Algae likely culprit behind foul-tasting water, researcher believes

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WALKER COUNTY, Ala. (WIAT) — Researchers at Auburn University say they are working with the City of Jasper to address reports of drinking water having a bad taste and smell.

Dr. Alan Wilson is an Associate Professor at Auburn University in the School of Fisheries, Aquaculture, and Aquatic Sciences. Wilson specializes in water quality and harmful algal blooms in freshwater systems. 

Wilson says the City of Jasper Water Works and Sewer Board reached out to his team to determine the cause of bad smelling and tasting drinking water. This comes after a sewage spill from Tyson Foods, Inc. Plant in Hanceville causing a massive fish kill in the Mulberry Fork of the Black Warrior River.

Wilson says the city sent his team a water sample that tested positive for a compound called Geosmin that causes water to smell and taste bad. 

“These taste and odor compounds, the ones we did find, it was measurable, and some people would be sensitive to and can taste it,” said Wilson. “But those particular compounds are not harmful.”

Wilson says his team needs to test and analyze more samples to help determine a cause of the compounds. The water test also revealed higher levels of algae than the previous test in 2017 and 2018, but the levels are not harmful.

Wilson is working with several other water utility agencies across Alabama who are experiencing similar issues. 

“We are still trying to figure out what’s causing these particular taste and odor issues. I think algae are probably responsible. I also think things like decomposers like actinobacteria could also be responsible. The school of thought is that it’s either algae, actinobacteria or a combination of both. It’s something my lab is trying to explore right now,” said Wilson.

A spokesperson with Jasper Water Works and Sewer Board says the drinking water is safe and the city is working to address reports of bad smelling and tasting drinking water.

CBS 42 has collected samples of drinking water in Walker County and is awaiting test results.

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