New process changes smell, taste of water

By Angelina Cole

The Illinois American Water Company, operators of Champaign-Urbana’s water system, recently switched its water disinfection method. The process is planned to carry through the end of this month.

This method will switch from a chlorine-ammonia disinfectant to a method that only uses chlorine and the water will differ noticeably in taste and smell.

The chlorine treatment, in addition to flushing and putting fresh water in, will get rid of anything that has settled in the system.

“Bacteria grow in warmer weather so we switch (the disinfectant method) every spring and fall,” said Brent O’Neill, projects manager for Illinois American Water Company.

O’Neill said that some type of chlorine is always present in the water system. When paired with ammonia, the chlorine is not as strong as the type of the chlorine used during flushing. The levels of the chemical are kept low enough below the Environmental Protection Agency maximum standards that they won’t adversely affect anyone allergic to chlorine.

“The first couple of weeks we switch from chloramines, the ammonia-chlorine disinfectant, to chlorine,” O’Neill said. “There may be a smell or odor in the shower, but it gets phased out within the six to seven-week period.”

Flushing the water and changing the chemical disinfectants are also accurate tests of the system.

“Typically we flush (the system) twice a year to improve water quality,” said Keith Erickson, manager of utility distribution for the University. “We do twice as many tests as required by the EPA, which improves water quality and gets rid of sediment in the system. We flush intensely on each hydrant to test the condition and identify the ones in need of repair after flushing, which improves the level of fire protection.”

Erickson said the flushing usually happens during the early mornings, late at night and on weekends.

Both the Illinois-American Water Company and the University have contacted various public outlets, including local newspapers, to inform the community about the water change.

However, the change in water taste and smell surprised Abe Lang, sophomore in Business.

“If it’s going to change to a more small-town well water taste, I don’t think I’d like that very much,” Lang said, “I don’t buy bottled water or bottled anything. I pretty much just drink from the water fountains, so the taste of the water is important.”