Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Name That Smell

Twice this week during our visits to Waco, Texas, my mother and I enjoyed eating lunch out. With the economy in such a flux, I’m trying to find ways to cut costs whenever it’s necessary to spend money. So, I ordered a glass of water with my meal. As I lifted the glass to my lips, I noticed a most unpleasant odor. Against my better judgment, I took a sip. “Ooo!” I said to my mother, “What’s that smell?!”, wrinkling my nose and holding my glass out in front of me. “It smells….GREEN!”

Mom explained that Waco is known for its bad-tasting water. I called the waiter over to our table and asked for a Diet Coke, thinking that would take care of the problem. But, it didn’t! My soda tasted as bad and “green” as my water. I was puzzled, but didn’t think much about it until we had lunch at a different restaurant yesterday. The soda I ordered at the second restaurant tasted equally as bad.

As I began my investigation, I learned that the "Bag-in-Box" soda fountains combine the soda syrup with carbon dioxide and water to make a soft drink. Then, I ran across several more articles about the horrible taste of Waco water. The Waco Water Utility Services Department cites algae as the primary source of taste and odor problems with its water.

“The five-year Lake Waco Comprehensive Study preliminary results identified a significant Cyanobacteria (Blue-green algae) population existing in Lake Waco and dominating the lake system, even in cold weather. This is due to the cyclic nutrient loading from the watershed. The Cyanobacteria produce the compounds that result in taste and odor problems in the drinking water system.”

Well, that seemed to explain the “green” smell. Algae = Green.

But, then I came across another explanation – dairy farm runoff. Ewww…

“It has never been proven the runoff from the dairy farms in the northern counties is the sole blame for the bad taste in Waco's drinking water but it is a contributing factor.” says Sara Talbert in an online article for KXXV-TV News.

As I read this, I began to wonder if the Branch Davidians, who followed cult leader David Koresh, were all drinking the same Kool-Aid made with Waco water. Seemed to make sense to me! I bet they all had Mad Cow Disease!!

But, an article in the Baylor University online magazine, The Lariat, ties together the two problems – algae and cow manure runoff. “The story starts about 30 years ago. In the 1970s, as part of a national trend, small dairy farms in Erath and Comanche Counties began morphing into large, commercialized entities. Farmers from across the nation - even from out of the country - began moving into central Texas and setting up their farms.”

“Erath County, touted as "The Dairy Capital of Texas," saw such an increase in dairy farming that by 1991, the Environmental Protection Agency declared the Bosque River "impaired and severely polluted" due to the dumping of such large amounts of manure by upstream dairy corporations.”

“And that's when some say the water started to smell.”

“But Pete Schouten, Hico dairyman and chairman of board of directors of Texas Association of Dairymen, said, according to his sources, Waco's water was terrible before the dairy farms increased on the North Bosque.”

“Larry Holze, Waco's public information officer, said the nitrogen in the manure causes phosphorous to form, which has created algae in Lake Waco. As the algae decays, it emits geosmin, a foul gas that affects the smell and taste - but not the quality - of water.”

Nobody is going to convince me that the quality of Waco water is acceptable, even if the smell isn’t. I, for one, am not drinkin’ that Kool-Aid!

A tourism website I discovered stated:

“The Waco Indians settled on the banks of the Brazos River in the late 1700's and believed these spring-fed waters held the magical protection of the Indian spirit, Woman Having Powers in the Water.”

Perhaps that spirit was a woman scorned and maybe even an ancestor of Hilary Clinton!

Actually, my mom’s conclusion about the unsavory water of Waco seems the best of all. She says, “Maybe they don’t do do do right.” (See 2/17/09 blog entry, “How Do You Do?”)

Don’t Drink That Waco Water, Y’all!

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