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Columbia Water Resolves Taste and Odor Issue Impacting Drinking Water

By July 15, 2020No Comments

Columbia Water is the water utility for the City of Columbia and much of the surrounding metropolitan area.  We provide on average approximately 60 million gallons of water a day to the customer base that includes approximately 145,000 accounts, representing approximately 350,000 residents of the Midlands.

Columbia Water produces high quality drinking water that meets all state (SCDHEC) and federal (US EPA) regulations and requirements.  In order to maintain the safety of the drinking water after it leaves the water treatment plant, Columbia Water maintains a chlorine residual throughout the water distribution system that includes approximately 2,400 miles of pipe.  This chlorine residual provides protection against any harmful bacteriological contaminants that may exist.

The normal process for introducing chlorine into the drinking water as it leaves the water treatment plant is to add ammonia, which binds to the chlorine to form chloramines.  While chlorine has a distinct taste and odor, chloramines are generally tasteless and odorless while providing the same, if not better, protection.

During the past week, Columbia Water experienced problems with the ammonia feed at its Canal Water Treatment Plant.  The Canal Plant serves the portion of the Columbia area generally south of Interstate 20.  During the time that the ammonia feed was interrupted, the application of chlorine to the drinking water continued in order to maintain the safety of the potable water.  However, while the ammonia feed was interrupted, the chlorine in the drinking water, which is always there, was noticeable by our customers.  It is natural that our customers, who routinely have drinking water that is odorless and tasteless, would have questions when they can suddenly notice a chlorinous odor and taste in the water.

We regret any inconvenience this situation created for our customers, but we can assure everyone in our customer base that the water has been as safe to drink during this time as it was before.  This aesthetic problem is bothersome, but the safety of the drinking water was never compromised in any way.  Information to the contrary is simply factually incorrect.  The above-referenced problems with the ammonia feed have been rectified, and with a little time and our routine flushing activities, the high-quality water our customers enjoy should be odorless and tasteless as typical.

We invite our customers to learn more about Columbia Water, and the work we do for our customers, by reviewing our website for additional information at Customers can also view our 2019 Water Quality Report at

In the course of the conversations on this subject, the following questions have been raised:

  • What is the amount of chlorine/chloramine we have in our water distribution system?
    On average, we will generally have 1 – 3 parts per million chlorine/chloramine residual.
  • Is Columbia Water experiencing nitrification in the distribution system?
    No – and we check monthly to confirm this.
  • Is Columbia Water conducting a “burn” (a term which generally means an extended time when only chlorine is used to disinfect the drinking water in the water distribution system) or “flush”?
    Columbia water is not conducting a “burn.”  Columbia Water routinely conducts flushing throughout the water distribution system to maintain water quality.
  • What is Columbia Water’s “total organic carbon” (TOC) reduction percentage?
    Columbia Water’s TOC reduction percentage will vary slightly based on the amount of TOC in the raw water supply, but the reduction is generally 40 – 50%, which means our treatment processes are very effective. 
  • Is there an algae bloom occurring in Columbia Water’s raw water supply?
    No, there is not an algae bloom occurring in the raw water supply.  Columbia Water monitors algae indicators throughout the year (less frequently during the winter) to confirm this.