A representative of the Great Salt Bay Sanitary District says the water in Damariscotta and Newcastle is safe to drink, despite having received a number of complaints in the past week.
“It’s just the taste and the odor,” Great Salt Bay Sanitary District Water Manager Scott Abbotoni said by phone on Monday, May 16. “There’s nothing wrong with the water.”
The water should be back to normal by the end of the week after the entire system is flushed, Abbotoni said.
“I tasted it and it’s better already,” Abbotoni said.
He said he has heard from customers that a carbon filter may be effective in eliminating the odor and taste from the water in the meantime.
The district began receiving complaints around Monday, May 9 about the tap water having a “fishy” odor and taste. There have been around 10 complaints that first came from a customer on Church Street in Damariscotta and then progressed down the water line to a customer on River Road in Newcastle, Abbotoni said.
After some investigation and consultation with experts, the likely cause of the strange odor and taste is a golden algae bloom that was found near the intake in the drinking water source, Little Pond in Damariscotta, he said.
The bloom is at a depth of between 20 and 25 feet, so the district moved the water intake up to a depth of approximately 10 feet. Abbotoni said the strange odor and taste being reported could be from the microscopic algae eating up dissolved oxygen in the water.
“Golden algae is not harmful,” Abbotoni said.
After switching the intake, the 170,000-gallon tank on Standpipe Road in Damariscotta was drained. The district’s second tank on Academy Hill Road, which is 500,000 gallons, is also going to be drained, hopefully eliminating the water problems by the end of the week, Abbotoni said.
It took some time to find the source of the problem, he said, since initial tests showed normal pH and chlorine levels in the water.
“Everything was in the range it was supposed to be,” Abbotoni said.
From the sound of the complaints, he said the cause of the odor in the water could have been from normal lake turnover, which happens every year in the spring, or from a scheduled pipe-flushing that was happening around the same time.
The lake turnover involves the water from the top mixing up with water from the bottom when the temperature changes the density of the water in Little Pond, Abbotoni said.
The golden algae was not even a suspect in the water complaints initially.
“I’ve been here for close to 20 years, I’ve never seen it,” Abbotoni said.
Abbotoni said he eventually talked to someone at the Auburn Water and Sewerage District who told him Auburn has seen golden algae in its water supply before and had similar problems.
The sanitary district currently has consultants researching a cause for the mysterious appearance of the golden algae.
Abbotoni did note that it was a “funny” winter, with ice freezing and then thawing with the fluctuating temperatures. He said he recently looked at temperature samples from 2006 compared to this year and saw a difference.
For example, on April 15, 2006, the water temperature in Little Pond was 7 degrees Celsius and this year, the temperature was 10.06 Celsius.
The Damariscotta-based, quasi-municipal sanitary district provides water service to 713 customers in Damariscotta and Newcastle. The district also provides public sewer services to 1,400 customers in Damariscotta, Newcastle, and Nobleboro, according to its website.
The waters of Little Pond in Damariscotta supply tens of millions of gallons of water to the service area each year.