Help I Have Brown Water! Now what?
The presence of brown or murky water can be a very stressful occurrence, especially if you are preparing a bath for your young child, or need the water to boil spaghetti. This event occurs more times than any Water Company will ever admit, and is normally not a very important issue regarding the safety of the water, and normally a small amount of time will eventually clear the brown or murkiness from the water.
What is essential to understand, is the reason that the water turns brown or murky. In almost all situations, the reason is suspended particles within the clean water. These particles are being introduced into the domestic water supply from the exterior, and is not common to the normal drinking water. In many cases, the emptying of a tub or sink, will leave a film of particles, sand and silt, that have settled out of the water. This settlement will normally be a silty or sandy material, that can be easily wiped from the bottom of the basin, once the water has drained away.
There are several different scenarios that can occur, which will cause the domestic water supply to turn brown or murky.
1.) The principal reason that your water will become brown, is the manipulation of the primary water lines in the street. In many cases, if there is substantial work being done on the primary lines in the street, the Water Company will be responsible for notifying all of the residents of that particular street. In some cases, dependent upon the municipality and the Water Company, this notification will become the responsibility of the contractor that is performing the work on the water lines. This notification will be issued to prevent the myriad of complaints and phone calls, that will be perpetuated by the appearance of brown or murky water. In most cases, the notification will inform the residence when the work is being accomplished, and will identify the length of time that the water should not be considered drinking quality. This does not mean that the water is dangerous, just that it will not appear to be clear and may have a partial odor or taste if used for cooking or drinking. In this case the Water Company will recommend the use of bottled water for drinking and cooking, until the proper time has passed to allow the murkiness to settle out of the water. The Water Company will normally perform testing on the water and will notify the residents when the water is potable, or suitable for drinking and cooking.
2.) A secondary subcontractor is working on the lines adjacent to the home, or within the neighborhood. In many cases, when there is a need to connect what is called a lateral to the main line in the street, by a private contractor, the notification will be compromised, and not as official as the work being performed by the water company or a primary contractor on the main line. This occurs quite often, and the subcontractor tying into the main line has no obligation to inform the residents on the street of this connection. In many cases, this type of connection will cause dirty water for a very short period of time, and the water will quickly become clear. A lateral is the specific lines that run from the primary waterline in the street to the individual buildings or residences.
3.) There has been a major break in the primary waterline, that has caused a surge of water, or a quick, unexpected emptying of the system due to the break. This will normally occur in the inner cities, such as New York City, where the waterlines are tremendously old and fragile. The waterlines can break at any given time and cause a wide open flow of water. If this occurs, the dirtiness of the water may last for several days and or weeks, prior to the water clarifying. This situation can cause a surge in the pressure within the line and a rapid decrease in the pressure, both of which can cause the water to become brown or murky.
4.) There has been a major, primary usage of water from the main line in the street. This could occur due to a fire, or similar emergency, that required the use of a large quantity of water. The fast moving water through the primary line, will cause the internal corrosion of the line to break away and dirty the water with suspended sediment. Again, this dirty water could linger for days or even weeks, prior to clarifying. This situation is usually caused by a huge and powerful flow of water through the lines and will probably be identified by the news media, regarding a major fire, or other requirement for water usage. This large usage of water can also occur within the local water treatment plants, where the flow of the water is large and the flow is quickened throughout the line.
5.) The water can become brown or murky due to the simple breaking off of internal corrosion within the domestic water lines, either the primary line in the street, or the smaller independent line , leading to your home. This could occur with a change in pressure, a surge in the flow of water, or anything that would cause a change in the constant pressure and flow within the pipes. This occurrence is impossible to predict, and could happen at any time. Of course the older the neighborhood, the older the home, the older the waterlines, and therefore the corrosion on the interior of the lines. If this corrosion breaks off, there may be a period of time that the water is brown, murky or tainted. Normally, time will allow the corrosion to settle, and the water will be clear and become brilliant within hours of the incident.
6.) The occurrence of an earthquake, hurricane, tornado or any major storm that could cause water to rise, or pipes to break. Any breaking of the primary water pipes within the municipality will cause the adjacent usage of water, to become murky and sandy. In many instances, the water flow will cease if the lines have been totally severed or crushed.
What is the general action required for brown or murky water?
Normally and in most cases, nothing. I recommend that the water not be used for drinking, it is probably totally safe, however, with the advent of bottled water, use bottled water for cooking and drinking, until the domestic water clears up. The storage of 5 or 10 gallons of bottled water is a great method of ensuring, that if the water appears tainted, you will have bottled water for that special spaghetti dish or your morning coffee.
Whatever caused the tainted water, will probably be solved within hours of the occurrence. If a broken pipe was the cause, the repair will be immediately performed. If a piece of the internal corrosion has broken off, the murkiness will be temporary. In most cases, the water will clear up in a matter of hours and certainly days. The only time that a more substantial time is required, is the effect of a major storm or catastrophe such as 9-11 where the primary lines were all broken, and a substantial compromise of the water system has occurred.
Aside from simply waiting for the water to clear, I would recommend;
1.) If you are concerned about the cause, and feel that this is something you must communicate with your Water Company, by all means, give them a call. In most cases, they will know the reason, and the solution is simply waiting for the water to clear. There are times, when a water leak has occurred or a pipe has broken, that only effects your own home. If you should suspect this, then call your local plumber for an investigation.
2.) If there is a puddle of water forming within your property, then probably the line that has caused the murkiness, is a broken water line for your own home. This can occur if a fitting split, or a pipe was hit and broken. If water is flowing from an open waterline, normally, this would become apparent on the surface of the ground as a large puddle that is growing. If the line is broken, unless you call the Water Company to shut the water line off at the curb box, there is no way that you, as the homeowner can stop the flow of water. Your primary shutoff is within your home and will be after the break in the waterline within the ground.
3.) Allow the water to run, from as many of your water spigots, as possible. The continual flushing of the system will accelerate the clearing of the water, by moving the sediment out of the system. Do not run the hot water, only the cold water. You are not interested in heating water that is merely going down the drain. The less you use the hot water the better, for energy reasons as well as sediment collection within the hot water heater.
4.) If there are issues with the flow of the water, after the murkiness has dissipated, the various strainers for the faucets, showers and especially the hoses in the back of your washing machine, should be cleaned or replaced. The strainers are positioned at the input of the water into the washer, or the output of the water from the shower heads and faucets located throughout the home. The sediment that caused the murkiness, will probably have clogged the strainers, and caused the flow of water to diminish or actually stop. Cleaning the strainers will eliminate this issue. It is recommended that even if the flow of the water does not appear to be compromised, the strainers be rinsed off to allow maximum function.
5.) Try not to run the hot water, while the water is murky. If there is a flow of water through the hot water system, there will be an accumulation of sediment in the hot water tank. This could cause future issues, if the water is continuously replaced by a constant stream of murky, sediment filled water. Try to limit the use of any hot water throughout the murkiness stages.
Again, the murkiness, brown or color tainted water, is normally a very temporary condition. The storage of bottled water for cooking and drinking is a great solution to this issue. If you feel the need, a quick call to the local Water Company will normally dispel your fears of contamination of the water with anything more than, silt and sand in the water.
DO NOT PANIC / THE ISSUE WILL NORMALLY RESOLVE ITSELF / VERY QUICKLY!