Drought Brings 'Earthy' Taste to California Water

Sacramento suggests adding lemon
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 23, 2021 12:04 PM CDT
Drought Blamed for 'Earthy' California Drinking Water
"If people find the taste unpleasant they can add lemon juice or chill their tap water before drinking," the city says.   (Getty Images/Gray Kotze)

Some people like their wines to have earthy notes. Their drinking water, not so much. With much of California in extreme drought, Sacramento residents have been complaining that their water smells strange and tastes like dirt, CBS Sacramento reports. Authorities say it is the result of harmless organic compounds found in the water at greater concentrations when rivers start to dry up. "People can detect one of those naturally occurring compounds, called Geosmin, at extremely low concentrations," says city water quality superintendent Mark Severeid. "Geosmin is also the compound that makes the air smell earthy after it rains.”

Severeid says the water usually starts tasting earthier later in the year, but conditions this year are hotter and drier, with rivers at extremely low levels. "We realize that it's unpleasant," city utilities spokesperson Carlos Eliason tells 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." Eliason says the city is looking into improving water treatment plants so they can remove the compounds—and to improve groundwater infrastructure so less water is needed from the area's increasingly unreliable rivers. (Lake Mead at Hoover Dam has reached a record low.)

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