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Milky water with odor reported in Palo Alto

Original post made on Jan 21, 2008

Palo Alto tap water has been milky in appearance for two weeks, thanks to a change in the distribution system, but the water is safe to drink, city officials say.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Monday, January 21, 2008, 9:38 AM

Comments (20)

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Posted by Disconcerted Citizen
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 21, 2008 at 10:11 am

water tastes strange; even if you use it to make tea

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Posted by need answers
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 21, 2008 at 11:05 am

That site is useless! We can deal with the bubbles and understand the explanation, but it's pretty sad that no one can tell us why the water has tasted and smelled poisonous for the last couple of days.

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Posted by J
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 21, 2008 at 3:30 pm

Late Saturday night I noticed that the water smells funny. It continues to do so. The Palo Alto Utilities and SFPUC Websites do not address this issue.

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Posted by Couldn't-Find-It
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 21, 2008 at 4:16 pm

Wonder if this information about smelly water can be found on the Palo Alto city web site?

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Posted by mmm-mm-mmonia
a resident of Stanford
on Jan 21, 2008 at 8:25 pm

hey, this lump on my neck wasn't there an hour ago...

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Posted by concerned citizen
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jan 22, 2008 at 12:55 am

We have been having the cloudy water/strong odor problem in the Sharon Heights area of Menlo Park recently also. I wonder if there has been an excessive amount of chloramine added either by accident or intentionally to combat some detected bacteria.

I contacted our water department for MP, but just got a voicemail with no information other than to call 911 if there is an emergency. Some real answers are in order, IMO.

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Posted by What is the GAS ?????
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Jan 22, 2008 at 12:09 pm

Does anyone know what the bubbles in the water are. No one seems to be committal about what the gas is.

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Posted by rb
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 22, 2008 at 12:50 pm

I reported a chlorine taste to the water on Saturday and was told by the person on duty that nothing could be done until Tuesday. When I said that I was not able to drink the water, she said 'Don't drink it then'. I consider this unacceptable in our community.

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Posted by Tea Drinker
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 22, 2008 at 6:53 pm

Good tea needs good water. I am surprised at someone who thinks that bad water can make good tea. Not only does the water have to be good, it has to be at a rapid boil to make good tea.

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Posted by Another Tea Drinker
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jan 22, 2008 at 9:44 pm

I recommend Chrystal Geyser or Arrowhead spring water to make your tea. This way you will always have great tea with no nasty surprises.

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Posted by Mom by Gunn High
a resident of Green Acres
on Jan 23, 2008 at 12:26 am

The last time that a water issue was changed here in Palo Alto, it took only one change of my fishes water before they all died. So did my neighbors. Wonder what it has done to me...(but "such a small amount" of change should have no effect on us so I heard...) It's a wait-and- see-thing down the road I guess. Meanwhile, I'm opting out for bottled water.

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Posted by get some facts
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 23, 2008 at 3:36 pm

Yes, the water is cloudy. Yes, we're used to Hetch Hetchy purity which is better than any bottled water available. But before speculating as to the safety of the water coming out of our taps, people should get a modicum of information.

It's apparent that most of those commenting above did not actually check the information given on the link at the end of the Weekly's news item, which takes you to the official statement on the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission website.

To save readers the trouble of looking this up, and to encourage more fact-based discussion of this issue, I'll paste in both the link and the actual text on the website (below).

Also, here's the link to the City's press release from January 7, somehow not considered newsworthy by the Weekly until January 21:
Web Link

There's even a phone number listed, if anyone believes that they actually have a legitimate complaint about water quality.

Based on the comments above, I decided to do a blind test for two tea drinkers at my house: I filled two mugs with water, one from the tap and one from a well known brand of bottled water. I let each cup sit for 5 minutes. Then I microwaved each of them and made a cup of tea (each with a fresh teabag, for exactly the same brewing time). Then I had the tea drinkers (who did not know which cup was which) taste each cup and rate it. Interestingly, one chose the tap water cup as best, and the other said there was no difference.

Web Link

Air Bubbles from Treatment of Local Reservoir Water May Cause Temporary Cloudiness, but Water Continues to Meet or Exceed All Water Quality Standards

Starting the week of January 7, 2008 drinking water for some San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) customers in portions of the Peninsula, South and East Bay may temporarily appear cloudy or milky-white in color when drawn from the tap. This temporary change is caused by a change in system water distribution and does not affect the quality of the drinking water.

The cloudy or milky-white appearance is due to air bubbles in the water. Because of on-going system maintenance, SFPUC customers are receiving water from local reservoirs exclusively, and not Hetch Hetchy Reservoir in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The increased rate of treatment at the SFPUC’s Sunol Valley Water Treatment Plant causes air to be mixed into the water, which in turn makes it look cloudy or milky. If the water is allowed to stand for a few minutes, the cloudiness will dissipate as the air bubbles rise to the surface and break apart.

The SFPUC’s water continues to meet all state and federal regulatory requirements for water quality. This temporary change involves the appearance of the water only.

The cloudy appearance will dissipate when Hetch Hetchy supplies reach the Bay Area after the completion of work, which is expected to take place in February 2008.

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Posted by H2O
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jan 23, 2008 at 3:46 pm

The water is fine now. It wasn't fine over the 3-day weekend. There was no information about the bad taste anywhere on any websites. Telephone calls to the numbers listed produced no answers. (See similar thread on Almanac TownSquare).

Maybe you're the one who needs to do some research, gsf. It's pretty appalling that we all had to drink foul-tasting and smelling water for three days.

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Posted by Tea Drinker
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 23, 2008 at 3:54 pm

To make good tea.

1. Boil water in a kettle to a rapid boil.

2. Warm teapot with boiling water and circulate. Leave for 20 seconds then throw out water.

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Posted by Tea Drinker
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 23, 2008 at 3:59 pm

{sorry, too hasty)

3. Put 1 teabag, or 1tsp loose tea per cup into teapot. Fill to desired amount with rapidly boiling water.

4. Allow to brew for at least 3 minutes.

5. Pour into cup, adding milk or lemon and sugar to taste.

There are differences of opinion as to whether a brown teapot is preferable to white or metal teapot produces better taste. Likewise, whether a china cup or pottery mug, tastes better. Also, some people prefer to put in the milk before the tea while others prefer to add the milk after.

Any other method of making tea is just not on. Microwaves and hot water (not boiling) are the worst kind of tea possible.

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Posted by NC
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 23, 2008 at 7:43 pm

The cloudiness freaked me out. I could see the bubbles and they would definitely disappear after a few minutes, but the horrible chemical taste really worried me. Since both the cloudiness and taste changes came at the same time, I wondered whether they were related. No answers yet though.

Other weirdness: There is a funny smell all throughout Palo Alto right now. It smells like the smell you get in rooms with bacteria cultures growing (I've been in such rooms at labs in Stanford), probably from the medium they grow them in. I closed all the windows in my house as a precaution.

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Posted by food coneseur
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 23, 2008 at 7:49 pm

you need good water for hot water soup.

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Posted by Concerned
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 23, 2008 at 8:02 pm

To the person conducting a quasi scientific test with tea bags: what makes you think that what somebody enjoys tasting can be a standard for everybody? Especially when people are so disconnected in this society, I would not trust their perception through smell or taste, not at all!!!

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Posted by Another Tea Drinker
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jan 24, 2008 at 1:04 am

Some people are particularly sensitive when it comes to taste and smell. Others are not. Most are somewhere in between. There seems to be a genetic component involved.
Those with the keener senses know when a cup of tea is good and when a glass of water is foul.

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Posted by when?
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 26, 2008 at 2:22 pm

Alright, at first I didn't mind the bubbles and different taste Now, I want our regular water back. It's affecting our laundry - not as clean - our hair -we look like wet dogs (and that's not because we've been standing outside this week) and our food - tastes soapy/oily. Is the water treatment facility putting in too much softener? maybe whatever they do is only .01% different... but i'm tired of it now.

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