EBMUD Blames Drought for Pungent Taste of Tap Water

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Here's an aerial view of Pardee Reservoir in the Sierra Nevada foothills. (Photo courtesy of EBMUD)

The drought is causing some tap water in the East Bay to taste bad this week, according to the water district that serves more than a million customers there.

A change in how the East Bay Municipal Utility District pulls water from its main Sierra Nevada foothills reservoir late last week led hundreds of people to email and call the agency starting on Saturday.

“The good news is we know why this happened,” EBMUD spokeswoman Abby Figueroa said. “The bad news is that this may be a recurring problem because of the drought.”

The agency usually pulls colder, deeper water from its Pardee Reservoir near Valley Springs. But on Thursday, EBMUD began taking water from higher in the reservoir. That water is closer to the surface, warmer and more susceptible to algae growth.


The shallow water arrived in the East Bay on Saturday and the agency treated it. Crews extracted the algae but were unable to take out some of the compounds that make it smell and taste bad.

That day, customers began complaining that their tap water tasted metallic and, in some cases, pungent. As of Monday night, EBMUD received nearly 300 complaints, according to Figueroa.

Berkeleyside reports some customers said the water tasted weird or horrible, and at least one was reminded of raw meat.

The Chronicle notes that some residents posted on social media that the water tasted "dirty and soapy" and "hella weird."

Those complaints prompted EBMUD to go back to pulling deeper water on Monday.

But, Figueroa warns they may have to change again.

“With our supplies dwindling because of so little precipitation this year, we may have to go back and start pulling water from higher up in the coming weeks or months,” she said.

Figueroa said the treated water is safe to drink. She said the taste and odor problems should go away by the end of the week.

The agency needs to preserve some of Pardee’s colder water for a fall release to help salmon spawn, Figueroa said.

EBMUD is obligated to release some if that colder water later this year to help salmon in the Mokelumne River. The colder water is better for salmon to spawn.

Earlier this year, the agency reported its work on that project was paying off. Despite the drought, more than 12,000 Chinook salmon returned to the river last fall to spawn. According to the agency, that was one of the river's largest runs in the last 75 years.