Q&A with OWASA Manager, Ken Loflin

Kenneth Loflin is the water and treatment supply manager at Orange Water and Sewer Authority. Staff writer Grace Carney talked to him about recent complaints OWASA has been receiving concerning the change in taste and odor in the water. 

The Daily Tar Heel: What exactly is causing the water to smell and taste odd?

Kenneth Loflin: So, we had an algae outbreak at both of our lakes, Cane Creek (and) University reservoir. The algae produced was called MIB, it’s an acronym, I can't pronounce the full name of it. You can actually go online and look it up, just type in MIB and it'll give you the full name. MIB actually tastes like another compound, first, it can taste or smell at very very low amounts, even down to five parts per trillion. And just as an example, parts per trillion is like one drop in twenty Olympic-sized swimming pools. So it’s very noticeable in a person’s taste and nose.

DTH: When do you expect that the water will go back to normal and smell or taste like regular water?

KL: It’s normal leaving the plant now, so right now it’s just blending out in the system, and getting that out. So right now we are standing in line in low usage areas and flushing those. We have gotten many comments from folks who have noticed improvement, but again, it is normal leaving the plant now, it’s just a matter of getting it out of the system. 

DTH: Is the water currently safe to drink?

KL: Yes, the water is currently safe to drink.

DTH: What would you suggest the people of Orange County do when the water gets infected with algae or other things? 

KL: Well it’s not actually the algae now, the algae is removed during the treatment process, so it’s just the compounds that the algae produces, the taste and odor compounds. Again, this compound can be identified by different individuals with different levels of taste and odor. You just have to be patient, once the normal water treatment plant comes back, flushing water at their home can also bring fresh water into it.

DTH: How do leaks occur?

KL: Leaks can occur from imperfections of material, but also you can have age, equipment and anything along those lines. Of course, it can be unforeseen fractures that are in piping and equipment, outdated equipment or old equipment, which is how leaks typically occur.

DTH: What’s the procedure to fix such issues?

KL: It depends on which compound it is, so for this particular event, we are oxidizing as many of the organics as we can, in our raw water pumps spare shoots currently, and then we have to increase the powder activated carbon dosage here at the plant. And the powder activated carbon is actually what absorbs those tastes in odor compounds, and so that’s for this particular event.

DTH: Have you ever dealt with this problem in the past?

KL: Yes, it has been a number of years but once we did have some odor issues in the past.

DTH: Can you elaborate on any specific incident?

KL: I don’t remember any myself, but before my time I know we’ve had yellow water leave the plant floor, we’ve had foul tastes and odors leave the plant before, and it’s the same issues as before, usually algae, but algae can have different species that are dominant, and reservoirs can have different tastes and odors; it may be musky, earthy, fishy, grassy, even sometimes some of the phenols that are in the water produce that chemical taste in the water, so it could have been varied, it could have been a different taste and odor that they witnessed. We have had issues in the past.

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