If you've noticed a change in Palo Alto's tap water lately, you're not alone. Since last Sunday, residents have been complaining of a funny taste and smell to the water flowing out of their faucets, alternately describing it as stale or chlorinated.
The reason, in part, is the drought.
To save water, Palo Alto city staff have been less frequently flushing out hydrants and the city's main water distribution system. Residents have likewise been using less.
But with a smaller volume of water flowing through local pipes, the city's water supplier, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC), has increased the amount of chlorine it's using to disinfect the water, according to Catherine Elvert, communications manager for Palo Alto's Utilities Department.
In addition, Palo Alto and other cities right now are receiving water from a local reservoir, the Sunol Valley Water Treatment Plant and Reservoir, rather than Hetch Hetchy, Elvert said.
"This can create some changes in taste, appearance and odor. Typically, any cloudiness is simply oxygen bubbles. Any discoloration or sediment will dissipate if someone runs the tap for a couple of minutes," Elvert wrote in an email.
Ironically, to make sure the city's water quality doesn't degrade, Palo Alto staff is currently flushing the water system, mainly in south Palo Alto. But that's causing changes in the water coming out of the tap as well. The flushing is expected to continue for one to two months, the city's website states.
A combination of the three factors the increased chlorination, the reservoir water and flushing of the distribution system are likely contributing to the funny tastes and smells people are experiencing.
However, Elvert said, residents should not worry about consuming tap water.
"We and our water supplier are required by law to adhere to strict health and safety standards for potable drinking water. Even with the activities I describe in this message, our water supply is absolutely safe to drink," she wrote.
Residents or others with significant concerns about water quality can contact the city's Water Transmission division at 650-496-6967.
Updates on water quality are posted on the city's Utilities Department website.