In parts of Anderson and Pickens counties, the tap water tastes and smells so bad right now that some dogs won't drink it.
That's the case for Gypsy the German shepherd, who lives in Anderson's Regency Park subdivision with her owner, Dee Dee Shead.
Shead spoke about the family's tap water troubles Tuesday and said she is even giving bottled water to her pooch.
"I feel bad because I didn't realize at first that she wasn't drinking what was coming from our sink," Shead said. "Then it rained, and I noticed she was licking water off every surface where it was standing. So I started giving her bottled water just like we are using. She is drinking normally now. But you know the water tastes bad when an animal won't touch it."
Shead is one of nearly 200,000 customers in the Upstate whose drinking water is provided by the Anderson Regional Joint Water System. Since at least 2014, system officials have had seasonal battles with algae in Lake Hartwell, the key source that provides up to 48 million gallons of water daily to more than a dozen Upstate utilities.
The algae in the lake produces compounds called geosmin and MIB that cause the unpleasant taste and odor. The production usually increases if the lake's water temperature stays where it is now — near 80 degrees.
Throw a few days of rain into the mix and the compounds produce even faster. In the span of 10 days, regional water system officials saw taste- and odor-producing compounds jump to roughly five times the amount they can effectively handle with treatments at the Anderson plant headquarters.
"What we have with the lake right now is a warm, nutrient-rich environment that allows algae growth on the bottom, and unlike last year, there's also growth in the water column," said Scott Willett, the executive director of the regional water system."We did a lake treatment last Friday and we are starting to see improvement at the plant level. At all times, this water has remained safe for all kinds of uses and we would like to stress that. But we expect this will be a battle with algae that we have off and on all summer."
Several restaurants in and around Anderson have taken to serving bottled water, or have invested in separate filtering systems for the water they serve.
The cities of Anderson and Clemson, both of which get their water from the regional water system, have told customers in public messages about the algae troubles.
That information hasn't stopped the complaint calls from coming in, said Jeff Caldwell, Anderson's utilities director.
"We understand it is upsetting to people," he said. "We know the regional system is working on treating the issues and we are looking forward to when things are better."
When water system officials do a lake treatment, they have crews sometimes apply a copper-based algaecide on a portion of the lake, then follow that with a hydrogen-peroxide based algaecide around coves and docks. The hydrogen-peroxide based algae killer is safer for fish, according to Clemson University officials who have overseen the water system's efforts to combat algae. Even "large" treatments usually cover only about 100 acres of a 56,000-acre lake.
"We can't treat algae before we can see it," Willett said. "We don't want to do any more to the lake than we have to."
The water system is still working on the construction of a project to give the plant headquarters on Hunters Trail the ability to treat dramatically more odor-producing compounds than it can now. The project will allow regional water system officials to use more advanced oxidation processes when treating the water before it is ready for the tap. Jennifer Barrington, a system engineer for the regional agency, said the project is expected to be complete by next spring.
"The goal is to beat the next growth season," she said.
That solution is little comfort to Brenda Pruitt, a customer in Anderson who estimates she is spending an extra $20 a week right now on bottled water for herself and her son.
"What we have is terrible," she said. "You can even smell it when you're taking a shower or washing clothes. You have to pay your water bill — and you're paying for something you can't use."