Lake compounds causing ‘fishy’ odor again

June 21, 2022

We’ve heard you, Bartlesville water customers: The water has that weird odor again. Here’s why:

The odor is due to Geosmin and Methyl-Isoborneol (MIB) getting into the water system. These are organic compounds and, while creating an odor that people can detect to varying degrees, they are not harmful when ingested.

“It isn’t harmful — it’s not even measured by water regulating bodies — but both compounds can produce an ‘earthy,’ ‘fishy,’ or ‘dirt-like’ taste and odor, which, of course, can be unpleasant for people who can detect it,” said Water Utilities Director Terry Lauritsen. “The compounds are released by algae constituents in the lake and can be difficult to manage when temperatures fluctuate significantly or we receive heavy rains that bring nutrients into the lake.”

Lauritsen said the treatment for the compounds consists of applying an environmentally friendly algaecide to the lake, which costs $20,000 per treatment and takes about a week to take effect.

“Due to the cost of the treatment, we base this decision on lab testing for Geosmin and MIB, which must be sent off to a third party lab and takes a week to get results,” he said.

While City staff is testing the lake water weekly for Geosmin and MIB, once the lab results are received and treatment begins, two weeks of water with these compounds are in the system, which takes about a week to clear, Lauritsen said.

“Geosmin and MIB can develop in a matter of days, and while the City has a pretreatment system at the Caney River station that mitigates these taste and odor compounds, the station is offline due to renovations,” he said. “These renovations were originally scheduled for completion by April, but due to manufacturing delays, the station is anticipated to be back on-line in September.”

Anyone detecting an odor in their water is encouraged to call the Water Utilities Department at 918.338.4104 so the system can be flushed in that area.