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Saturday May 28th

OWASA to begin disinfecting water with chlorine, still safe to drink

<p>OWASA workers monitor the amount of water flowing in and out of Chapel Hill during the Feb. 2017 water shortage.</p>
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OWASA workers monitor the amount of water flowing in and out of Chapel Hill during the Feb. 2017 water shortage.

Orange Water and Sewer Authority will start disinfecting Orange County drinking water with chlorine March 1. This annual switch from the more neutral chloramines lasts for one month out of each year in order to give the water infrastructure in the area a deep cleaning.

OWASA alerted customers in a press release last week that they can expect drinking water to have a slightly chemical taste and odor, and in some cases the water will be discolored or opaque.

“When we use chloramines and they mix with ammonia, there is a much more pleasant smell,” said Ken Loflin, OWASA water supply and treatment manager. “When we use chlorine, customers often call in about the water tasting like a swimming pool, but there are no health effects whatsoever.”

The discoloration isn't from the transparent chlorine, but from a process done during this special disinfecting period called flushing, Loflin said. OWASA’s distribution crews will flush old water out of fire hydrants and other public water sources, releasing some iron and manganese into the system that has built up inside the pipes. This can turn some customers’ drinking water a light orange or brown color, but it is still safe to drink.

“The state recommends that we do this switchover once a year,” Loflin said. “Chlorine is a much stronger disinfectant that will kill any bacterial growth that could have built up.”

The switch will have no effects on the pricing or availability of water in Orange County, although OWASA recognizes people will be hesitant to use water that doesn’t look or taste normal.

The press release advises customers to “please run cold water through a spigot or faucet for 5 to 10 minutes” if they are experiencing serious discoloration. The company is also encouraging people to call if the problem becomes too serious.

Orange County residents can expect remnants of the chlorine to remain in the water through early April as chloramines are reintroduced into the system. Following that period, water should look, smell and taste normal.


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