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Gross. Awful. Funky. Kansas City residents demand to know why their tap water tastes so bad

A woman's hand holds a clear glass tumbler beneath a faucet that is filling the glass with tap water.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Kansas City gets its tap water from the Missouri River, which undergoes seasonal changes every year that alter its taste and smell.

Many residents took to social media on Friday to complain that the city's tap water started tasting like "the shallow end of a kiddie pool." But Kansas City officials assure that it's still safe to drink.

Many Kansas City, Missouri, residents woke up Friday morning to find that their tap water was tasting not quite right — and went straight to social media to complain about it.

Peppering their tweets with adjectives like, “gross,” “awful,” “funky,” and “horrible,” many commenters asked if their water was OK to drink.

To answer the immediate question: Yes, Kansas City tap water is still safe.

“It’s perfectly fine,” says KC Water spokesperson Heather Frierson.

Frierson explains that the changes to the city's tap water are temporary, and they happen nearly every spring. Each year, KC Water workers brace themselves for the calls and questions that typically follow.

“The weather conditions — they sometimes affect the taste and odor of the water, but it does not affect the water quality,” Frierson says. "The water is safe to drink. But we do get a lot of calls around this time because people notice the change.”

Changes to water taste and odor often appear after heavy rain, which affect the Missouri River and connected sources thatfeed the city’s water supply. Melting snow from Western mountains can affect the water too.

KC Water also performs treatments on the water, which also affect its taste and odor, and changes its operations based on the season.

“KC Water performs continuous monitoring and extensive laboratory testing of the drinking water that is supplied throughout Kansas City to ensure that safe water is delivered to customers,” reads a statement from the Kansas City, Missouri, government.

Frierson acknowledges that the water's taste and smell may be off-putting, and she advises that it may help to run the water briefly before drinking it.

But she insists that the changes should be resolved soon.

“You don’t have to go out and buy a bunch of bottled water,” Frierson says. “Because it will dissipate in a few days, as long as we don’t get another heavy, heavy rain.”

As a health care reporter, I aim to empower my audience to take steps to improve health care and make informed decisions as consumers and voters. I tell human stories augmented with research and data to explain how our health care system works and sometimes fails us. Email me at alexs@kcur.org.
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