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Lower High Falls, Talladega Forest - Bill Wilson
Common Water Quality Complaints

Color Problems

Brown, red, orange, or yellow water is usually caused by rust. The different colors can be attributed to varying chemical oxidation states of the iron (rust) and by varying concentrations of the rust in the water. There are two major sources that can cause water to be rust: the water mains, or the water pipes in your building. Iron can also occur naturally in your water. Another possible cause of brown water is manganese.

Milky white water, also commonly described as cloudy, hazy, soapy, or foamy, is almost always caused by air in the water. To see if the white color in the water is due to air, fill a clear glass with water and set it on the counter. Observe the glass of water for 2 or 3 minutes. If the white color is due to air, the water will begin to clear at the bottom of the glass first and then gradually will clear all the way to the top. This is a natural phenomenon and is caused by dissolved air in the water that is released when the faucet is opened. When you relieve the pressure by opening the faucet and filling your glass with water, the air is now free to escape from the water, giving it a milky appearance for a few minutes. If your water is cloudy or milky white in appearance and it does not clear in a glass after 5 minutes, if you are on public water system please contact the public water department in your city or town. If the water is from your own well, please contact your county health department.

Pink slime on fixtures, toilet waterline, or sink/shower surface is typically caused by airborne bacteria (Serratia marcescens) growing on surfaces that are regularly moistened. Clean and dry surfaces frequently, and use a chlorinated cleaner.

Taste/Odor Problems

Chlorinous, Bleachy, Chemical, or Medicinal Taste/Odor
There are two common causes for a chlorinous, bleachy, chemical, or medicinal taste or odor in the water: which are the addition of chlorine to the water by your public water supplier, or the interaction of that chlorine with a build-up of organic material in your plumbing system.

The first step to identifying and solving the problem is to determine if the problem exists in the public water supply or in your plumbing. If the problem occurs in only one or several – but not all – of the water faucets inside your building, the cause is somewhere in your plumbing system. If the problem is in the water supply, it will occur at every water faucet on the property. If the problem goes away after running the water for a few minutes, the cause is somewhere in your plumbing system. If the problem is in the water supply, it will not disappear after a few minutes of running the water. If the problem appears to be in your plumbing system, then you should either flush the plumbing system or contact a licensed plumber. If the problem appears to be in the public water supply and the odor seems too strong, contact your public water department. The EPA offers additional information on chlorine and its by-products.

Sulfurous, Decayed, or Sewage-like Taste/Odor
There are two common causes of a sulfurous, decayed, or sewage-like taste or odor in the water:

Bacteria growing in your drain, or Bacteria growing in your water heater.

By far, the most common cause of this type of problem is the drain. Over time, organic matter (such as hair, soap, and food waste) can accumulate on the walls of the drain and bacteria can grow on these organic deposits. The bacteria can produce a gas that smells like rotten eggs or sewage. There is nothing wrong with the water; you just need to disinfect the drain. To make sure the problem is not in the tap water, fill a narrow glass with a small amount of tap water, then step away from the sink and swirl the water around inside the glass. If the problem is in the drain, the tap water in the glass should not have an odor.

Another cause of a rotten egg or sewage smell in the water is bacteria growing in the water heater. This is most likely to occur if the hot water has been unused for a significant period of time, if the water heater has been turned off for a while, or if the thermostat on the heater is set too low. The bacteria that produce this problem are not a health threat; however, the taste and odor can be very unpleasant. A licensed plumber should be contacted to remedy this problem. If problems with the drain or water heater have been ruled out, and the odor is definitely coming from the tap water, do not use the water; it may contain harmful bacteria, contact your public water department immediately. If the water is from your own well, please contact your local health department; a defective or improperly located septic system may be near your well.

Particles in Water

White or tan particles in the water usually come from one of three places:

The inside of your pipes, your water heater, or your water softener.

White or tan particles can be a combination of calcium carbonate and magnesium carbonate; this material is often referred to as pipe scale. Calcium and magnesium carbonates are naturally occurring minerals and are found in varying concentrations in most waters around the world. These minerals are not a health threat; in fact, they are beneficial to human health. The amounts of these minerals in the water determine the hardness of the water; higher mineral concentrations make the water harder. Over time, these minerals can deposit on the inside of your pipes and then begin to flake off. If the water supplied by your city becomes softer or if you add a water softener to your plumbing system, the softer water can begin to redissolve the minerals from the pipes and pieces may begin to break loose. These are all common causes of pipe scale in the water and account for most customer complaints about white or tan particles in the water. Although pipe scale is not a health hazard, it can be a nuisance by clogging inlet screens to washing machines, shower heads, and faucet aerators (the screen that screws on to the end of the water faucet).