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Drink Up! Zebra Mussel Dumps Flavor In Your Tap Water

Funny tasting water? Blame it on zebra mussel "nutrients."

So many different variations of browns and stripes. Too bad this mollosk from hell is destroying our ecosystem. Photo credit: nas.er.usgs.gov
So many different variations of browns and stripes. Too bad this mollosk from hell is destroying our ecosystem. Photo credit: nas.er.usgs.gov

If you’ve noticed your Lake Michigan-tap water tasting and smelling like mildewed flip-flops lately, you’re not alone.

Taste-and-odor complaints of local tap water generally increase in the late summer, due mainly to the rich zebra mussel nutrients being deposited on the bottom of Lake Michigan.

That’s right, we’re talking about zebra mussel feces. Its presence becomes more noticeable in August and September, due mainly to the annual die-off of benthic green algae.

The invasive zebra mussel made its first appearance in the Great Lakes in the mid-1980s, when transoceanic ships from the Black Sea emptied their ballasts into Lake St. Clair.

Ever since then, the rascally bivalve has adapted nicely to our freshwater lakes and rivers, consuming planktonic algae by the gallon, clogging up water filtration plants, and wreaking havoc on the ecosystem.

According to the DuPage Water Commission:

"Decreases in planktonic algae have resulted in increased water clarity, allowing sunlight to penetrate deeper, stimulating the growth of aquatic plants and benthic (bottom-dwelling) algae."

Zebra mussel nutrients on the lake bottom also stimulate the algae growth. The annual die-off of bottom dwelling algae in July returns high concentrations of “nutrients” in the water.

These "nutrients" produce compounds, adding that zippy earthy/musty flavor to our local tap water we've grown accustomed to in the late summer.

A female zebra mussel can release up to 100,000 eggs per year. They don’t have many natural predators. Ducks and certain types of fish have been known to eat them, but not enough to kill the invasive species off.

Most municipalities, including the City of Chicago, add powdered activated carbon into the water to rid it of that old flip-flop taste and odor.

Until science figures out a way to get rid of this mussel from hell, we’ll just have to put up with stinky tap water for a few weeks out of the year.

It’s not toxic, but unless you can’t get the image of zebra mussel feces out of your head, you may want to purchase some bottled water or a filter.

Source: DuPage Water Commission


Jim P August 16, 2013 at 07:58 AM
Chicago should charge a premium at the end of summer for providing water with extra nutrients.
Chris Anderson Bradbery August 16, 2013 at 08:40 AM
Huh - I have noticed during the end of summer the water smelled funky, especially late at night. Thought I was crazy!
Bob H August 16, 2013 at 03:31 PM
Just make mine Bud.
ala stevens August 16, 2013 at 10:46 PM
I'll take a pass
meterman August 16, 2013 at 10:58 PM
miccro wave 2 mim. serve with oyster crackers
RantnRage August 17, 2013 at 01:16 AM
Just wait until the Asian CARP gets through the Chicago locks and takes over Lake Michigan. Abandon the beaches, forget sports fishing, and recreational boating/personal water craft... they are just a target for these big slimy leaping nemesis.
Ty Thompson August 17, 2013 at 04:21 AM
Deeper water inlets?
Lisa Houston August 17, 2013 at 09:16 AM
That`s why i drink spring water Jersey water taste like toilet waste.
Rich August 17, 2013 at 11:28 AM
This story sponsored by the Hinkley-Springs water company.
fred August 17, 2013 at 11:45 AM
So is that why my dog tends to drink from the toilet the last part of the summer?
Rich August 17, 2013 at 11:56 AM
Fred- He is a seafood lover.
fred August 17, 2013 at 01:35 PM
I guess I should not have mentioned the dog thing!
John Gregory August 17, 2013 at 10:03 PM
Zebra mussels have had plenty of time to grow in to water systems for decades. Throughout the Great Lakes area now it's a matter of time before they're so high up in the pipe systems - whether intake or outflows - that the treatment suggested by one person I saw on a recent show wanted poisonous chemicals introduced to kill them. I wanted to know - of course, if this would even work -> how would this poison be in such concentrations to: #1) kill the Zebra mussel, it's target - #2) not kill off other life forms, and #3) be neutralized from being toxic to humans either by amount or long term exposure? There is a natural predator I thought was going to be used some 30 yrs ago but I've heard nothing more about it. It's a nematode worm that burrows through the shell and liquefies the mussels inside. It's long, white, has multiple legs and can live in fresh water. There would be an explosion in their population - however it would equalize - and if nothing else, keep Zebra mussel populations in check while leaving other flora and fauna alone. High tides and storm surges where environments become wet enough to support colonies of Zebra's won't be affected by chemicals or other non-specific eradication techniques and could harm other species. The water supplies for the growing population of people using the water shed for drinking water will be adversely effected no doubt. If I were tasting mussel waste in my drinking water - whatever process being used isn't sufficient. I'd think a decrease in the price of such water should be decreased for the public since bottled water is much more expensive (or should be) than tap water. I don't care if it tastes like Ambrosia - I don't think it's fair to pay for clear, fresh tasting WATER when provided by a monopoly. If it's mussel sh*t and I can taste/smell it - what's in that water that makes it so? It's usually bacteria or gases affecting the taste of fresh water if not the medium to grow such. If I wanted "mussel funk" I'd buy bottled water an aquarium - throw some Zebra mussels in there with algae for good measure and give it to my guests at dinner parties. "Oh, it's the NEWEST thing from Poland Springs! You simply HAVE to try it - YUMMY!!"
william savick August 17, 2013 at 10:50 PM
This article brought to by every purveyor of bottled-water in the area .
Poot August 18, 2013 at 09:40 AM
So Chicago doesn't have a water treatment facility?
Bob Billings August 18, 2013 at 10:46 AM
My solution is Puritii Filtered Water bottles. Take it with you anywhere and whatever water you fill it with is filtered to 9999.99% pure. www.filteredwaterbottle.net
Jim Cottrell August 18, 2013 at 11:16 AM
Traced back to Obama's house.
Richard August 18, 2013 at 01:26 PM
The headline is misleading and incorrect. The article states that the flavor in the water is from the algae at the bottom, not from the mussels or anything that they "leave."
Mark August 18, 2013 at 01:47 PM
Maybe this is what's causing their astronomical crime rate. Probably not, but that'll give Sharpton and Jackson something else to blame it on rather than put effort into solving the real problem.
Granny Gruntz August 19, 2013 at 10:14 AM
*REGARDING BOTTLED WATER: *Before you buy your next "PURE" bottled water - READ THE LABEL FOR "DISTRIBUTION SOURCE"! *You could be paying good money for water from a "municipal source"! *Define "municipal source"? *"Municipal source" sounds like the local water plant to me.
John Smith August 19, 2013 at 11:05 AM
Chicago should give the water a fancy name and TAX IT .

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