Thirty some-odd years ago, the Auburn city water began having an earthy smell and taste. The city commissioned some Auburn University specialists to investigate the cause. They determined the cause to be a chemical, geosmin, in Lake Ogletree. Geosmin is produced by actinomycetes, a strain of Cyanobacteria that thrive in soil and in water contaminated by excessive organic matter, including feces.
Furthermore, they discovered the source of the contamination to be cattle feces entering Chewacla Creek from a dairy farm upstream from where the creek flows into Lake Ogletree. The bacteria were abundant in the creek water below the farm, but absent from water upstream from the farm. The farm’s owner was ordered to to take measures to prevent the cattle feces from entering the creek, citing provisions in the state’s Clean Water Act.
Not long after the measures were taken, the earthy smell and taste of the city’s water was no longer detectable.
I don’t remember how long Auburn residents had to endure the “bad water,” but I am certain that had bottled water been available, which to my knowledge it was not, it would have sold like hot cakes. I lived in the city at the time and relied on city water. I’ve lived in the country for the last 25 years and now use water from the Loachapoka System. I drink water in Auburn frequently and, like Loachapoka water, it is as it should be, odorless and tasteless.
Water from both systems is tested regularly, and in neither have there been any chemicals in the water that should concern residents.
But based on my observations of the number of people buying bottled water nowadays, many must believe it tastes better and is more healthful than our municipal supplies. I can understand why people who must rely on well water would choose to buy bottled water for drinking and cooking, but why so many ordinary people, including college students, purchase bottled water defies my imagination. Perhaps they are unaware that most of the water they are buying comes from municipal taps, or that it may contain a carcinogen, Bisphenol A, which is used in making the plastic and leaches from the bottles into their contents.
I’ve never bought a bottle of the water and have no idea what cartons of the product cost, but I have seen it advertised in restaurants for as much as $1.50 per bottle. That’s too rich for my blood, even if I imagined it tasted better.
On one occasion when I visited a pizza place, I ordered a pizza and a glass of water. I was told,”We don’t serve tap water here, only bottled water.” I told him, “If you have a cup, I’ll get some water from a faucet in your rest room.” He complied, I got my cup of tap water, and emailed a complaint to the pizza company. A few people who buy the water couldn’t care less about the cost, because they pay for it with government-issued food stamps, now referred to as SNAP cards. I once inquired about what purchases were allowed using the SNAP cards. I was told, “If a product can be eaten or drunk, except for alcohol, the cards may be used to buy soft drinks, pies, cakes, candy, cookies, and bottled water, in addition to meat and vegetables. “If you didn’t know it before, you do now.”
Bob Mount is a Professor Emeritus with the Department of Zoology and Entomology at Auburn University. He is also chairman of the Opelika Order of Geezers, well-known local think tank and political clearing house. He writes about birds, snakes, turtles, bugs and assorted conservation topics.