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E-Splash January 2013 - District 4 Trustee
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Illinois Section AWWA - E-Splash -  January 2013


Lori Stenzel
District 4 Trustee

November started off with the annual ISTA/ISEC Teachers Conference in Springfield. Teachers are a good resource to get our message out about water as a drinking source, as well as management and conservation! If we teach our youth now about conservation, we will be able to handle these drought years! Who would have thought we would still be experiencing drought conditions as well as the Mississippi River having an algae bloom in the winter! It started just before the Thanksgiving holiday in the Quad Cities area. Moline and East Moline started receiving taste and odor calls and turned on their powdered activated carbon (PAC). It continued to affect water supplies in Burlington, Nauvoo, Keokuk, Quincy, Hannibal, and finally reaching Alton, Granite City, and East St. Louis a month later. This event was due to the drought conditions, unusually warm weather, lack of moisture, the low levels of the Mississippi River (the flow was very slow) and no one wanting to release water downstream. Can’t blame them, since we haven’t had much rain or snow! After networking with fellow operators, I knew it was a matter of time (approximately one month, unless flows changed) before this would pass, hoping it would be before the holidays. The water plants combated the taste and odor problems by increasing their PAC. The challenge for all the Mississippi River plants was to explain to their customers that, regardless of taste and odor, the water was perfectly safe to drink.

You may be asking yourself what was the cause of the taste and odor? Tests performed on the water resulted in an unusual high level of geosmin. Geosmin gets it name from the Greek and is known for its "earth odor”, because the molecule is released by moist soil or from soil that is freshly ploughed. You also smell the odor in beet roots, catfish, after a rain. Interestingly, to camels geosmin is the earth’s perfume! They are very sensitive to the smell and use it to locate water in the desert up to 50 miles away! Some customers are far more sensitive to the geosmin and can detect it at very low levels below 9 parts per trillion (ppt), whereas others may not detect it under 20 ppt. Streptomyces, a soil bacterium stuffed with an amazing medicine chest of antibiotics, anti-inflammatory, and anti-cancer drugs vital to the pharmaceutical industry is why sensitivity may vary. While research was pinpointing what each of the Streptomyces genes does, it was discovered that one particular gene was responsible for making geosmin. With that being said, then why was there such a problem in the water if it is associated with soil? Geosmin is also found when the cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) and actinobacteria die. With our unusual warm weather in November and December, lack of moisture, and the extremely low levels of the Mississippi River, it was the "Perfect Storm”! Taste and odor episodes vary in intensity, persistency, and frequency of occurrence. It is the sporadic nature of these episodes that leaves the water plant operator wondering if his treatment techniques corrected the problem, or if the problem diminished through a natural course of time. I think it may be a little of both, which is why networking with fellow operators, professionals in the water industry, and IEPA folks is essential to smoother operations at times! Our ISAWWA Source Water Committee is a good resource to reach out to when you may think that you are the only one experiencing these issues, especially on a water source that other communities are using. Check out WATERCON 2013 on Wednesday, March 20, the 2:00 – 3:30 session "Extreme Weather Impacts on Infrastructure Integrity, O&M, and Water Quality”.

Not only did the taste and odor event keep those of us along the Mississippi River on our toes, but another fact to consider for surface plants to receive reduced monitoring for Stage 2 DBPs is to make sure your TOCs are sampled every 30 days! According to USEPA Stage 2 DBP Fact Sheet found at states eligibility for Stage 2 DBP reduction as needing to meet the following:

"All systems need TTHM RAA < 0.040 mg/L and HAA5 < 0.030 mg/L. Subpart H systems also need source water TOC RAA at location prior to treatment < 4.0 mg/L. The Stage 2 DBPR left eligibility unchanged but specifies that Subpart H systems must take source water TOC samples every 30 days. Subpart H systems on reduced monitoring must take source water TOC samples very 90 days to qualify for reduced monitoring.”

For any questions on Stage 2 DBPs, call Mary Reed at the IEPA Compliance Assurance Section. By working together with the IEPA and your satellite supplies will help make the Stage 2 DBP transition a smooth one!

2012 definitely was a challenging year for us all. Let’s hope 2013 will be brighter with more moisture in the south!

Visit our website at and check out the Latest News and Calendar to keep up to date on available training classes, seminars, webinars, and what is happening in the water world!


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