Water Supply Safe But Mystery Surrounds Unpleasant Taste

The reason for an unpleasant taste and chemical smell from tap water in parts of St Mary’s is a mystery.

Radio Scilly decided to investigate after receiving calls from 19 householders saying their supply tasted odd.

We contacted Professor Jeni Colbourne, from the Drinking Water Inspectorate, who came over with her team last month to inspect the islands’ water supply and to ensure it was meeting EU standards.

Jeni says there are five different sources of water on St Mary’s, including the desalination plant, which are all blended together in varying amounts, and this results in slight differences on a day-to-day basis. She believes this is why people might notice a change in taste more often here.

She told us she feels the Council have made considerable improvements following the recommendations made during their last visit in 2006 about improving infrastructure and sampling. Important improvements have included more sensitive equipment to adjust the doses of chlorine in the water and better cleaning of the water before it goes to supply, which should reduce the amount of chlorine required, and Jeni says this might need fine-tuning.

From Radio Scilly

Hear our full interview with Prof Jeni Colbourne

Jeni says the Council and all water companies are assessed on the taste of water and they should investigate complaints if the taste becomes “objectionable.”

Radio Scilly requested an interview from the Council, who, unlike on the mainland, operates the water supply here in Scilly. The Council asked Councillor Brian Lowen, who headed up Technical Services before his retirement, to address the questions.

Brian told us he doesn’t think there is anything different in the water and the supply is the same as when he was in charge. He says a small amount of chlorine, which should be totally tasteless, is added. This has to be done to ensure the water is clean right out to the furthest point in the supply but he said the amount is far lower than you’d have on the mainland because of the shorter distances required.

He also confirmed that regular testing is made from household taps at random points in the supply and these tests show that everything is within the required limits.

A different property has a tap tested for water quality every week.

However, he says the Drinking Water Inspectorate says there could be a reaction with old fittings in the system, such as washers and taps, and this could give a slight taste. But he reiterated that they inspected the system last month and were “highly pleased” with it.

When we asked Brian about whether the Council were investigating complaints about the taste, he says he has spoken to Neville Gardner, the current Head of Technical Services, who says there have been no formal complaints about the supply.