Some Pagosa Springs area residents have recently noticed a bad taste in their water. In a news release, Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District stated: “the water is safe to drink ... The moldy or musty smell and/or taste ... is caused by the algae that grows in Lake Hatcher during the summer months.”
A 2010 study by the U.S. Geological Survey shows bad-smelling water is likely not safe. Researchers studying U.S. lakes found earthy/musty tastes and odors every time toxins were found, indicating odor serves as a warning that harmful toxins are present. “While taste-and-odor compounds are not toxic, these pungent compounds were always found with cyanotoxins,” said Dr. Jennifer Graham, USGS limnologist and lead scientist on this study, in a news release.
“Exposure to these toxins has caused a range of symptoms including skin rashes, severe stomach upset, seizures or even death,” said Dr. Keith Loftin, USGS research chemist and environmental engineer.
In a July 27 phone conversation with Gene Tautges, PAWSD operations manager, he could not confirm whether PAWSD monitored for toxins produced by algae. Tautges said that one of the treatment methods PAWSD is using to combat the problem is copper sulphate, which may be making an already dangerous situation worse. “Chemicals (such as copper sulphate) or any other treatment method that causes the cells to break down and release their toxins should not be used,” according to Health Canada.
Unlike PAWSD, Grand County has a proactive algal toxin response plan. In 2007, toxin levels were just above that which the World Health Organization says is safe for an adult to drink for a lifetime, so Grand County issued advisories to its residents. In 2008, the county began weekly monitoring for algal toxins in the summer. Unlike PAWSD, Grand County does not insist that the algal-contaminated drinking water is safe.
If your water smells musty or earthy, avoid it. Boiling it will not destroy these toxins. And, demand that water utilities be truthful with us regarding the health hazards of algae-contaminated drinking water.