COVID surge could change how the water tastes and smells in parts of Florida


TAMPA (WFLA) — Hillsborough County in Florida is warning residents that they may notice a change in the smell and taste of their drinking water soon as the ongoing surge in COVID-19 cases forces the water supplier to change its treatment process.

The county posted a notice on its website Wednesday evening informing residents that Tampa Bay Water will “temporarily change its water treatment process” due to a lack of liquid oxygen deliveries. Liquid oxygen is usually used to help remove hydrogen sulfide from water but, according to Tampa Bay Water, the COVID pandemic is causing a driver shortage as well as a need for available supplies to be diverted to local hospitals. Liquid oxygen is used to treat many COVID-19 patients.

Due to the shortage, Tampa Bay Water says it will temporarily change treatment to use sodium hypochlorite, commonly known as bleach, instead. The change at the supplier’s Lithia Hydrogen Sulfide Removal Facility was scheduled to begin Thursday, Aug. 26.

“Water provided to Hillsborough County Public Utilities customers will continue to meet all local, state and federal regulations for drinking water,” the county said in its notice. “Consumers who are sensitive to taste and odor changes in drinking water might notice a slight change during this period; however, this treatment change will not alter the quality of the drinking water.”

Tampa Bay Water says it’s also adjusting the “regional blend of water sources” to accommodate the lack of liquid oxygen.

“The regional water supply is a blend of three sources of water – groundwater, river water and desalinated seawater,” a notice on the website said. “Depending on environmental, weather and other factors, the blend of water shifts throughout the year as part of normal utility operations.”

Hillsborough County and Tampa Bay Water both say residents can help preserve the region’s drinking water by eliminating non-essential water uses. Non-essential water uses include watering lawns when it’s raining, using pressure washers and washing vehicles at home.

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