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Tap water smell is from chlorine used to disinfect water

The question posed Monday night to the Lathrop City Council was a common one – why does the water coming from my tap smell funny?

And while the answer is in fact an easy one – the smell comes from the higher level of chlorine that the South San Joaquin Irrigation District uses to disinfect surface water before it is distributed to municipalities for consumption – the debate over the drinkability of tap water and the stringent way the city adheres to California’s water quality standards created a discussion that dominated the portion of the meeting where non-agenda items are discussed.

According to Lathrop City Manager Steve Salvatore, the smell that serves as the root of many of the complaints that the city receives is nothing more than the non-dissipated odor of a perfectly safe amount of chlorine that disinfects the river and reservoir water that SSJID makes available to cities. That smell, he said, can often be eliminated by simply filling a container with water and placing it on the counter where the chlorine odor will ultimately waft away over a period of time.

But in his comments to the board and to the Lathrop resident who claimed that the city’s tap water gave him a sore throat, Salvatore also found himself in the unique position of the defending the city’s ability to deliver safe drinking water to the more than 22,000 residents that call the city home.

By every measurable standard, Salvatore said, the city meets the State of California’s safe drinking water standards, and the city also adheres to a regimented testing schedule to ensure that those standards are being continuously met.

It is that testing process that allowed the city to discover just recently that their drinking water is without one of the man-made chemicals that is currently wreaking havoc on groundwater supplies throughout the San Joaquin Valley after years of pesticide and soil fumigant use allowed the chemical in question to permeate down into groundwater basins.

Trichloroproane, or TCP, has become an issue that neighboring communities like Manteca have had to grapple with since the State of California set a maximum containment level at the start of the year and required cities that exceed it to go through the process of notifying residents that their water contains the potentially carcinogenic chemical compound.

Cities like Manteca are now suing the manufacturers of the man-made substance to cover the cost of long and protracted filtering processes in order to make sure that residents don’t drink contaminated water.

But in the first round of testing that Lathrop had completed at the start of the year, its groundwater supplies were discovered to be without the harmful chemical – something that was repeated when the most recent round of tests came back.

While the city’s contractor did miss testing for TCP earlier this year, requiring the city to issue a notice that the mandatory quarterly testing for the chemical was not completed, the second negative test that was returned confirmed the initial belief that Lathrop was clear from contamination of the substance that is no longer in active use in agricultural practice.

Vice Mayor Mark Elliott, who was stepping in to run the meeting for an absent Sonny Dhaliwal, informed the resident that the city would be looking into his complaint about the water to see if anything can be done to help alleviate his concerns, but also reiterated that he has been drinking the city’s groundwater for more than 50 years without any negative health effects, and that he himself doesn’t smell anything out of the ordinary when he turns on his tap – noting that such complaints need to be handled on a “case-by-case basis.”

To contact reporter Jason Campbell email or call 209.249.3544.