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Friday, April 9, 2010

"Why does the tap water in Seattle taste like Chlorine?"

Posted by on Fri, Apr 9, 2010 at 1:37 PM

Mmmm.... Chlorine-y.
  • Mmmm.... Chlorine-y.
Earlier this week Marconia asked Questionland why Seattle's water tastes like chlorine and smarty-pants Adam came through with the answer:

Federal law requires all cities in the U.S. to treat drinking water with chlorine. All cities, everywhere.

In fact, it isn't just that water must be treated - it must be delivered with detectable chlorine levels all the way to your tap. Chlorine breaks down and reacts in the delivery pipes, so excess must be added at the beginning of a line to make sure there is still some left at the end of the line.

Cities don't generally go beyond the detectablility standard (for health and financial reasons) so the "detectable" level at the last house on the line is usually detectable only in a laboratory - not by human taste buds. The end result? If you live near a chlorination point, your chlorine level may be unpleasantly high. If you live at the far end of the line, though, your water probably will have no chlorine taste.

I never knew that! Adam's answer is this week's Answer of the Week and now both Marconia and Adam will get a $25 gift card for Paliacci Pizza. Congrats!


Comments (16) RSS

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Will in Seattle 1
Easiest way to deal with it, is just fill a container with tap water and put it in your fridge - the chlorine will gas out.
Posted by Will in Seattle on April 9, 2010 at 1:42 PM · Report this
Tap water in Seattle, and in the Pacific Northwest in general, is the best tasting in the country. There are taste-tests of tap water, and we're always on top. I believe PUD's or water quality experts do the taste-testing.
The reason is our drinking water is rain water. In most parts of the country, it's ground water, and that's full of minerals that leach into the water from the soil.
Posted by TJ on April 9, 2010 at 2:03 PM · Report this
Brita works too, if you're into the whole brevity thing.
Posted by Patrick McGrath on April 9, 2010 at 2:03 PM · Report this
From the Seattle Times:

"Seattle has some of the better tap water in the country."…
Posted by TJ on April 9, 2010 at 2:13 PM · Report this
The Striking Viking 5
The level of chlorine in municipal tap water also depends on the source...water from different sources contain different contaminants.

Cities that draw their water supplies from aquifers, such as Spokane (I believe), have to treat their water for heavy metals and minerals that ground-water can contain. In those cities the water tends to taste more like mineral water and have much lower levels of chlorine.

Cities like Seattle draw their water from surface water such as the cedar river water shed. Surface water has less in the way of heavy metals, but must be treated for harmful biologicals such as algae, bacteria, and parasites. Chlorine is one of the main additives in treating drinking water for these biologicals, and since Seattle has pretty high standards for water quality they add more chlorine than some other surface water supplied cities. The levels of chlorine in the water are detectable bit far from harmful.

Fun fact: after a change in policy regarding the cleanliness of lake Washington in mid 20th century, lake Washington is now regarded the cleanest lake in an urban area in the WORLD.
Posted by The Striking Viking on April 9, 2010 at 2:18 PM · Report this
The Striking Viking 6
@2, Correct, though a large portion of the water at Cedar River and Tolt is from snow melt as well as rain water...rain water is hard to collect all in one place.
Posted by The Striking Viking on April 9, 2010 at 2:25 PM · Report this
I'll only note that I get down to southern California once a year, for a writers' conference. And on those occasions that we gather in Irvine, I can't tell you how welcome the taste of chlorine would be. The water down there tastes and smells like sulfur. I mean, you brush your teeth with minty-flavored toothpaste, and then wander around looking for a cigarette to get the taste of burnt matches out of your mouth.

But, to be honest, I live north of town, across the Snohomish line, and neither here nor at my brother's place in Maple Leaf do we taste the chlorine.
Posted by BD on April 9, 2010 at 2:28 PM · Report this
The cleanup of Lake Washington is an amazing story, and was largely the work of one UW professor: WT Edmondson. Check it out:…
Posted by Patrick McGrath on April 9, 2010 at 2:31 PM · Report this
Fnarf 9
Tolt water tastes like shit. Cedar water (south of the ship canal) is fantastic. Unless your building supply is fucked up.

I wonder if the caps they're putting on the reservoirs around town (like at Cal Anderson) are changing the rate at which the chlorine is expelled and thus changing the taste a little for some people?

@8, yes, it is a great story. I remember hearing stories about human shit washing up on Seattle beaches. Also not mentioned in that article you link to is the god-knows-what that got discharged into the lake from the old Lake Washington Shipyard at what is now Kirkland, and numerous others, during WWII.

Shame we can't come up with a similarly effective body like Metro for the Sound, which is just about dead.
Posted by Fnarf on April 9, 2010 at 5:38 PM · Report this
baconpussy 10
I bet your sponsor would appreciate your spelling their name correctly.
Posted by baconpussy on April 9, 2010 at 6:02 PM · Report this
ADoodle 11
Perhaps this is another Thing They Should Teach Everyone In School To Avoid People Asking Dumb Questions?

"Why does the tap water in Seattle taste like Chlorine?? [...] Is the city treating the water?" -- Why bother asking if you're going to answer your own question? Although to be fair, totally dropped the ball on providing useful information about the city's drinking water.
Posted by ADoodle on April 9, 2010 at 9:50 PM · Report this
If you grew up in oil refinery land in Texas, you would realize how amazing the water here in Seattle tastes. I can barely choke down the shit that comes out of the faucet back home.
Posted by sloggerette on April 9, 2010 at 11:53 PM · Report this
sepiolida 13
i must be at the end of the line. i use the water in my aquariums and it always shows up as zero on my test strips.
Posted by sepiolida on April 10, 2010 at 2:44 PM · Report this
All water is not treated with chlorine. Alot of the new treatment plants and plants that are getting upgrades are switching to o-zone gas disinfection. When disinfecting with chlorine, there can be formation of by-products called tri-halomethanes which are carcinogens in developing certain cancers. With o-zone there are no residual traces after the oxidative reaction.
Posted by guest1 on April 30, 2010 at 6:49 AM · Report this
@ #11: While initially a little harsh, you're right on target with the "drop the ball" bit! A search for exactly how Seattle's water is treated brought me here and I get nothing - which is the exact result of my last 40~45 minutes of searching...
Posted by Kuri_G on October 4, 2010 at 10:13 PM · Report this
Seattle's water is crap compared to Boston. They use ozone instead of chlorine so there's no residual taste. Mmm-mmm good!

My folks in Pierce country had great water until the neighborhood was required to put in a chlorine system. Now it's like drinking from a swimming pool.
Posted by Bobo on February 5, 2013 at 6:48 PM · Report this

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