(NEXSTAR) – Amid recent reports of so-called “forever chemicals” found in drinking water, it’s not hard to imagine that some people might be hypersensitive when it comes to the taste of their tap water this summer.
If you do notice an odd taste, however, the reason might be more benign than you think.
Complaints of an “earthy” or “musty” taste or smell might just be the result of a regular summer phenomenon for some of California’s water systems. The taste is due to the accelerated growth of some algae compounds in the warmer weather.
Cyanobacteria, formerly referred to as blue-green algae, can create two compounds – geosmin and methylisoborneol (MIB) – that are responsible for the unpleasant odor and taste.
City utilities treat drinking water to kill the bacteria that causes the compounds, but the harmless compounds may remain.
“While the taste and odor can be unpleasant, geosmin and MIB are not toxic or harmful,” the City of Sacramento’s website advises.
Climate change could be making California’s tap water taste worse, CNN reports. As reservoirs and other water sources shrink in the drought, compounds like geosmin and MIB become more concentrated, meaning you are more likely to pick up on the taste.
The water may taste worse in the late summer, when reservoir levels are at their lowest.
If you notice the “off” taste, you don’t need to boil your water before drinking it. The remedy? “Chilling your water or adding lemon is known to help diminish the musty or earthy taste,” the city says.
Health officials warn, however, that cyanobacteria in the rivers, lakes and reservoirs that feed drinking water systems can be dangerous while untreated. The dangerous blue-green algae has bloomed in the San Luis Reservoir in Merced County, the Sacramento Bee reported earlier this summer.
Conventional water treatment can generally remove cyanotoxins from the bacteria in the source waters, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, but such systems can “face challenges” during a severe bloom event.
Exposure to a toxic algae bloom can cause illness in people and severe illness or death in pets, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns.
If you have further questions about the quality of your tap water, the EPA has contact information for local health officials in all U.S. states and territories.