If you like a splash of lemon in your water, terrific. I find most trendy cafés have replaced the traditional citrus slice with cucumber these days, but you can still get a lemon in your H₂O if you ask for it.
You shouldn’t need that slice to make the water drinkable. And yet, in Sacramento, California, that’s exactly what public officials say residents should do if their water tastes like dirt.
On June 15, the Sacramento City Express — the news website for the capital of the Golden State, which isn’t particularly forthcoming about the fact it’s essentially government-run publication on its stories — ran a series of tips regarding the dirty water, saying it’s nothing that’ll affect their health. If they still don’t like the lingering taste of the soot of the earth, however, just put some lemon in it.
The article said the city has “recently has received calls from people about an ‘earthy’ taste and odor to their drinking water.”
“Utilities staff say it’s a common — and harmless — occurrence,” the story read. “Before being treated, most drinking water in Sacramento is collected from the American and Sacramento rivers and more organic material is present during dry summer months.”
“The taste and odor are caused by those organic materials, which are not toxic or harmful,” said city water quality superintendent Mark Severeid.
“People can detect one of those naturally occurring compounds, called Geosmin, at extremely low concentrations. Geosmin is also the compound that makes the air smell earthy after it rains.”
“We typically receive these calls in late summer or early fall but due to the dry conditions, river levels are lower and water temperatures are higher sooner than usual — causing more organic materials — so it’s not too surprising to get these calls now,” he added.
“We realize that it’s unpleasant,” Carlos Eliason, the city’s utilities spokesperson, told CNN.
“The earthy taste that some of our customers are experiencing is harmless and can be neutralized by adding some lemon or putting it in the refrigerator.”
CNN reported Tuesday that the condition was caused by “more than a decade of extreme drought” and while “it’s not unusual for Sacramento’s water to taste a little off. It just doesn’t usually start to taste funky until the late summer or early fall, when water levels are at their lowest.”
This being CNN, there wasn’t much doubt as to what would be blamed: “an effect of compounding climate change crises: extreme heat, little to no precipitation and a historic drought that has gripped the region for the better part of a decade.”
“Up and down the state of California, rivers, streams and reservoirs are drying up. In Sacramento, that has led to an increase in the concentration of geosmin in its drinking water, one of two organic compounds that give soil its characteristic smell.”
However, it’s worth pointing out that Sacramento’s solution to dirt-tasting, foul water might actually be adding to the problem.
California is the source of 92 percent of the lemons in the United States, according to Keep California Farming — and, according to the Public Policy Institute of California, agriculture consumes roughly 40 percent of the state’s water. And, as anyone who remembers the plot of “Chinatown” can tell you, water rights for citrus farming is deadly business.
Furthermore, this has been an issue for some time, and yet Sacramento hasn’t fixed it.
In other words, the “climate change crises” still don’t explain the root cause of the problem, which is a failure by elected officials to plan.
“Staff expect that future upgrades and expansions will enable City of Sacramento water treatment plants to remove taste- and odor-causing materials,” the City Express reported.
“Our ultimate goal is to provide the best tasting drinking water, regardless of the time of year,” said Pravani Vandeyar, Sacramento’s drinking water manager.
But, as we’ve heard, this has been an ongoing problem. Their “ultimate goal” is to get you drinkable water by building the necessary water infrastructure — which they haven’t done yet, despite the premium in state and local taxes pay to live in California.
Until then, when life hands you lemons, use those lemons to get that geosmin taste out of your water. Just don’t ask the smug officials who told you to do it why they didn’t build the upgrades and expansions to the water plant before this.
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