2023 March 2, Thursday
BlairToday Staff

Each year, the lighted sign in front of Washington County Bank tells how many days until spring arrives. Spring is a welcome time for Blair residents as snow and ice melt, the sun is out longer, and we can open windows to bring in fresh air before pollen storms hit sometime in April.

Spring is not really a season in Nebraska. It’s more an event. A time to celebrate as we thank God we traversed another gross, icy, brutal winter.

Even before the sun warms our skin, even before “spring cleanings” begin, there is another surety which arrives sometime in late February or early March: The water smells like a pond, river, or fish tank out of our taps.

It’s gross. Not just a “bad” smell, it’s a smell that – if not for coming out of my tap – I would never put a glass of it to my lips. Or, bathe in it. Or, even allow my dog to drink it.

The water’s smell during this time in Blair is something I never experienced before I moved here. I’ve lived in Louisiana, the Virgin Islands (I’ll get to that in a moment), and Florida for many years. I visited nearly every state in America. And, the water in Blair is, by a very long, wide margin, the worst smelling (make that scary smelling in a way that makes me feel leery about drinking, bathing in, or even breathing steam sourced from) I ever experienced.

Now, the Virgin Islands offered a similar experience (similar, not as a bad, but similar) because we did not have “city water,” we had a cistern below our living room that was actual runoff water from our roof. We did not drink that water, and it had a similar smell to what Blair’s water smells like at times – minus the chemical smell. Yet, in the case of the Virgin Islands (St. Thomas, to be specific), we knew the cause of the smell, we never used it for cooking or drinking, and we were told in advance what to expect. (ie Don’t drink the water!)

(As I write this, I must admit I never thought I’d compare the smell of that cistern-supplied water to a municipal water supply.)

The smell of Blair’s water each spring will modify soon after the initial “pond water” smell as, I assume, chemicals are added to treat it. Those chemicals do exactly nothing to engender my confidence that the water is anymore “safe,” rather it just smells like pond water infused with chemicals – which, may, in fact, make the water safe to drink, but still do not smell or feel any safer.

So, is Blair, Nebraska’s water safe to drink? The smell may be gross, nasty, sickening, scary, and weird, but those descriptors do not mean your water is unsafe. I grant that. I’m not a water quality expert and make no claims about the safety of Blair’s water supply.

What I will do, is report what I’ve been told.

First, when the smell began this year, I emailed the water department. Their reply was short and clear: “Yes, The water is safe to drink. With the rain we had last week and all the ice dams breaking lose, the river got very dirty. We then have to treat it accordingly. Today the river is still dirtier than normal but it is getting better. You may still smell chlorine for a day or two.” (Email received 2023 February, 20, Monday.)

Next, from my article with our mayor, Mindy Rump, “Since our water system is supplied directly from the Missouri river, seasonal or weather-related events (such as heavy rainfall upstream, ice/snow melt, and releases from upstream dams) creates variability in the source water supply and requires adjustments to the treatment process. This may occasionally result in changes to the taste or smell of water, but does not mean that the water is unsafe to drink.”

From two official sources, I personally contacted, I’m told the water is safe to drink. I write this unironically, and without sarcasm:

The water, according to our Mayor, and the water department is SAFE TO DRINK.

Source: Mayor Mindy Rump, and the Blair Municipal Water Department

Those assurances, though, do not allow my nose, taste-buds, or “common sense” (as uneducated as it may be on the topic), to put Blair water to my lips and swallow. And, I would love to know how much of Blair’s tap water people in town actually drink when it smells like runoff from someone’s carp farm.

If you want to learn more about the quality of Blair’s water, here are three resources. You will need to learn what levels, of what chemicals, are in what range, to be “safe” or legal.

  1. Blair’s annual water reports are online. (Note that I did not find the 2022 report.)
  2. EWG’s report on Blair’s water.
  3. A New York Times report on Blair’s water.

The Mayor and water department may be 100% correct about Blair’s water. But, I will not drink, cook with, or breath steam generated by it when it smells like a water that sat outside in a once-deeper pool, fed by “Fish Creek,” at the end of dry-spell in July… Or, whatever other metaphor you want to use.


I’m not doing it. Do what you want. The Mayor and water department are the official word on this in Blair – word I won’t dispute – in this article, but am willing to learn enough about to change my mind on.

But, if I my nose won’t let it pass my lips, onto my tongue because it feels like it’s bathed it something unusually-inorganic, then, I just… can’t… do it.