Photo: Photofusion/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Photo: Photofusion/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Cobb hopes Hurricane Florence can help rid 400K people of stinky water

Kathy Nguyen obsessively watched the Weather Channel on her phone Friday tracking Hurricane Florence.

As Carolinians were being battered by the storm, she was hoping metro Atlanta would feel some — but of course not too many — effects of the storm.

Nguyen, a project manager with Cobb County’s water department, said a couple inches of rain would drastically improve the funky tasting water that’s made her week very long.

Half of the 900,000 customers served by the Cobb County‐Marietta Water Authority have been at risk of stinky-but-safe water.

“Some people say earthy, some people musty, some people say moldy,” said Glenn Page, general manager of the CCMWA — which serves Cobb, Paulding and Cherokee counties along with Mountain Park.

This affects customers who get water via a station that pulls from Allatoona Lake, mostly those in the west side of the Cobb, he said.


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When asked about the affected area, Page said: “400,000 to 500,000 people could have been receiving that water, and that includes businesses.”

The biggest help Florence could bring is for rain and overcast days to cool the lake water.

“I’d love to see an inch or two of rain,” he said. “We’re dry, we’ve been dry for six weeks now.”

That’s because the smell is caused by high water temperatures, Page said, due to a lack of recent rain and the lowering of the water level ahead of expected winter precipitation.

Page said the flooding in September 2009 that killed 10 people, damaged 20,000 homes and businesses throughout metro Atlanta and caused the lake level to increase 12 feet in one day.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lowered the lake 17 feet after Labor Day this year to avoid flooding, which is a big reason the lake exists.

Higher water temperatures mean stuff breaks down (or decomposes) more easily. The stinky compounds are coming off of microorganisms.

The organic compounds causing the smell, if you care, are geosmin and 2-Methylisoborneol. They, if you really care, are what gives vegetables and and catfish their musty, murky tastes.


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Page said people start to smell them at six nanograms per liter. That level was at 25 earlier in the week but is back down to about 10 nanograms per liter, he said Friday.

To curb the smell, he said, three days ago they started to pump more water from the station that pulls from the Chattahoochee River.

Nguyen said that, of their 700,000 customers, about 40 percent get water from Allatoona Lake. She said that number had been reduced to 23 percent.


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The CCMWA workers also have been putting more water through their activated carbon system. Those are like the filtration systems in fancy refrigerators, except Page said he has 28 of them and they’re 40 feet tall.

“It’s a lot more expensive to treat, but we’re doing all we can with the technology available,” he said, adding that a price was hard to determine.

The Cobb water department, said county spokesman Ross Cavitt, has received dozens of complaints about the smells.

There’s not much people can do to dampen the smell, Page said. It’s up to Florence for now.


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