Tampa says brown, smelly water is safe, caused by algae

- Tampa water customers could turn on the tap and find the water looking a little murky, or smelling funny, or both. 

The city water department says nearly their entire system is feeling the effects of an algae bloom, and it's affecting 100,000 homes. But city officials say the first thing everyone should know is: the water is safe to drink.

The second thing they want people to know if that it could take another two or three days for the algae to flush out of the system. 

Elizabeth Riley of Seminole Heights reacted to the yellow water from her faucet the way anyone would.

"My first thought was, is it OK to drink?" Riley asked FOX 13 News.

The city says the compound causing the odd taste, called geosmin, is completely harmless, and is common in some vegetables. For instance, it's what gives beets their earthy flavor.

"I might tend to drink from the filter water that is in the fridge or something, more than I usually would," Riley said.

But the City of Tampa's water director, Chuck Weber, insists that's not necessary.

"I drink the water, my family drinks the water, it's safe," Weber said.

Weber says the brownish, smelly water is from an algae bloom in the Hillsborough River, which is the city's water source. The bloom is due to low water levels caused by drought.

When water levels are low, sunlight reaches closer to the river's bottom, where fertilizer runoff is plentiful during the spring. Sunlight mixing with fertilizer under the water creates perfect conditions for an algae bloom.

So far, the city has received 22 complaints for the water's taste, and 58 for odor.

Workers are flushing it from the system with copper sulfate. The city's latest tests show algae levels are already down by half since Wednesday.

"We expect that those levels will be undetectable by Friday, so over the weekend it should dissipate in the distribution system, and we should be back to normal by Sunday or Monday," said Weber.

The one area of the city not affected is New Tampa, which gets its water from other sources.

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