1 September 2022

Not out of the dam yet with 'earthy' water problem, Icon Water says

| Lottie Twyford
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Bendora Dam

The funny taste and discolouration of Canberra tap water of late have been traced to Bendora Dam. Photo: Androo15.

Canberra is known for its clear, clean and refreshing tap water.

Which is why it caused such a stir earlier this month when people across the ACT and Queanbeyan began reporting earthy-tasting water flowing out of their faucets.

Some took to social media to describe their water as tasting like “dirt”, “mould”, or was just downright awful.

For many, the issue seems to have now resolved itself, although Icon Water has stressed the problem isn’t a thing of the past.

Icon Water managing director Ray Hezkial was questioned about the murky, earthy-tasting tap water some residents of the region have grappled with in recent weeks. Photo: Region.

Icon Water managing director Ray Hezkial told a budget estimates hearing on Monday (29 August) that the concentration of the compound behind the unusual taste had continually dropped in recent days but that could change.

“I don’t want to create the impression the problem is behind us. It’s something we still need to work through.”

Mr Hezkial confirmed the situation had affected a number of customers and Icon Water had received more than 300 social media inquiries and taken 130 phone calls on the matter.

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The funny-tasting water has been attributed to an organic, naturally occurring compound called 2-Methylisoborneol (MIB), which has appeared in source water in the Bendora Dam.

Not everyone can detect the taste of MIB and Icon Water stressed it does not impact the safety of the water to drink.

Googong Dam

The sediment, which is leading to funny tasting and murky water, has been detected in the region’s water before from Googong Dam. Photo: Icon Water.

Bendora Dam, one of the four in the region, is located on the upper reaches of the Cotter River and feeds into the Mount Stromlo Water Treatment Plant.

Mr Hezkial told the hearing this was the first time an incident like this had occurred in Bendora Dam and investigations were underway to find out how this happened.

“We believe it is being stirred up in the sediment in that catchment and we feel it is a consequence of the cooler weather,” he said.

“In warmer weather, we normally see quite clear layers or stratification that allow us to abstract from the water at selective points to avoid [this from happening].”

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The last time this compound was noticeable in the Territory was in 2020 when Icon Water switched source plants and began drawing water from Googong.

That issue was resolved in a couple of days after its filtration processes were adjusted.

At the time, customers were told the compounds MIB along with Geosmin were “more likely to be present over warmer months”.

In recent months, some residents have been forced to boil water to manage the taste while others are buying bottled water.

Icon Water recommended adding some lemon or mint, letting the water stand in the fridge before drinking or using a carbon filter.

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