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My Water Has a Taste & Odour

There are a number of reasons your water may taste or smell different

Have you ever smelled the air after it's rained on dry soil, or caught scent of a freshly ploughed field? How does that smell get into our water?

What is Geosmin?

Geosmin is a naturally occurring compound produced by bacteria in soil and algae in surface water (lakes, rivers, streams, and dams). Geosmin produces the odour of rich overturned soils, or an earthy smell. The human nose is extremely sensitive to geosmin. If you poured a teaspoon of geosmin into the equivalent of 200 Olympic-sized swimming pools, you would still be able to smell it. You will smell geosmin more when you are in the shower as heating the water increases the volatility of its compounds.

While the taste and odour can be unpleasant, geosmin is not toxic or harmful. The water remains safe to drink. On-going testing continues to show an absence of harmful bacteria and other pathogens in the water.

Since the first indication of geosmin in the Pockwock water supply in fall 2012, Halifax Water has taken a number of steps to better understand geosmin, including:

  • On-going research with Dalhousie University to evaluate treatment strategies to reduce geosmin and other taste and odour compounds in drinking water
  • Halifax Water hired an environmental consulting firm who completed several study to better understand the occurrence and cause of geosmin in Pockwock Lake.
  • Halifax Water hired an engineering consulting firm to review treatment options and associated costs to reduce geosmin. The options brought forward by this consulting firm are currently being evaluated
  • Continuous testing of geosmin levels at various strategic locations throughout the Pockwock watershed
  • On-going consultation with water utility experts throughout North America.

Why Do We Suddenly Have Geosmin?

Lake recovery is the phenomenon whereby the reduction of acid rain in Nova Scotia has enabled the pH levels in local water sources to rise from a level that didn't accommodate much biological activity, to a level that is very conductive to organic life.  This shift in the pH level of local water sources is encouraging biological activity in our water sources, and while this is, of course, a very positive effect environmentally in both the United States and Canada, it brings with is a host of challenges in the treatment of these water sources for consumption.  This increased level of organic life in Pockwock Lake was not present or planned for during the design of the J.D. Kline Water Supply Plant in the previous century.

The J.D. Kline Water Supply Plant serves Halifax, Bedford, Sackville, Fall River, Waverley, Timberlea, Spryfield, and Herring Cove.  Pockwock Lake, which is the water supply for the J.D. Kline Water Supply Plant, is experiencing lake recovery.

In Pockwock Lake, this recovery is causing some customers to notice a fishy or musty/earthy taste and odour which is caused by geosmin.  This change in taste and odour is not a human health concern, and testing of the treated water shows the water remains safe to drink.

Testing & Results

Testing of geosmin at the Pockwock Water Supply Plant began in October of 2012 and has been on-going ever since. Testing takes place twice per month . The general threshold for human detection is about 15 ng/L (15 nanograms per litre = 15 parts per trillion). However, some people with sensitive palates can detect these compounds in drinking water when the concentration is as low as 5 ng/L.

Recent Geosmin Concentrations (ng/L)

Detection Limit = 3ng/L
Sample Collection Date Treated Water Concentration (ng/L)
October 28, 2019 12
September 16, 2019 Non-Detect
August 08, 2019 Non-Detect
July 18, 2019 Non-Detect
June 05, 2019 Non-Detect
May 01, 2019 Non-Detect
April 15, 2019 Non-Detect
March 05, 2019 Non-Detect
February 11, 2019 Non-Detect
January 16, 2019 Non-Detect
December 18, 2018 Non-Detect
December 11, 2018 Non-Detect
December 05, 2018 Non-Detect
November 20, 2018 Non-Detect
November 14, 2018 Non-Detect
November 06, 2018 Non-Detect
October 29, 2018 Non-Detect
October 22, 2018 Non-Detect
October 15, 2018 Non-Detect
October 09, 2018 Non-Detect
October 01, 2018 Non-Detect
September 24, 2018 Non-Detect
September 13, 2018 Non-Detect
August 23, 2018 Non-Detect
August 13, 2018 Non-Detect
July 25, 2018 Non-Detect
July 19, 2018 Non-Detect
July 05, 2018 Non-Detect
June 05, 2018 Non-Detect
May 07, 2018 Non-Detect
April 09, 2018 Non-Detect
March 05, 2018 Non-Detect
February 12, 2018 Non-Detect
January 08, 2018 Non-Detect
December 14, 2017 Non-Detect
November 27, 2017 Non-Detect
November 15, 2017 Non-Detect
October 30, 2017 Non-Detect
October 19, 2017 5
October 05, 2017 6
September 20, 2017 10
September 06, 2017 12
August 23, 2017 9
August 08, 2017 4
July 24, 2017 Non-Detect
July 14, 2017 Non-Detect
June 27, 2017 Non-Detect
May 30, 2017 Non-Detect
May 15, 2017 Non-Detect
May 03, 2017 Non-Detect
April 18, 2017 3
April 04, 2017 4
March 20, 2017 4
March 10, 2017 4
February 23, 2017 5
February 07, 2017 5
January 23, 2017 6
January 12, 2017 6