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Water causes worries in Stafford and lower Potomac

Tuesday - 8/16/2011, 4:04am  ET

(WTOP Photo/Ed Kelleher)
Make sure you bathe, if you swim in the lower Potomac River. (WTOP File Photo/Colleen Kelleher)

Hank Silverberg, wtop.com

WASHINGTON -- How safe is the water you drink and the water you swim in?

Water from the Abel Lake Water System in Stafford County fell short of federal standards after the county failed to remove the required levels of organic carbon during the last year.

The water is safe to drink, says county spokeswoman Cathy Riddle, but the county is notifying the public of the issue.

Affected residents will receive letters in the mail this week alerting them about the problem.

The carbon comes from leaves and other plant life.

"Last Wednesday, we started adding ferric sulfate to our water at Abel Lake," says Riddle, which she says should handle the organic carbon.

"Nobody needs to buy bottled water or boil their water."

The matter at Abel Lake comes as the region deals with an algal bloom in the Potomac River, where officials have warned people to avoid contact with water. The harmful water has been detected in parts of the lower Potomac River, about 30 miles south of the water intake valves that serve millions of people.

The hot, dry weather has caused the algae to bloom at higher rates this summer, officials say. The blooms have begun to dissipate because of the recent rainfall, but officials remain concerned.

Maryland's Department of Health recommends people avoid contact with the water in the Mattawoman Creek area, although a similar warning for Aquia Creek on the Virginia side of the Potomac has been lifted.

The health department advises anyone swimming or having contact with water in the lower Potomac to wash after getting out of the water.

Algal blooms can cause environmental problems for the river. In some circumstances, algal blooms can block sunlight and use up all the oxygen in the water, killing other plants and animals. The current bloom is not dense enough to create this effect, officials say.

To learn more about harmful algae, click here.

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(Copyright 2011 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)