Why Does My Water Have a Bad Taste / Odor?

Unpleasant Tastes & Odors

Occasionally, customers of the Norfolk Water System including citizens in Norfolk, Virginia Beach, and Chesapeake may notice a difference in the taste or smell of their drinking water. Bad tasting or smelling water is most often caused by an excessive growth of algae in the city's reservoirs. These algae give off certain natural substances that cause the water to taste or smell different than you are used to.


This water is still safe to drink. Neither the odor nor the taste pose a health threat. The algae produce compounds which are offensive, but not harmful.

How the Department of Utilities Helps

When changes occur, we adjust our treatment processes to try and reduce the tastes and odors as much as we can. Unfortunately, most of these natural substances are very difficult to remove from water using current treatment methods.

How Long the Odor / Taste May Last

It's hard to tell how long the offensive odor or taste may last; every situation is different. Our lakes are natural systems that respond to changes in the environment. Some of these changes such as temperature and stormwater runoff are beyond our control and can cause excessive algae growth in our reservoirs. Although difficult to predict, it can take as long as a month for the water to return to normal.


When we become aware of a major change in the way the water tastes or smells, the media are notified through press releases.

Additional Information

If you need more information on Norfolk's drinking water, please contact the Division of Water Quality at 757-441-5678, between the hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m, Monday through Friday.