Click here to Return to opening page If Your Tap Water Appears Brown,
Red, Orange, or Yellow in Color

Brown, red, orange, or yellow water is caused by rust in the water. 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 rusty: 1) the Water Board's water mains or 2) the water pipes in your house, apartment, or business.

The Water Board's annual flushing program normally removes any sediment accumulated in the mains serving the majority of our customers. However, in areas of low flow where aging pipes contribute rust and sediment, discoloration of the water can occur.

If an unusual flow of water through the main occurs, this sediment can become disturbed and temporarily suspended in the water causing a brown, red, orange, or yellow color. Unusual water flows are commonly caused by a broken water main, the Water Board repairing/replacing a water main, a fire hydrant being knocked off its base due to an automobile accident, or by someone operating a fire hydrant nearby. This type of disturbance usually lasts for approximately two to four hours after which time the sediment will settle out and the water will clear. This discolored water is not a health threat. If you, your child, or your pet happen to drink some of the discolored water, it will not make you sick. As the rust can stain clothing, it is best to wait several hours for the water to clear before doing any laundry. Also, do not use any hot water as you may draw this rusty water into your hot water tank, which may have to be flushed out later. If you were doing laundry when the water became discolored, rewash the laundry later when the water clears. Use a rust stain remover or regular detergent. DO NOT USE CHLORINE BLEACH. Chlorine reacts with iron and can form a permanent stain.

The major cause of brown, red, orange, or yellow water is rusty water pipes in your house, apartment, or business. There are two commonly used water pipes - copper and galvanized steel. Copper pipes are usually considered to be better because they last longer and generally do not significantly affect water quality as they age. They are also more expensive than galvanized steel pipes, so the steel pipe is still often used. On average, galvanized steel pipes will last about 20 years before showing signs of corrosion (rusting). Well-made galvanized pipe can last as long as 40 years, while poorly made pipe can show signs of corroding in just a few years. If old, rusty pipes are discoloring your water, the only permanent solution is to replace them. Replacing only some of the pipes can improve the problem, or it can actually make it worse. If some of the old steel pipes are replaced with new copper pipes and the two different metals are connected directly together, the copper can cause the steel to rust even more than before the replacement. This process can be stopped with the use of proper dielectric coupling between the two dissimilar pipes. Consult an experienced seller of plumbing materials or an experienced plumber. Water that is being discolored by rusty pipes is not a health hazard, however, it is an indication that pipes are corroding and they can eventually begin leaking. Back to Top

The first step in solving a brown or yellow water problem is to determine its origin - if the problem is coming from your home/business's plumbing at some point after the water meter or if it is coming from the Water Board's distribution system.

The following are some common indications that the problem is coming from the Water Board's distribution system:

  • The water was clear earlier but suddenly became discolored.
  • Only the cold water is discolored.
  • The water is discolored at all of the water faucets on the property and does not clear or improve after the water has been run for several minutes.

Some common indications that the problem is coming from the customer's plumbing include:

  • The water is discolored every morning or when first used after several hours of disuse.
  • The water clears after it has run for a few minutes.
  • The discoloration is only at one or several faucets, but not all of them.
  • The discoloration is only in the hot water.

If you are still not sure if the discolored water is due to your plumbing or if it's coming from the Water Board's water mains, do the following:

  • When you notice the water is discolored, turn off the faucet.
  • Immediately take a clean glass or a white bowl and go to the water faucet (hose bib) at the front of your house, apartment, or business. This faucet is usually near the main water shut-off valve for the property.
  • Turn the water on wide-open and run it for a full two minutes. Check your watch - two minutes is a long time.
  • After two minutes, fill the glass or bowl with water.

If the water is clear at the front faucet, your plumbing is likely the culprit. If the problem becomes chronic and the water supply at the front is always clear, you should consult a plumber.

If the water at the front tap is discolored after running for two minutes, the problem is likely coming from the Water Board's distribution system. If the water does not clear within five minutes, contact the Water Board at 267-3128. If you call after hours, please leave a message that includes your name, address, telephone number, and a brief description of your problem or request. We will return your call at the earliest opportunity.

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