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Austin Traces Roots of Drinking Water Odor to Zebra Mussel Infestation

Austin Traces Root Of Drinking Water Odor To Zebra Mussel Infestation

An unusual culprit has been identified as the source behind rotten smelling water in Austin, Texas. Though the source of the smell was surprising, at least it wasn’t too difficult to deal with.

“The smell and taste of water in Central and South Austin should return to normal Friday after the city received multiple reports of an unusual odor Thursday,” KVUE reported. “Based on routine testing and staff analysis, Austin Water said it believes the odor was likely caused by the presence of zebra mussels in a raw water pipeline at the Ullrich Water Treatment Plant in west Austin.”

According to reports, the line was infested with zebra mussels about a year ago. But officials seemed confident that, despite the smell, the infestation wouldn’t hurt consumers and it appeared fairly easy to clean the water.

“There is no threat to the water and it’s safe for customers to drink,” Austin Water spokesperson Ginny Guerrero said, per the Austin Monitor. “Austin Water is adding activated carbon to help with the odor as well as flushing water lines in the affected areas. The utility says it expects the issue to be resolved in the next 24 hours.”

Still, the infestation, coupled with a boil water notice, had already upset some local consumers and may have damaged the water system’s reputation in their minds.

“I probably wouldn’t have thought much of it except for when [the boil water notice] happened it kind of stopped to make you think, ok, is this safe? And I was like I don’t want to boil water this morning,” Madison Bowen, a local Austin resident, told KXAN. “I worked out this morning, so I can either smell like sweat or I can smell septic-y so which do you want?”

Image credit: “Bed of mussels,” Andrew Malone © 2007, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

This is not the first time the invasive species has made trouble in Texas water systems and it certainly doesn’t appear to be the last.

“Sounds like Zebra Mussels were responsible for the nasty smelling tap water in South Austin this morning,” Mose Buchele, a public radio reporter for KUT Austin, wrote on Twitter. “I’ve spotted Zebra Mussels myself in [Lady Bird Lake] on Austin’s Longhorn Dam … Zebra Mussels were first confirmed in our [lakes] in 2017 but they could bring even more severe impacts as their numbers grow. Especially frightening: the prospect of them colonizing Barton Springs.”

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