Has your town water tasted funky lately? Haines Borough water and sewer operator Scott Bradford thinks he has discovered the reason.

The borough started receiving complaints about the water’s taste in July, Bradford said. At first he thought recent construction on Allen Road might be the culprit; sometimes new pipes make the water taste differently. So his crews started flushing hydrants.

“We started to keep getting a few calls every week, and we ended up flushing about 35 fire hydrants. And we were like, ‘What could it be?’” Bradford said.

Crews also drained and cleaned the 320,000-gallon water tank on Tower Road, but didn’t find anything that might point to what was causing the strange taste.  

Assembly member Joanne Waterman was among those who complained about the water, stating “it kind of tastes like pond water.” In fact, the borough gets its drinking water from Lily Lake, and that proved to be the problem’s source.

Bradford last week discovered a fine, green algae on the lake he had never seen before. It was clustered around the shoreline and in pockets of undisturbed water, and would disperse when disturbed, he said.

Bradford said in his nearly three decades on the job, he hasn’t seen this type of algae at the lake before. “We’ve had problems like this, but never this specific kind of algae,” he said.

When the water temperature gets to about 58 degrees, that is when things start to taste funky, Bradford said.

Now that the days are getting shorter, the temperature is dropping and the problem will correct itself, he said. The plant has been treating the water normally, aside from adding more aluminum sulfate to bind with algae solids and get them out of the water.

  “We’re removing it all; you just can’t remove taste. You just can’t,” he said.

Equipment called activated charcoal filters would help a bit with the taste issue, but that’s a large capital expenditure.

Bradford said he didn’t take samples of the algae, and the Department of Environmental Conservation didn’t require him to.

Assembly member Waterman said after she complained about the pond scum taste, the water started tasting like chlorine. That was an unrelated incident, Bradford said, and stemmed from a power outage that turned off the plant on Saturday, Sept. 5.

For some reason the generator didn’t switch on, and the plant was off until the following day. “We didn’t get any alarms or anything,” Bradford said. No one called in to report a loss of service because the FAA tank had enough water to pick up the slack.

When they turned the plant back on, crews added chlorine to disinfect the water, he said. The borough likes to keep the chlorine levels between .8 and 1 mg/l, and the level had dropped to .4 mg/l.

Bradford and assistant operator Dennis Durr went door to door to some of the people who complained, assuring them the water was safe and explaining the issue. When a customer complains several times, Bradford sometimes takes a sample from their home to send to DEC, he said.  

Manager David Sosa said one benefit that came from emptying the Tower Road tank is that the borough discovered the wooden tank has been “severely damaged” by ice over the winters.

The tank is uninsulated, Bradford said, and can develop ice walls up to four or five feet thick. It will likely be taken offline this winter, Sosa said.