Water treatment plant shutdown impacts East Bay tap water taste

Originally published on November 7, 2016 for The Daily Californian

East Bay residents may find their water tastes slightly off, after the East Bay Municipal Utility District, or EBMUD, shut down its largest water treatment plant in favor of emergency local water sources Nov. 1.

The Orinda Water Treatment Plant will be closed until April 2017 in an effort to make the plant more reliable. The $22 million project will improve the plant’s treatment, flow and power systems. It will also split the plant in half with a valve so that in the future, the district can keep one half of the plant running while the other is under maintenance.

While the plant is closed, the company is using its emergency local water sources, the San Pablo Reservoir and the Upper San Leandro Reservoir. EBMUD spokesperson Jenesse Miller said that even though the taste is different, the water is still safe to drink.

“Even though it does taste differently, (the water) meets or surpasses all state and federal safe drinking water act standards,” Miller said. “Our laboratory tests every single day to ensure water quality.”

EBMUD had previously shut down the San Pablo Reservoir in September but resumed operations after receiving about 500 calls from customers complaining about the water’s taste and smell. The district relaunched the project in October because the cooler weather makes the taste of certain compounds less distinguishable, according to Miller.

Miller said the district has received roughly 30 calls since October, which is in line with the average number of calls per month.

“People will ultimately get used to the water, and it won’t be as noticeable after some time,” Miller said. “Now the funny irony about that, when Orinda Water comes back online, you might have people notice the taste then, even though that was the original water they were drinking.”

UC Berkeley assistant professor in the department of environmental science, policy and management Ted Grantham said that because the plant receives water from the Mokelumne River Watershed, which is primarily made of granite, the water did not have a distinct taste. Local water supplies, such as the San Pablo Reservoir, however, have soil in the water, affecting the taste.

“It’s not that the water that is produced locally is bad, it’s just different than what we’re used to drinking,” Grantham said. “We have the highest quality water than anywhere in the state. We’re somewhat spoiled in the quality of water we receive because it requires much less treatment.”

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