Water Quality Concerns
The Public Utilities Department strives to provide Athens-Clarke County with the highest quality of clean, safe drinking water. Every year, the Water Resources Center's laboratory conducts thousands of tests to ensure the water leaving the J.G. Beacham Drinking Water Treatment Plant complies with all state and federal drinking water guidelines.
Despite our best efforts, there are rare occasions when the water entering your home does not meet the utility's or your expectations. For example, routine fire hydrant flushing, a water main break, or the repair of a damaged fire hydrant can result in discolored water at the faucet. If the water entering your home does not meet your expectations, please see below for possible answers and DIY solutions to many water issues. It is important to note that though aesthetically unappealing, these water quality concerns do not pose a health threat.
If the solutions below do not resolve your water quality issue, please alert the utility to the problem and allow us to correct the issue. Contact information is available at bottom of the page.
What should I do if I have...
Discolored Cold & Hot Water
If your both your cold and hot water contains a brown, red, orange, or yellow tint, an increase in minerals or other sediments in the water pipes is typically the cause. Sediment in water pipes can be disturbed in several ways including routine flushing of fire hydrants, a surge in water flow through the pipes, or repairs to a damaged hydrant or water line. The work may disturb sediment and result in discolored water for customers.
What Should I Do?
Discolored water is not harmful, though it does look unappealing and could have an unpleasant taste. Customers who experience discolored water should run cold water for up to 30 minutes to help remove it from their lines. Using discolored water to wash clothes can result in staining and is not advised. Those who continue to experience discolored water after running cold water should contact the Athens-Clarke County Public Utilities Department at 706-613-3495.
Discolored Hot Water
If you experience discolored water when running the hot faucet only, the likely cause is a build-up of sentiment in your water heater tank.
Another cause could be a corroding sacrificial anode rod in the water heater. The rod is made of magnesium, aluminum, or zinc/aluminum mix. It is designed to slow down corrosion and rusting in water heaters and extend its life. However, once the magnesium or aluminum from your anode is dissolved, the steel walls of your water heater will start to rust. Rust-colored water and a metallic taste in the water can suggest it is time to replace this rod, which typically lasts for three to five years.
What Should I Do?
It is recommended homeowners flush the water heater tank once a year. This process removes sediment from the tank to improve clarity and reduce the chances of stagnant water that can create odors. Homeowners can flush their own water heater with a screwdriver, bucket, and hose. See how to flush a water heater
Water may become cloudy, milky, or white due to an excessive amount of trapped pressurized air in a home’s water pipes or main supply. When water comes out of the tap, the water is no longer under pressure. The air is seen as bubbles, giving the water a cloudy appearance. Cold water holds more air than warm water, so a customer may be more likely to experience cloudy water in the winter months.
What Should I Do?
If your water is white, milky, or cloudy, fill a glass with water and leave it to stand for a few minutes. If the cloudiness clears from the bottom of the glass upwards, this suggests the cause of the cloudy appearance is air. Cloudy water is harmless and can be used for drinking, bathing, and cleaning. If the water does not clear, contact the Public Utilities Department at (706)-613-3481.
Sodium hypochlorite, which is chlorine in its liquid form, is a common disinfectant added to the water distribution system to kill bacteria, viruses, and protozoans. The Public Utilities Department maintains the chlorine in the distribution system at 1 mg/l. For comparison, household bleach is 50,000 mg/l chlorine.
What Causes The Smell?
The EPA mandates a certain level of chlorine must be present in public water supplies, which is known as a “residual.” If the residual is below 0.2 mg/l or exceeds 1mg/l, a noticeable smell will be present.
There are several reasons why the water at your tap may have a fluctuation in the chlorine residual in the system. For instance, when water must travel an extended distance through the pipe system, heavy chlorination is required to compensate for potential dissipation during the journey. Depending on how far down the pipeline you live, the smell may be more or less apparent. Flushing of a fire hydrant or a water main break can lower the chlorine residual. Weather can also contribute to a stronger chlorine smell. Warm weather can cause the residual to disperse more quickly; therefore, the Public Utilities Department must raise the chlorine level accordingly.
What Should You Do?
It is important to note that while a chlorine smell is undoubtedly unpleasant, exposure to levels below 4mg/l poses no risk to human health. However, it’s relatively easy to eliminate the odor with two solutions: time or a carbon water filter.
- Fill a pitcher with water and allow it to sit for several hours on the counter or in the refrigerator. The chlorine will evaporate from the water.
- A faster way to remove the taste of chlorine from your water is to boil the water for about 15-20 minutes. Store the water in a clean container in the refrigerator and use it after it has cooled.
- Though the passage of time will cause chlorinated water to lose its smell, a more immediate resolution is to utilize a water cooler with carbon filtration built in. This can effectively reduce the levels of chlorine odor from water while preserving its quality.
Occasionally customers may discover a slimy, pink film or stain in the sink, toilet, shower, or on other moist surfaces. The pink residue is generally not an indicator of a water quality concern. The culprit is typically Serratia marcescens, an extremely common airborne bacteria found naturally in many places, including soil, dust, and feces. Known for its pinkish-red pigment, S. marcescens needs very little to survive and thrives on moisture, dust, and the phosphates found in soaps, gels, and shampoos.
What Should I Do?
Once the bacteria is established in the area, it is difficult to eliminate. Prevention is key to keep the bacteria from making your home its home. The following are recommendations to control the "pink in the sink":
- Regularly clean the areas the bacteria is likely to grow with a chlorine-based cleaner and soft bristle scrub.
- Drying your sinks and showers after use with a rag or squeegee can prevent the bacteria from taking hold.
- Using disposable wipes with bleach on surfaces can help to inhibit bacteria growth. *NOTE: Do NOT flush the wipe down the toilet after use. This can cause a clog in your pipes and a sewer backup - and more bacteria - entering your home.
- Serratia marcescens does not survive in chlorinated water. To keep it out of your toilet bowl, place 1/4 cup of chlorine bleach into your toilet tank. Allow it to sit for 15-20 minutes, then flush the tank to allow the bowl to be disinfected. Flush the toilet a few times to remove the disinfectant. *NOTE: We do not recommend using toilet "cakes" or leaving bleach in the toilet tank for extended periods of time. Standing, heavy doses of bleach can damage the valves and rubber seals, leading to costly toilet leaks.
- Though bleach is best, homeowners can use a solution of one-part vinegar and one-part water to battle the bacteria. Spray the mix over the area and scrub with a soft brush.
A "rotten egg" smell is caused by hydrogen sulfide gas or sulfur bacteria. The hydrogen sulfide can be found naturally in groundwater or wells. Tap water delivered from the ACC Public Utilities Department is pulled from surface water, specifically the Middle and North Oconee Rivers and the Bear Creek Reservoir, so it is unlikely a rotten egg smell in the water is from the source.
To determine the cause, check to see if the odor comes from both the cold and hot water faucets.
- If no odor from the cold water faucet, the problem is likely in the water heater.
- If odor from both the cold and hot water faucet, do you have a water softener?
- If there is no smell from faucets not connected to the water softener, then the problem is likely sulfur bacteria in the water softener.
- If the smell comes from all faucets without a water softener, the problem is likely sulfur bacteria in the plumbing system.
What Should I Do?
If the problem is with your hot water, then start with your water heater.
- Flush your water heater. You will need a hose, screwdriver, and bucket.
- Replace the sacrificial anode rod. The rod, which is attached to a plug located on top of the water heater, typically lasts three to five years. Replacing the anode rod can eliminate the sulfur smell and extend the life of your water heater. You may need to consult an experienced plumber or water professional for assistance with the repair and to determine if a replacement anode made of a different material, such as zinc, can be installed to assist with odor prevention.
- Increase the water heater temperature to 160 degrees Fahrenheit (71 degrees Celsius) for 6-10 hours. The high temperatures should kill the odor-causing bacteria. Turn off the tank and allow the water to cool, then flush again to remove the dead bacteria. Remember to lower the thermostat setting reduce the water temperature after the process to avoid injury from scalding water.
- If the problem is in a water softener or other treatment devices, contact the installer or manufacturer for disinfection instructions.
Cloudy water, taste, smell, or general drinking water quality questions:
Drinking Water Treatment Plant
To report discolored water or questions:
Water & Sewer Division
Monday-Friday, 8:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.
Drinking Water Treatment Plant
Water Sampling & Testing
ACC Extension Office
For information about water sampling, please call Laura Ney at (404) 617-7209.