Your water may taste funny on Sunday after changes to OWASA’s disinfection process

The Orange Water and Sewage Authority announced temporary changes to its water disinfection process for the month of March in a recent press release.

Starting Sunday at midnight, the agency will switch from its typical treatment mix of chlorine and ammonia, also known as chloramine, to chlorine only.

Katie Harwell, laboratory supervisor at the OWASA water treatment plant, said the change is an annual event to keep up with statewide regulations.

Chlorine is a stronger but less stable disinfectant than chloramine, she said. Although chloramine is the default treatment, the month-long switch to chlorine is because it serves as a more powerful cleaning agent.

“By using a short window of time where we sanitize with chlorine and then using a really stable sanitizer the rest of the year, we’re able to provide good sanitization all year round,” Harwell said.

The switch is being made in March because warm weather makes chlorine more reactive, she added.

OWASA is working with several neighboring water utility agencies, such as Durham, to complete the process at the same time. Blake Hodge, the agency’s communications specialist, said this was necessary to ensure local water systems are both reliable and of high quality.

“We clean the pipes and the water along the way to ensure that what we ultimately deliver to customers is always safe, high-quality drinking water that meets all standards,” he said. . “It’s a preventative maintenance thing to make sure we don’t have a breakdown in the system anywhere.”

Throughout the treatment process, all water will remain safe and drinkable. Residents may notice a slight change in taste and smell, but Hodge and Harwell said not to worry.

OWASA has provided a variety of remedies for this change in taste if it bothers consumers. These remedies include leaving water in an open container to allow the chlorine to dissipate, adding slices of lemon to the water to dilute the taste, or boiling the water for one minute.

Two-year Chapel Hill resident Sarah Kurtz said she didn’t notice the change in taste, but didn’t see the water tasting “worse” as a major issue.

“I’m willing to drink it if it tastes weird, but I’d rather not,” she said. “If I need water, I need water.”

Part of the treatment procedure involves flushing, a process in which fire hydrants are used to disperse chlorinated water into the 400 miles of water pipes in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro area. Harwell said it was an effective method to speed up water turnover.

“We want to test the water to the edges of our system and make sure the chlorinated water makes its way all the way to the end,” she said. “Rinsing is a way to increase the rate at which this happens.”

Hodge said it should have no impact on major roads or traffic, but those living on narrow streets should be vigilant.

“If you see our crews there, please give them some patience if they have to direct traffic,” he said. “Otherwise, there shouldn’t be any major traffic impacts.”

OWASA’s main objective is to continue to provide reliable water services to its customers.

“We’re a really dedicated team working here around the clock to make sure our community has safe drinking water,” Harwell said.

For more information, residents can visit the Orange Water and Sewer Board website at


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