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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Ely official: Smelly tap water not a health hazard

Cold snap, algae, water main breaks cited as contributing factors

Keith Vandervort
Posted 4/21/21

ELY – In recent weeks, some city of Ely residents noticed a change in the taste and smell of water coming out of their taps. Social media is ripe with conspiracy theories and misinformation is …

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Ely official: Smelly tap water not a health hazard

Cold snap, algae, water main breaks cited as contributing factors

Posted

ELY – In recent weeks, some city of Ely residents noticed a change in the taste and smell of water coming out of their taps. Social media is ripe with conspiracy theories and misinformation is flowing like, well, tap water.
Clerk-Treasurer Harold Langowski attempted to close the spigot on the rumor mill Tuesday night at city council.
“I just want to set the record straight,” he said. “We’ve seen some chatter on Facebook and received some calls. This is a system-wide issue. It is not isolated to one area, one street or one block. We are experiencing some issues from the reservoir through the whole system.”
He defined the “issue” as “an aesthetic change in the city’s water since late winter.” Langowski described the condition of the city’s water as having a “slight cucumber smell.” The issue is being monitored by water plant staff, he assured council members and the public.
“We have been working with the (Minnesota) Department of Health. We consult with them on a regular basis about all water issues,” he said.
He described a possible timeline on the recent changes to the water supply.
“As you are all aware, in the middle of February we had an extended cold snap, as many as 12 days below zero,” he said. At the same time city crews began flushing hydrants to keep the water flowing and to maintain fire protection.
A large water main break around March 5 resulted in almost 250,000 gallons of water being flushed through the city’s water system, according to Langowski.
“Following that was when we started to receive some complaints about discolored water, which isn’t unusual when you have a water main break,” he said. “At the time, we felt that was causing the issue.”
A couple of weeks later, there was a large water service break on the west end of town, and after that came the complaints of an “odd taste” in the water, Langowski noted.
“Everyone is so accustomed to Ely’s drinking water, which is some of the best tasting water of any municipality that I’ve been to,” he said. “Complaints received from city water customers started to focus more on the off taste of the water.”
Over the past several weeks, the issue has become more widespread.
“Working with the Department of Health and our consultants, we became aware of similar situations in other communities in cold weather climates,” he said. “The cause of the change in the water taste in those communities was an algae that occurs in surface water areas such as Burntside Lake, where we get our water.”
He went on to explain that in the extreme cold weather the algae may have come loose under the ice sheet and was then drawn into the city’s water system.
“We treat our water with chlorine, and when mixed with the algae, a cucumber smell was released,” Langowski said. “There are no health concerns and it is safe to drink. It is solely an aesthetic issue.”
Longtime lake water drinkers here are aware of an annual “change-over” in the water that temporarily changes the look and taste of the water.
“The ice is off the lake now and with the weather change, we hope the problem will be resolved,” he said. “Our water plant crews adjusted the chlorine levels, but in Ely we try to keep the chlorine level on the low side. Hopefully, in the coming weeks we will see an improvement. The bottom line is the water is safe to drink.”

Other business
In other business, the council:
• Rescinded calendar parking on city streets effective immediately.
• Approved a recommendation from the Library Board to implement an “express browsing model” at the library beginning Monday, May 24 as the facility prepares to re-open following the coronavirus pandemic.
• Approved a Trailhead Commissioning Agreement with IEA for $12,000.
• Approved the hiring of David Marshall as the city’s new fire chief, pending revised job description and salary negotiation.
• Approved Police Chief Chad Houde to attend Leadership Academy, Sept. 21-24 in New Brighton.
• OK’d a residential rehab loan for Ryan and Michale Callen, 905 E. Conan Street, to replace water and sewer mains to the house, extend drain tile around the house, and electrical panel work.
• Approved a raffle permit for the Dorothy Molter Memorial Foundation.
• Approved a temporary liquor license for the Ely-Winton Rod and Gun Club for an event on June 12 at Miner’s Dry.

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