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What Is Going On With Norman’s Water?

Norman water
Claire Donnelly

Many Norman residents say they have noticed an earthy smell and taste in the city’s tap water. Ken Komiske, the city’s utilities director, explains the reasons for the change.


What is causing the change?

Ken Komiske, Director of Utilities for the City of Norman, says dead algae from the bottom of Lake Thunderbird, where Norman gets the majority of its water supply, is causing the taste and odor change.

“All summer long, the lake heats up,” Komiske said. “Then in the fall, we have one or two cold nights [which] cools down the top inch or two of water. [Algae] that’s blooming and dying and falls to the bottom gets stirred up.”

According to Komiske, the lake turnover happens annually, but the earthy taste could be more noticeable this year because August was cooler and wetter than usual in Oklahoma. He says increased rainfall washed more nutrients into the lake and those, in combination with sunshine, could have increased algae growth.

Is it safe to drink?

Yes, says Komiske. He says the Norman Utilities Department completes water quality tests required by the Environmental Protection Agency and the state Department of Environmental Quality.

“We get out all of the big particles that would have viruses, protozoa [and] most algaes. But there are taste and odor compounds that are able to sneak through,” Komiske said.

How long will the unusual taste and smell last?

Komiske says residents could continue to notice a difference for the next two to five weeks, depending on the weather.  

The Norman Utilities Department is also working on a two-year, $33 million project to upgrade its water treatment plant. According to Komiske, the facility will add ozone and ultraviolet light to the treatment process, which he said could help remove some of the taste and odor. The project is expected to be completed in 2019.


Claire has previously worked at KGOU, where she helped create a podcast, How Curious, and hosted local news during Morning Edition. Previously, she was an intern on the city desk at WBEZ in Chicago. She holds a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University’s Medill School. Claire has reported on street performers, temp workers, criminal court cases, police dogs, Christmas tree recycling and more.
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