Troubleshoot Water at Your Tap
We take great pride in delivering a product that exceeds all drinking water standards set by state and federal governments. Sometimes, however, you may notice a change in the water at your tap. The information below summarizes the most common causes of issues our customers have related to their water quality. These issues are categorized by taste and odor, color or appearance, and particles in water.
If you recently moved to the service area, your new water may taste different to you. Just as various brands of bottled water taste different due to the varying minerals they contain, the taste of domestic drinking water also varies with its source(s). Be assured that the drinking water that we provide meets or surpasses all State and Federal drinking water standards.
It is important to determine if the odor exists in the public water supply, premise plumbing, environment (potential drain odor).
- Odors that are consistently noticed at every faucet including the front hose bib are typically caused by the water supply
- Odor noticed in only one or several, but not all, of the faucets is internal to your house
- Odor that goes away after running the water for several minutes is also internal to your house
- Odor that goes away after you step away from the sink is often coming from the drain
If your plumbing is the source of the odor, you can try to flush the plumbing system or you can consult a licensed plumber. Contact CCWD at (925) 688-8156 if you suspect the water supply.
Test for Odors
When you detect an odor in your tap water, we recommend that you perform what we call a glass test at the faucet.
- Get a clean glass
- Run the cold water tap for 2 minutes
- Fill and rinse twice with cold tap water
- Fill the glass and turn off the faucet or hose bib
- Step away from the sink. This eliminates the possibility of mistaking odors from your drain for odors in your water
- Smell the water in the glass and characterize the odor, if any
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.
- Addition of chloramine (total chlorine) that we use to disinfect the water to ensure that it is safe to drink
- Interaction of chloramine with a build-up of organic material in your plumbing
If the problem is the water supply, it will occur at every faucet and will not go away after a few minutes of running the water. An easy way to get rid of the chlorine taste and smell is to let water sit in a glass for a few minutes. Then, put the water in a covered container and chill it in the refrigerator. Cold water tastes and smells better than water at room temperature.
Although the total chlorine level is a fraction of what is found in pools and spas, you may occasionally detect the smell of chlorine in your water. This odor may be particularly strong in the shower since chlorine is released to the air more rapidly when mixed with hot water.
Foul, Sulfurous, Rotten Egg, and Sewage Odor
- Cold Water:If the odor is not evident in the glass, but is noticeable when the cold water is running and you are standing at the sink, then the odor is most likely coming from the drain. To disinfect your drain:
- Run cold water for 15 seconds then turn if off.
- Pour one to two cups of liquid laundry bleach down the drain(s) that smell. Pour the bleach slowly around the edges of the drain so that it runs down the sides. Be careful when you handle the bleach because it can irritate skin and damage clothing.
- If the smell is coming from a sink with a garbage disposal, turn the disposal on while the bleach is poured. This will spread the bleach around.
- Let the bleach sit in the drain for about 10 minutes ─ no longer.
- After 10 minutes, run the hot water for a few minutes to flush the bleach. Run water down the garbage disposal drain for the same amount of time.
- Repeat these steps if again if necessary.
- Hot Water:If you find these odors in your hot water, there are two probable causes:
- Bacteria may be residing in the water heater. Disinfecting the water heater may eliminate this odor.
- The water heater anode may need to be replaced. If experienced, inspect the anode yourself; otherwise, call a plumber.
- Earthy, Musty, Moldy, Grassy Odor
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 cause bacteria to grow on these organic deposits. To make sure the problem is not in the tap water, fill a 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.
These odors may be caused by an algae bloom. On occasion, mainly during periods of warm weather, CCWD can experience unusually large algal blooms in our source water, some consumers may experience some unpleasant taste and/or odor associated with their drinking water - musty, dirty or "earthy". Some important information and tips to know:
- Algal tastes and odors are purely aesthetic and pose no health risks. CCWD continues to meet or exceed all Federal and State Drinking Water Regulations.
- CCWD employs a number of treatment measures to remove algal tastes and odors; however, if they pass into the treated water distribution system, it may take a few days for them to dissipate.
- Algal tastes and odors are more noticeable in hot water, rather than cold. To reduce unpleasant taste and odor for drinking, fill a pitcher and chill the water. This practice also conserves water by avoiding running water through the tap until it is cold. Adding lemon helps too.
- Ice may need to be replaced if made when taste and odors are present.
- Odor may persist in hot water longer than in cold water. If this occurs, you may consider flushing your hot water tank.
- Gasoline, Turpentine, or Organic Solvent Odor
If you smell gasoline or an organic solvent odor in the cold water, call us immediately at (925) 688-8156 for further assistance. This problem is rare and potentially serious. Do not use the water. It is possible that your meter box was exposed to a hazardous substance.
- Cloudy, Foamy or Milky Water
Milky white water can also be described as cloudy, hazy, soupy or foamy, and is almost always caused by air in the water.
Consistent cloudiness in cold and hot water. Tiny air bubbles in water can give water a cloudy or milky appearance. Water in your pipes is under pressure. Filling a glass of water reduces that pressure and can cause air bubbles to appear in your water which can look cloudy, milky, or carbonated.
Cloudiness in warm or hot water. Air in water lines can sometimes be attributed to warming of cold water lines or overheating water (above 140 degrees) from hot water systems. Milky white water often occurs in spring time when the weather begins to warm.
Troubleshooting. Collect a glass of water and let it stand for two to three minutes. Any air bubbles will rise to the surface and the milky appearance of water should clear starting from the bottom. Entrained air does not affect the quality of your water.
- Brown, Red, Orange or Yellow Water
Brown, red, orange or yellow water is usually caused by rust. The major causes of rust include water pipes in your building or water mains.
Intermittent brown, red, orange or yellow hot water. If your water is discolored only for a minute or two after you turn on the tap, the cause may be the internal plumbing. The zinc coating on the inside of galvanized iron pipe can wear thin and expose your water to bare iron. The different colors can be attributed to varying chemical oxidation states of the iron (rust). The longer the water sits in the pipes, the worse the discoloration will be. This is why this problem is most noticeable the first time you turn on the tap in the morning. If only a few taps are affected, only a portion of your internal plumbing has galvanized pipe.
After running your tap for a few minutes, clean water from your water heater or the water main will replace the discolored water. Since iron is an essential nutrient, this condition poses no health hazard. If the discoloration bothers you, however, flush the tap until the water becomes clear and save the water for iron-loving plants.
Consistent brown or yellow cold water. Normal pipeline flow allows silt, sediment and other materials to settle to the bottom of the pipe. A disruption of normal flow can cause these materials to get stirred up and suspended in the water and cause the water to look light yellow to dark brown. The discoloration is caused by dissolved iron which is stirred up in naturally-occurring sediments.
The following conditions commonly cause flow reversals in water mains and sediment to be disturbed.
- Planned cleaning of the water mains to remove pipeline sediment in the near vicinity.
- Pipeline repair work or construction activity in the area. Valves may have been closed for the work.
- Vehicular accident resulting in a nearby water hydrant being knocked over.
- Hydrant being used to fight a fire.
The discoloration does not indicate that the water is unsafe or that the integrity of the water main has been compromised. A disinfectant residual is maintained in our system to ensure that the water is safe for household use, including cooking and drinking. For aesthetic reasons, we recommend you avoid doing laundry until the water clears up. We also recommend that you do not use the hot water as it will draw cold, rusty water into the tank and it may need to be flushed out later.
If the water at the front hose bib is discolored after running for two minutes, the problem may be coming from our water main and you can contact us at 925-688-8156.
- Blue Color
The blue disinfectant some people use in their toilets can cause discoloration of your tap water if your water supply was recently turned off. A condition may have been created in which the water from the toilet tank was siphoned into the plumbing of your house. This can happen when the toilet is upstairs and the water supply has been shut off for some reason. These disinfectants contain chemicals that may pose health hazards if ingested or touched. Flush your plumbing by opening each tap until the water runs clear. Do not drink this water.
Blue (or blue-green) water may be due to extreme copper plumbing corrosion. If this is happening, the water will usually have a bluish-green tint and/or will leave a bluish-green stain around fixtures and on a white surface if the water drips from a faucet. This copper corrosion can be caused by your electrical system being grounded to your water pipes, especially if you have a mixture of pipe material (i.e., some copper and some galvanized iron). If the blue color is only in the hot water, it may be due to the temperature on the water heater being set too high. If you have a hot water circulating system, the return line may be too small or the water may be pumped too fast for your pipe size, or it may be installed incorrectly.
- Green Color
Standing water in a white bathtub can sometimes appear to have a greenish tint to it. Fluorescent lights will make your water appear green. To test this, fill a white bucket with water and take it outside. In the sunlight, the water will look clear and no longer appear green.
Another cause of green water is extreme copper plumbing corrosion. If this is happening, the water will usually have a bluish-green tint and may leave a bluish-green stain on porcelain if the water drips from a faucet. This copper corrosion can be caused by your electrical system being grounded to your water pipes; especially if you have a mixture of pipe material (e.g. some copper and some galvanized steel). If the green color is only in the hot water, it may be due to the temperature on the water heater being set too high. If you have a hot water circulating system, the return line may be too small or the water may be pumped too fast for your pipe size, or it may be installed incorrectly.
- Flushing Discolored Water When Caused by Disruption in Our Main
Wait for District crews to complete their work and flows to re-establish. We recommend an hour before resuming normal water use to let the normal flow patterns in our mains to re-establish themselves and for any remaining sediment to settle down.
- First, flush water at full force from your front hose bib until it runs clear. This should take no more than two or three minutes. If the water continues to be discolored, wait an additional hour and try again before proceeding to the next step.
- Second, flush the cold water faucet in the bathtub only after water from the front hose bib runs clear. To avoid wasting water, water the backyard from the backyard hose bib for several minutes or until the water clears.
- Next, flush all of the other cold water household faucets after the tub or backyard faucet runs clear. Start from the front side of the house nearest the street and then move to the rest of the cold water faucets within your home.
If discolored water is also in the hot water system, you can continue to use hot water until the discoloration dissipates and is no longer an aesthetic issue. Many customers prefer to do this rather than refilling the water heater which may require expertise of a plumber if you are unfamiliar with how to do this safely.
Following this guidance generally will take care of the problem. However, depending on the pattern of water use in your neighborhood, it may be necessary to repeat the process more than once if the discoloration continues.
- Black Particles
Black particles can come from three common sources: a broken water filter, a degrading faucet washer or gasket, or a disintegrating black rubber flexible supply line hose (for a water heater, washing machine, or kitchen faucet, etc.).
- Hard particles that are similar in size and shape and look like large coffee grounds. These particles are probably granular activated carbon (GAC) particles from the inside of a water filter. Replace the filter cartridge or consult with the manufacturer or the vendor who sold it to you.
- Solid rubbery particles at one faucet. These particles could be pieces of an old disintegrating faucet washer or gasket. Particles are likely only present at one faucet and that faucet might already be leaking. Replace the faucet washers and the packing at the ends of the supply lines.
- Small black particles that smear. Particles that are small black specs that can be easily smeared between two fingers and are often called oily or sooty in texture can come from the inside of a flexible hose. These black rubber hoses are covered with a braided stainless steel mesh. Over time, the chloramine in the water causes the rubber to break down. Replace the hose, ideally with a liner that is identified as chemical or chloramine resistant. Black rubber hoses typically have a one-year warranty while the more chemical resistant hoses have a five-year warranty.
- Brown or Orange Particles
Brown or orange particles are typically rust particles that have broken off the inside of your water pipes or District water mains. These particles are very hard, irregular in size and shape, and can be several different colors (including black). They consist of mostly iron and are not a health hazard but they are a nuisance if they clog washing machine screens, shower heads, or faucet aerators. If the water with particles in it is clear, the problem is most likely from your piping. If the water is discolored for a few hours it is more likely from our water main.
Amber or translucent small round beads/resin. Defective screens in ion exchange water softeners can release resin beads that look like small balls in the water. The beads will be uniform in size and are the size of fish eggs. The resin can be brown, orange, or translucent and can sometimes be mistaken for sand. Call your service agent for repairs.
- White Particles
White or tan/sand-like particles that settle in the water usually come from internal plumbing. This material is pipe scale and is a combination of calcium carbonate and magnesium carbonate. Calcium and magnesium carbonates are naturally occurring minerals and are not a health hazard. Over time, these minerals can deposit on the inside of your pipes and then begin to flake off.
There are three common conditions that can cause scale to flake off pipes more rapidly:
- Shutting off water for repair work can cause pressure and turbulence when it is turned back on which can dislodge minerals from pipes.
- Water softener installation can cause minerals to re-dissolve from the pipes. Additionally, pieces may begin to break loose
- Galvanized iron pipes corrode over time and will gradually swell up on the inside causing the minerals to flake off.
Pipe scale can clog washing machine screens, shower heads, and faucet aerators. There is no practical way to remove pipe scale from the inside of your pipes. If the problem is severe, you may want to consider replumbing.
White or tan/sand-like particles in hot water. The water heater is another source for white or tan particles. As the water is heated, calcium and magnesium carbonates precipitate out of the water, forming white or tan sand-like deposits. As you use the hot water, these minerals can be carried along clogging washing machine screens, shower heads, and faucet aerators. To keep mineral deposits from accumulating in the water heater, flush your water heater at least once a year. Flushing regularly also extends the life of the heater and makes it operate more fuel efficiently.
White particles in hot water that float. Floating white particles can be caused by the disintegration of the dip tube in your water heater. The plastic dip tube, directs the cold incoming water to the bottom of the tank. As the tube gets old, it can disintegrate, sending white particles into the hot water. These particles can be found in faucet screens and sinks or basins where screens are not installed. These particles are brittle and vary in size from small irregular pebbles to longer shards. Contact the manufacturer or vendor for advice on how best to repair the water heater.
White or tan small round beads/resin. Defective screens in ion exchange water softeners can release resin beads that look like small balls in the water. The beads will be uniform in size and are the size of fish eggs. The resin can be brown, orange, or translucent and can sometimes be mistaken for sand. Call your service agent for repairs.
- Crystals or White Residue
Crystals or residue left behind on fixtures, white surfaces, and pots after water evaporates are calcium and magnesium carbonates. These are naturally occurring minerals and do not pose a health hazard. These deposits may appear green, blue, or brown, having been colored by tiny amounts of the metals found in your water pipes. Carbonate deposits can be dissolved with white vinegar. Dishwasher deposits can be minimized by using a commercial conditioner, by using liquid detergents and by using the air-dry instead of the power-dry setting on your dishwasher, which bakes the carbonates onto glassware.
Please always feel free to call our Water Quality Hotline at 925-688-8156 or contact us via email for assistance.
If you are experiencing any symptoms of illness, we recommend contacting your personal physician.
Before you Call
When you contact us, we will likely ask some of the questions below to help troubleshoot the issue. It is helpful if you have the answers to these questions before you call us:
- How long have you noticed the problem?
- Are your neighbors experiencing the same problem?
- Do you notice the problem at some or all of the inside faucets?
- Do you notice the issue at the outside front hose bib?
- Do you notice the problem when you use the cold water, hot water, or both?
- Do you notice it when you first turn on the water or does it occur continuously?
- Do you know what type of pipes you have (i.e., copper, galvanized iron)?
- Do you have any home treatment devices (i.e., water softener, point-of-use activated carbon filter)?
- Have you noticed any work on the drinking water system in the area?
- Handling Water Quality Complaints. California Nevada Section, American Water Works Association. Third edition. 2007.
- Water Quality Complaint Investigator’s Guide. William C. Lauer. Second edition. 2014.
- Alameda County Water District
- Los Angeles Department of Water and Power Water Quality
- Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection