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[whitespace] Latest flavor for local water seems to be Essence of Algae

Los Gatos--Unlike most beverages, tap water arrives in our homes without any nutritional analysis, recommended serving size or expiration date. We generally regard water as, well, just water.

But a group of Los Gatos residents recently discovered that tap water can come in flavors, too--namely, essence of algae.

A routine reservoir switch by Santa Clara Valley Water District, which provides water to San Jose Water Co., resulted in the accidental intake of an algae bloom. Although no public health threat exists, residents flooded the San Jose Water Co. phone lines with complaints about a musty taste and smell in their water.

"Our water has always tasted fine, but not now," Blossom Hill resident Betty Auchard said. The water company suggested refrigerating the water to dissipate the taste, but that didn't have much effect, Auchard said. Her family has temporarily switched to bottled water because the water's musty taste was too strong even to be used for coffee, she said.

The musty taste is a result of broken-down byproducts from the algae.

Andrew Gere, senior water quality supervisor for San Jose Water Co., said the company is very concerned about the 50 calls it received from South San Jose and Los Gatos customers. "It's an important part of our service. Not just safety, but appeal," Gere said.

The water company, a private corporation, buys about 40 percent to 45 percent of its water from the district. Gere said the district has a very good reputation for catching these sorts of things before they happen. "This one, for whatever reason, got away from them," he said.

Gere added that the district has since switched its intake from Anderson Reservoir to Calero Reservoir, and although the poor tasting water may linger a few days, taste and smell should be normal soon.

District spokesman Mike Di Marco agreed it will be only a short while before the water quality returns to its previous level. However, he said the district is still drawing from Anderson and recently added Calero as an additional source.

The algae bloom, which Di Marco said is rare for this time of year, was located right above the intake structure in Anderson Reservoir. "The algae bloom was pretty much sucked in at the beginning of the switch," Di Marco said.

The switch occurred Nov. 12, and complaints were relayed to the district by Nov. 15. Di Marco said district employees were actually among the first to notice because their building's water comes from the San Jose Water Co.

During most of the year, the district takes water from the San Luis Reservoir, located outside of Los Benos, Calif. This time of the year, however, they pull water from Anderson and Calero. This frees up room in these local reservoirs for the winter rains and maintains district entitlements to state water sources, Di Marco said.

Gere said the water company is already receiving a lower volume of complaints. Unfortunately, most Los Gatos residents are near the end of the company's pipeline, which means they will be the last to receive algae-free water.
Nathan R. Huff

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Web extra to the December 2-8, 1999 issue of Metro.

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