City's Cumberland River water supply yields musty odor, taste

Thursday, July 21, 2011 at 4:16pm

Nashvillians across Davidson County have detected a musty, earthy taste in their drinking water, but Metro Water Department officials say the water is still safe.

Water department spokeswoman Sonia Harvat said the unusual taste and smell is due to blue-green algae in the Cumberland River, which forms Nashville’s water supply. Because of the recent spike in temperatures, the algae have flourished.

“When the water temperature gets really hot, and there’s not a lot of rainfall, and the river is lower, it allows the blue-green algae to bloom,” Harvat said. “When that algae dies, it releases compounds that give water that earthy, musty taste and odor.”

Harvat said the water department treats the city’s drinking water to reduce this particular smell and taste, but this year the Cumberland is experiencing “historically high” levels of these compounds.

“Different people can sense it at different levels,” she said, adding that some people can’t smell the “dirt-like” odor at all. More people can pick up on the smell, she said, when the water is hot — while taking a shower, for example.

“It’s not dangerous,” she said. “The water is perfectly safe to drink. There are no health effects whatsoever. It just makes it less desirable.”

Harvat said the taste and odor is not concentrated in one area of the county, but added there is some variation from utility to utility.

The only way to reduce the taste and odor, she said, is more rain and lower temperatures. 

5 Comments on this post:

By: Kosh III on 7/22/11 at 6:52

Hadn't even noticed.

By: KDG on 7/22/11 at 11:11

Thank you City Paper for reporting on a local topic that is causing concern, confusion, and bad vibes among the Davidson County populous. The musty smell and taste in Nashville water is an ever present annoyance. It is either noticeable or REALLY noticeable. Right now it is particularly bad. But I have been complaining about the drinking water taste since I moved to Nashville two years ago from San Francisco. I was beginning to think that my house pipes were causing the problem. So I am grateful for the true explanation.

A city as proud and wonderful as Nashville should consider bad tasting drinking water a black cloud on its reputation and unacceptable. Great cities have great water. Water department spokeswoman Sonia Harvat's admonition that the only solution is to pray for more rain and lower temperatures seems disinterested and bureaucratic. Why is it that I can greatly improve the taste of my water by either running it through a simple carbon Brita water filter, or a reverse osmosis home system, but the city can't deal with it effectively? I'm not satisfied with Ms. Harvat's brief. Perhaps the City Paper could run a more extensive series of articles on our water supply, digging into the costs and benefits of getting our water on a par with the great cities of the world.


By: rbyrd68 on 7/22/11 at 12:17

Nashville's water has always tasted bad to me. I grew up on well water in the north and the water here tastes like chemicals. The smell is awful and makes me look for mold. We are in the process of getting a whole house filtering system. Our toilets get a black residue in them no matter how much or how often they are cleaned. Our laundry turns grey or fades. Our skin and hair are dry from the chemicals. The worst part is that we can not drink the water without getting violent diarrhea.

By: bartsdad on 7/22/11 at 2:34

Coming from Arkansas...all water tastes bad...

By: cannoneer2 on 7/23/11 at 8:06

If I recall correctly, the intake for drinking water is just downstream from the landfill.