Falling water levels in the drought-depleted Susquehanna River are finally taking a toll on the taste and quality of the water that consumers in the Baltimore area are drinking.
Responding to a "spike" in complaints late last week about an earthy or musty smell to their tap water, city water managers shut down one of two pumps drawing water from the river.
That cut the amount of river water in the mix of Susquehanna and reservoir supplies, and it seemed to help. Complaints fell during the weekend, according to city public works spokesman Kurt Kocher.
"It's still good-quality water; let's not make a mistake saying it isn't," Kocher said. "But it's not the quality people are used to here."
The decision to take less water from the Susquehanna River means that the city's water customers will rely more heavily on the city's reservoirs, drawing an extra 35 million gallons a day for about a week in each month.
Despite the weekend rains, water levels in those three reservoirs continue to decline. After more than a year of drought, they stood yesterday at a combined 43.6 percent of capacity.
The Susquehanna was flowing yesterday at 2,550 cubic feet per second at Marietta, Pa., about 20 percent of average for the date.
As the flows have dropped, the pool of water upstream from the Conowingo Dam has become more stagnant, and its "turbidity," or lack of clarity, has increased, which has begun to affect its taste.
Last week, the city switched on a second pump at its Deer Creek pumping station to help withdraw the full 64 million gallons a day the city is entitled to take from the river.
Some people noticed the difference. "We got approximately 30 complaints Thursday and Friday," said water treatment assistant manager Joe Johnson. It was a minuscule portion of 1.8 million consumers, but the city took it seriously.
Callers reported what Johnson described as an "earthy," or musty odor, likely from a type of bacteria in the Conowingo Pool.
The complaints came mostly from the eastern part of the system, where the blend contains a higher percentage of river water.