Smelly water complaints mount across Houston after last week's pressure loss due to winter storm

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Thursday, February 25, 2021
City of Houston working to determine source of smelly water
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Complaints of dirty, fishy-smelling water have been mounting and while the city addressed the chlorine smell, it didn't really talk about the fishy smell. Here's what they had to say.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- A week after a historic freeze knocked out power and water service to thousands, there's a new problem that seems to be mounting with water supplies, though officials say it's still safe to drink.

Complaints of dirty, fishy smelling water have been mounting recently.

Carolyn Webster showed ABC13 the water coming from her faucet, which appeared to be dirty.

"It's still dirty!" Webster said. "I've been boiling it since last Monday."

Webster called 311 after she said a plumber told her her pipes were fine and that the city's supply was the source of the issue. Webster was still waiting for a response from the city as of Wednesday morning.

Houston Public Works officials said they were working through approximately 9,400 calls about water issues, though the supply is safe.

Water can develop an odor periodically due to a number of factors, including algae in area lakes, according to city officials. Those lakes are the sources of Houston water, and algae grows when direct sunlight raises the temperature. Around 85% of Houston water comes from Lake Conroe, Lake Houston and Lake Livingston.

In addition to algae, another possible culprit could be chlorine build-up, according to the CDC. Often after boil orders are issued, water supply operators will flush systems with chlorine to help with disinfecting systems.

While officials have said tests prove the supply is safe, you can call 311 if you have an issue with dirty water.

Water outages across Houston and Texas were widespread last week due to the freezing temperatures and power outages. Damage to some supplies was catastrophic due to the sub-freezing temperatures.

Harris County meteorologist Jeff Lindner shared photos last week of several components at some water supply systems.

"Damage is extensive," Lindner said.

ABC13 asked the city of Houston for a representative to go on camera to answer questions about these water issues, including the unusual tastes and smells. City staff did not provide that interview, but late Monday, they released a map of many reported water problems. The majority of them are in areas west of downtown. The information sent along with the map explained the chlorine-type smell is related to chemicals used to treat the water.

Chlorine and ammonia (chloramine) are used to disinfect surface water. For groundwater, the disinfectant is just chlorine. The combination of these disinfectants leads to the odors that people experience the stink, the statement said.

The statement did not address fishy or metallic tastes ABC13 viewers have reported. It did, however, reiterate all testing has shown the water is safe to drink, and residents can report problems with their water by calling 311.

Approximately 590 public water systems in 141 Texas counties reported disruptions in service, affecting nearly millions, according to a Texas Commission on Environmental Quality spokesperson.

13 INVESTIGATES: 48 hours without power a 'nightmare' as residents demand answers

The Texas Tribune contributed to this report.

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