Why your drinking water may taste funny through later summer and early fall

The City of Sacramento fields this question a lot, and it turns out the answer is simple, harmless, and something you can solve with a few ice cubes and a wedge of lemon.

Water dripping from a tap in front of a yellow background.

Our favorite fall flavors: pumpkin spice, maple, and dirt.

Photo via Pexels

Apparently, the City of Sacramento fields this question a lot this time of year. You may have noticed a slightly musty, beet-like taste or odor in your drinking water.

The cause: geosmin. The organic compound is produced by algae and enters our water supply from upstream reservoirs and rivers. Since it’s totally harmless, systems that filter and disinfect our water may miss trace amounts.

Humans can detect a hundredth of a microgram of geosmin in a liter of water, leading to an earthy taste. In fact, geosmin — from the Greek words “earth” and “smell” — is responsible for petrichor, the word for that after-rain smell.

But if you have a sensitive palate and want a refreshing, geosmin-free glass of water, the city recommends adding a spritz of lemon or lime. Plus, the compound is harder to detect in chilled water.

All that said, call 311 and check the city’s water quality portal if you’re worried about other, not-as-harmless chemicals in your water.