“DC tap water tastes bad lately–but why??”

Photo by PoPville flickr user Mr.TinDC

“Dear PoPville,

I’m trying to figure out why tap water in DC has been tasting so funny lately. About a month ago I was served water that tasted moldy to me at a restaurant in Columbia Heights. (My husband thinks it tastes like dirt, not mold). I figured they just had some unclean pitchers, even though our replacement waters still tasted bad. A week later my water at home (which we filter) in Sixteenth St Heights tasted moldy. Not constantly but for a while. And then today at work in NoMa our filtered water tastes moldy.

I grew up in DC drinking our tap water–I don’t recall it tasting like this in the past. My basic googling hasn’t uncovered any out of the ordinary stuff happening at WASA.

Has anyone else had the same problem? Does anyone have any idea what’s going on?”

Ed. Note: We’ve previously spoken about chlorine in the drinking water temporarily but that is usually around spring time.

37 Comment

  • I completely agree with the OP. It’s been driving me nuts at home lately. A Brita helps, but no idea what is going on.

  • The water from my fridge door has tasted a little weird lately, I just thought it might be an old filter, but the tap water tasted a little off the other day as well when I went with that. Might be something here?

  • I’ve always thought DC water tasted bad…much worse than the water I tasted almost anywhere else.

  • It’s byproduct from algal blooms. I did some googling and then wrote DC Water about it. They said it was particularly bad this year and should be gone soon. By all accounts, it’s harmless. The amazing thing is the variability in people’s ability to smell it (geosmin). There have been times over the past month when I found the earth/dirty/musty smell overwhelming but my gf said she could barely detect it.

    • Yeah, I vaguely remember reading something like this as well. My nose is extremely sensitive to it, so I dread whenever it starts. It smells a bit like pizza grease and BO to me.

    • That makes sense, because my wife has been complaining about the water stinking lately, but I don’t notice at all.

    • Thanks! I can taste it but I can’t smell it. Glad to hear others have experienced this too.

      Since it’s an algae bloom I wonder if there’s any risk of something like what happened with Toledo’s algae bloom and ban on drinking water? Did they say what is causing this? Agricultural runoff, climate change, sewage, something else?

  • Thank god you’re having the same problem. I really just thought it was my pipes at home.

  • DC water has always tasted bad to me since I was raised on well water in the south. We just use a large Brita dispensing pitcher in the fridge and the water tastes fine.

  • ABSOLUTELY. Like everyone else, tried to change the filters, etc, but the problem persists

  • I am experiencing it too, in Dupont – when it happens, usually after rainy periods, I have always assumed it’s because the river’s up. There’s only a couple of small treatment reservoirs (Dalecarlia and Macmillan) between the river and consumers, so the water gets from river to customers pretty quickly. I will be interested to hear form anyone who has the facts on this issue/

    • That’s interesting – I never made the connection to the smell coming and going, and rain events. See comment above about algal blooms. I wonder if the rain washes fertilizers and whatnot into the river allowing the algae to bloom larger and then when the bloom dies off, it produces the geosmin, which causes the smell/taste. Or if the rain kills the bloom and that’s when the smell gets released.

  • Agreed, been tasting and smelling like muddy river water for several weeks now.

  • Thank you! I’ve been thinking I was going crazy because my water tastes and smells moldy, but others don’t seem to notice it when I give them water.

    • I’ve been thinking I’m crazy too! Glad it’s not just me who has been thinking lately the water stinks!

  • I haven’t experienced this problem in particular. But in my old building, the water would sometimes smell like bleach. It was distressing, and the management swore they had no idea there was any problem.

  • YES! Thank you…I have been asking people about this for a few weeks now and half of the people think I’m nuts and the other half totally agree. Definitely tastes like mold to me.

  • I am so glad someone mentioned it. I asked a couple of my friends if they have noticed the same thing and they thought I was crazy! Even the filters don’t remove the skunk completely. Recently I switched to bottled water.

  • My water has had a strong sulfur smell and taste in the mornings for the past few weeks, and WSSC wouldn’t tell me anything because I live in a condo (they said to contact my condo management instead). I hope that this is the issue and that it goes away soon.

  • So glad someone finally asked this question since I’ve been meaning to for weeks! I don’t notice the taste so much (I use a Brita), but definitely the smell from the tap. Glad to hear it’s harmless – I thought maybe something died in my pipes…

  • Ally

    Same here. I’ve stopped getting water at a couple of my favorite restaurants. At first chalked it up to a dirty glass, but it’s across the board at many places. Oh darn, now I’m going to have to hunker down and drink wine until this all passes.

  • My sense of smell is akin to a superpower. It stuns and amazes bystanders. You’ve heard of super tasters, perhaps? (TMBG!) I would say I am a super smeller, but that sounds negative. (I once knew that a vacant house on the other end of my block was on fire because I smelled burning electrical, from inside my own house, with all the windows closed. I was the first one to call the FD. Srsly, it’s a big deal.) To me, DC tap water always tastes like pond water. It’s not unpleasant, exactly, it’s just algae-like. If I have to choose, I prefer algae to chlorine.

    • I have the same superpower – can smell things others can’t. I’ve been called the canary in the coal mine.
      I actually called the sewer dept. thinking we had a back up. DC water has always had a foul smell and taste and I do notice it’s worse when it rains. Filtered or bottled water all the way for me.

  • Are we sure the algae bloom isn’t posing a health risk? Haven’t some places told people not to drink tap water during algae blooms? The bad taste isn’t every day, it definitely comes and goes.

  • Absolutely agree with OP. I asked my husband if he can taste it – the tap water tastes like mildewy laundry smells. Even the so-called filter machine at my office can’t get the taste out.

  • Not an expert, but from what I’ve read geosmin is what’s causing our dirt smell, while the Toledo culprit was ‘cylindrospermopsin’ which is toxic to the liver.

  • THANK YOU!!!
    Our family lives in northern Columbia Heights and the “dirt” smell has been overwhelming. I had no idea what was causing this… Let’s hope it disappears soon.

  • Oh weird. I thought it was just my office’s water filter being off (I’ve just been buying water cause the smell/taste was really off putting to me). I’m glad to hear this is probably temporary.

  • I lived here in the 90s for 5 years and now since ’06. Tap water here has always tasted awful. I used to buy bottled and now do filtered.

  • The tap water in New York is soooo much better

  • I also notice the earthy smell is worse after any kind of rain. Wonder if the rain stirs up all that algae…

  • I’m having the same experience in Maryland

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