Hillsborough tap water may taste, smell different due to coronavirus pandemic

Tampa Bay Water is changing the way it treats water at one of its plants due to a lack of liquid oxygen, and residents in parts of Hillsborough County may notice a change in the taste and smell of their water.

There aren’t enough liquid oxygen deliveries coming in because it’s needed at local hospitals to treat the current surge of COVID-19 patients. Tampa Bay Water spokesperson Brandon Moore explained the reason behind Wednesday’s announcement.

"The lack of liquid oxygen is due to a driver shortage and an increased demand at hospitals due to the COVID-19 pandemic," said Moore. "Liquid oxygen is used to remove hydrogen sulfide at our Lithia water treatment facility. And so we'll be switching to what's commonly known as bleach to treat water at that plant."

Moore said they are now getting half the number of usual deliveries. The swap at its Lithia plant only impacts people who live in the south-central parts of the county, including areas like Brandon, Riverview, Lithia and Balm.

"We decided to switch treatment at that facility so we could use the liquid oxygen that we have available to us at our regional service water treatment plant, which uses it for disinfection," said Moore.

Lack of liquid oxygen deliveries to treat water hit Orlando last week. The city cut its water use and officials urged Orlando residents to immediately conserve. Tampa bay water said it’s different here.

"The difference between this situation in Orlando is that we have another treatment method available to us. And from what I understand is that Orlando only has one," said Moore. "The benefit of having such a flexible system is that we can switch to our other sources. So if we didn't have river water available, we could switch to more groundwater, desalinated seawater. The flexibility of our system really helps us here."

The water quality coming out of the tap stays the same for locals and is still safe to drink. Moore said it’s just the process of how it gets to residents that temporarily changes. 

"We don't have a time frame yet, but we are working with our vendor daily to restore regular deliveries," said Moore. 

Tampa Bay Water said conserving water will help the region, so you can cut back on watering lawns, washing cars and pressure washing. FOX13 checked in with local hospitals about liquid oxygen needs. BayCare Health System sent FOX13 this statement saying "BayCare is committed to providing safe, high-quality care to the heavy influx of COVID-19 patients across our hospital facilities. Despite the many challenges we’re facing during this pandemic, BayCare currently has enough resources, including liquid oxygen, to help meet the needs of our patients." 

Hillsborough County Public Utilities customers with additional questions may contact Hillsborough County Water Quality at (813) 264-3835 or (813) 744-5544. 

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