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Iowa American Water: ‘musty’ taste in Davenport area water temporary

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Residents in the Iowa Quad-Cities are detecting a musty or dirty taste and smell to their water.

The taste and odor are not health concerns, according to officials at Iowa American Water, who say a higher level of “organics” in the Mississippi River this fall, combined with chlorine disinfection, is causing the issue.

“We regret the inconvenience this situation is causing to some of our customers and expect it will be resolved in the coming days,” company spokesperson Lisa Reisen wrote in an email. “The water continues to meet all federal and state water-quality regulations and is safe for consumption despite the taste/odor that some customers are experiencing.” 

Reisen said Iowa American Water experienced higher levels of organics in the Mississippi River this fall, which include farm pesticides and industrial waste, which are routinely removed. But that process, combined with chlorine, can produce a strong odor or taste.

“Recently, Iowa American Water experienced an elevation in organics in the Mississippi River. Organics are routinely removed through the disinfection process, however, in the spring and fall, higher levels can result, and when these are combined with chlorine in the disinfection process, it can result in the development of various taste and odors, like a stronger chlorine or musty smell or taste,” Reisen wrote.

There is not more chlorine in the water, according to Reisen. Rather a chlorine smell and taste is a byproduct of disinfecting the water.

Iowa American's water-quality team is making adjustments to minimize the taste and odor concerns.

“Those adjustments should be seen by customers over the next few days,” Reisen wrote.

The taste is not related to two water main breaks in west Davenport last week, according to the company. Iowa American Water issued a precautionary boil order in Davenport and Blue Grass after two 12-inch water main breaks in the same general area Nov. 12. The company lifted the boil order Nov. 16.

Levels of agricultural chemicals the company finds in the Mississippi River are usually less than what is found in small rivers and streams because of the “huge dilution factor of the Mississippi River,” Reisen wrote.

Since 1973, Iowa American Water has used granular-activated carbon filtration in its treatment process, Reisen wrote, which is one of the technologies recommended by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for the removal of agricultural chemicals and resulting taste and odors.

Iowa American Water crews also are flushing water mains throughout parts of the Iowa Quad-Cities distribution system to flush water though its pipes to help resolve the taste and odor issue more quickly, she wrote.

According to the company, this won’t cause interruptions in water service, but customers may experience a drop in water pressure or some discoloration of their water when Iowa American Water crews are close by.

“Iowa American Water recommends that any customers experiencing discolored water let their cold water run to clear before using it again and refrain from doing laundry during that time,” Reisen wrote.

If problems persist, Iowa American Water recommends calling their customer service center 24-hour line at 1-866-641-2108.

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Bettendorf, East Moline, and Silvis Reporter

Sarah is the Davenport, Scott County, and Iowa politics reporter for the Quad-City Times/Dispatch-Argus. A DeWitt native, she graduated from the University of Iowa in 2021 and was editor of the student-run newspaper The Daily Iowan.

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Democrat Craig Cooper is just six votes ahead of Republican Luana Stoltenberg for the House District 81 seat, which covers the northwest quadrant of Davenport, after an administrative recount concluded on Friday. The results are contrary to what was announced after election night.

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