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Algae bloom in Hillsborough River reservoir leads to Tampa tap water complaints

The city’s dam on the Hillsborough River, as seen from the air over Rowlett Park. When it warms up and no water flows over the dam, algae blooms can form and put a bad smell and taste in Tampa’s drinking water. City officials say the water is safe, but they are treating it and expect the algae to be under control in a few days. SKIP O’ROURKE  | Times (2000)
The city’s dam on the Hillsborough River, as seen from the air over Rowlett Park. When it warms up and no water flows over the dam, algae blooms can form and put a bad smell and taste in Tampa’s drinking water. City officials say the water is safe, but they are treating it and expect the algae to be under control in a few days. SKIP O’ROURKE | Times (2000)
Published Apr. 14, 2017

TAMPA — An algae bloom in the Hillsborough River reservoir has put a bad smell and taste in tap water for city water customers.

"We tested the water. It is safe to drink, and we are treating the reservoir," city spokeswoman Ashley Bauman said Friday.

Since April 1, the city has received 58 customer complaints about foul-smelling tap water and 22 complaints about water with an objectionable taste. The city characterized that number as unusually high.

In response, the city has treated the water in the reservoir. Testing shows a reduction in the algae, according to Tampa Water Department director Chuck Weber. It is expected to be under control within a few days.

The U.S. Geological Survey says algae can produce two compounds that give tap water an earthy and musty taste and odor.

Tampa's water system provides an average of about 80 million gallons a day, with most of it coming from the reservoir behind a dam in Sulphur Springs. The 1,300-acre reservoir can hold up to 1.2 billion gallons.

"This happens every year when there is no flow over the dam and the temperature warms up," Brad Baird, the city's administrator for public works and utility services, said in a statement released through the mayor's office. "We spray the reservoir to kill this algae. We also adjust our treatment processes to account for additional algae in the source water."

Baird said "finished water quality can be affected slightly, but our ozonation process" — the addition of a strong oxidant to destroy bacteria and viruses as well as compounds affecting taste and odor — "is designed to minimize this and keep our water safe to drink."