Water Quality Solutions

Common Water Quality Issues and Solutions


Blue staining is caused by a reaction of water with copper pipes. This usually occurs in newer plumbing systems, and when water sits in copper pipes for an extended period of time, usually six hours or more.

Running the water for 15 to 60 seconds, or until the water becomes colder, clears out the pipes and brings fresh system water into your home. Keeping the fixtures dry and drip-free also helps keep the staining at a minimum.

The City of Olympia uses chlorine to disinfect the drinking water. We use the minimum amount necessary to keep the water safe to drink.

If you do not like the taste/odor of chlorine in your water, simply fill a pitcher with water and leave it uncovered in the refrigerator overnight. The small amount of chlorine in the water will evaporate.

Copper is a naturally occurring metal found in the earth's crust. It is widely used in household plumbing materials. Since copper contamination generally occurs from corrosion of household copper pipes, it cannot be directly detected or removed by the water system. Instead, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires water system operators to control the corrosiveness of the drinking water.

For corrosion control, the City of Olympia uses air strippers as a treatment technique at Shana Park Well 11 and the two Allison Springs wells. Air strippers work by bubbling air through the water to raise the pH, therefore reducing the acidity of the water.

The City of Olympia does not add fluoride to our drinking water. However, small amounts of fluoride may occur naturally.

Lead in drinking water comes from corrosion of brass faucets and lead-based solder used to join pre-1986 household copper pipe. Lead pipes and plumbing fittings have been banned since August 1998.

Lead may dissolve into water when it has not been used for six hours or longer. Running the cold water for 15 to 60 seconds or until the water temperature drops will remove the stagnant water and bring fresh system water into your home.

It is important to use water from the cold water tap for cooking and drinking to minimize lead exposure from your pipes. Hot water can contain higher concentrations of metals, including lead. Water is not the leading source of lead, although most lead exposure in household water comes from your plumbing.

A metallic taste in the water is usually caused by rusting of galvanized plumbing pipes or air bubbles in the water. See White/Cloudy Color and Yellow Color sections below.

Bright pink stains on fixtures, counter-top surfaces, and pet dishes are caused by the interaction of oxygen in the air with dissolved rust, resulting in iron hydroxide deposits on these surfaces.

If you have this problem, run the cold water for 15 to 60 seconds or until there is a drop in the water temperature. Keeping the surfaces dry also helps solve this problem.

Pale pink stains or black-gray stains around bathtubs or showers may be a form of mildew. Keep fixtures dry to help reduce this problem.

Rust particles in water (orange/brown water color) and spurts of air are caused most frequently when the City of Olympia shuts down the water main to make repairs. On galvanized steel pipe plumbing systems (typically found in older homes), air trapped in the system rapidly expands when a valve is opened. Then, large quantities of rust break loose from the plumbing system and orange/brown water appears.

Running the cold water for 3 minutes should provide clear water. Sometimes this problem goes on for several days before it clears up. Aerators on spigots should also be cleaned periodically to remove any accumulated rust particles. Use only clear water from the cold water tap for drinking and cooking.

Some City of Olympia water customers receive their drinking water from groundwater sources during the summer months. Small amounts of sand sometimes occurs in the drinking water because of this source. Running your water for a few minutes should clear the sand.

Sand-like particles, called grit, can occur in home plumbing systems as a result of rust particles from galvanized steel pipe. Grit can also occur from mineral scale sloughing off the pipe walls. A steel table knife or pocketknife blade will crush rust or mineral scale, while true sand will resist crushing.

Sometimes this grit causes premature failure of faucets, affects the operation of faucet aerators, accumulates in the bottom of hot water heaters, and causes washing machines to fill slowly. If you notice less water coming from your faucets remove any aerators or attachments and clean the screens. Also, flush your hot water heater to remove any grit or sand buildup. If your washing machine is filling too slowly, you should replace the screen filters where the hot and cold water hoses enter the back of the machine.

The City of Olympia's drinking water is considered "slightly hard" at 55-60 milligrams per liter (mg/L). The hardness scale is:

Classification            mg/L or ppm            Grains per gallon

Soft                           0 - 17.1                      0 - 1

Slightly hard               17.1 - 60                    1 - 3.5

Moderately Hard         60 - 120                     3.5 - 7.0

Hard                          120 - 180                   7.0 - 10.5

Hardness refers to dissolved minerals (calcium and magnesium) in the water. The hardness of the water can interfere with the sudsing action of soap. The harder the water, the lesser the sudsing action. The water you receive is slightly hard. You should refer to the owner's manual of washing machines, dishwashers, etc., to determine the amount of soap needed for the hardness of the water. This information is also important for fishtanks and other hobbies.

According to plumbing industry sources, up to 90 percent of residential water heaters built between 1993 and 1996 have a defective polypropylene "dip tube" inside the unit. Dip tubes are designed to deliver cold water to the bottom of the water heater so it does not mix with the already heated water in the upper portion of the unit. These defective dip tubes break down inside the water heater and cause plastic chips to flow to water faucets. The chips do not pose a health risk, but they can decrease water flow from household faucets and appliances and diminish water heater efficiency and effectiveness.

If you experience this problem, determine the make and model of your hot water heater and make arrangements to have the dip tube replaced.

Cloudy, milky, or white water is usually caused by an abundance of small air bubbles in the water. These harmless bubbles enter the water when air is drawn into the water transmission system.

Fill a clear glass with cold water and if the cloudiness clears from the bottom up, air is in the water line.

When the water clears, people usually report seeing a thin film on top of the water, an increased odor, and sometimes a metallic taste. The thin film is the micro-particles in the water, the odor is the gases stripped from the water, and the metallic taste is thought to be the bubbles' effect on the mouth.

Run the water for a few minutes to see if the water clears. If the water does not clear contact the City of Olympia Drinking Water Operations 360.753.8333.

Yellow-colored water, and sometimes an iron-like taste, is caused by rusting of galvanized steel pipe in home plumbing. Rust dissolves into the water when it sits in the pipes overnight or is unused during the day.

Running the cold tap for 15 to 60 seconds, or until the water temperature drops, will usually clear the problem. Aerators on spigots should also be cleaned periodically because rust flakes will accumulate on the screens. Use only clear water from the cold water tap for drinking and cooking.


Still Having Issues?

Contact Cheri reimers at 360.709.2774 or creimers@ci.olympia.wa.us