect anyone in the country, according to Opflow, a monthly publication on American water.

Ableman said there are other problems present which can aggravate the issue. “There’s a certain type of pipe that goes into new construction that kind of reacts with the chlorine that can also cause an odor, and also some certain brands of hot water heater,” he said.

The city is always cautious, though, as Ableman said, “The important thing is if we have discolored water or odor in the water, if that is conveyed to us we always go out and check a fire hydrant nearby to make sure that we can see if this is a problem in our system, or if it’s more related inside the building itself.”

There are alternative ways to treat water that will not leave the unpleasant smell, such as setting up a water treatment plant or having an ultraviolet system, but they are not cost effective for Cheney. “It would be very, very expensive,” said Ableman.

There are those, however, who have absolutely no problem with Cheney’s water, like EWU student Daniel Weddle, junior. “Personally, I think Cheney’s water is fine. I hear a lot of people say that it smells or that it’s not that great, but I think it’s cool. It’s one of my favorite amenities. It’s the only free thing I have.”

Ableman said Cheney spends around $1.1 million annually for their entire water division, but said Cheney spends around 20-30 thousand dollars on treatment alone, which Ableman says is “average” in terms of cost.

Last year, the city had zero violations with the water quality on their set budget, according to the city’s water quality data table for 2013.

If the odor of the water is too much to bear, Ableman said most in-house tactics will do the trick. “Water softeners, refrigerated water filters, and water filters on the tap itself,” are ways to solve the problem in-house he said.

Ableman said education is the most important step to residents finding solace with their water. “Community education to try and understand what they’re seeing, maybe what they’re smelling, and be able to communicate with us and get it on board, so we can take a look at it,” he said.

EWU student Andrew Logan  said, “I think education would help. I think knowing that it’s clean and the reasons why it tastes like it does will be a big factor.”